Beth-lesser-dancehall-int-list

Work / Photography

Reggae, roots and the undeniable style of Jamaica’s 80s dancehall culture

After being introduced to reggae in the late 70s, Canadian photographer Beth Lesser went down the rabbit hole, so to speak, and came out in the dizzying, smoke-hazed streets of Kingston in 1981. It was the golden age of dancehall, and Rastafarianism was giving way to Jamaica’s burgeoning, rum-fuelled music culture with its DJs and MCs.

“The music was everywhere,” says Beth. “It was played off well-worn mix tapes and cassette recordings of live dance sessions. It was in the buses, the taxis, blaring out of restaurants and shops.”

Beth spent the next ten years travelling back and forth and documenting the genre, which was then still relatively obscure, taking thousands of photographs of those she came across at live dances and recording studios. During this time she also started a magazine, Reggae Quarterly, which she worked on throughout the 80s.

From striped waistcoats and hats tipped just so, the music scene’s boisterous style runs throughout an exhibition of Beth’s photographs currently on show at KK Outlet in London. Beth’s exhaustive work has previously been celebrated with a book, Dance Hall: The Rise of Dance Hall Culture published in 2008, but this is a great opportunity to see a collection of her best images up close.

“I just want all those artists who were so influential at the time, not to be forgotten,” she says. “The 80s are still relevant.”

From Roots to Dancehall is on show at KK Outlet until 30 January.
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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall

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Beth Lesser: From Roots to Dancehall