Click to view Gregory Isaacs photos
Gregory Isaacs

Gregory Isaacs was among that early group of artists who bucked the system by starting their own labels. Way back in 1973, working with singer Errol Dunkley, Gregory opened African Museum, a record store, in downtown Kingston and began producing himself and others. He continued to record for other producers while putting the revenue back into his own work. Unlike many others who have tried the same thing, Gregory succeeded.

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Yellowman

Yellowman was the biggest surprise that ever hit Jamaican music. His rise to fame was such an unlikely event. No one could have predicted that an albino orphan would be making hit records, let alone become the new ambassador of reggae around the world. But Yellowman was the perfect person to fill the spot left by the passing of Bob Marley. He gave reggae new life, a new direction, a new identity for a new era.

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Gemini Sound

Gemini was officially a ‘disco’ and played a bit of everything – funk, soul, disco, reggae. With the relative peace that arrived in 1980 at the end of the violent election campaign, all sounds had the potential to attract bigger crowds and Gemini was at the right place at the right time. With a roster including the top slack deejays and two selectors- one for reggae and one for soul – and a club all its own to play home sessions, Gemini was the perfect sound to open the new dancehall decade.

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Barrington Levy

In 1979, when Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and Jah Life began working with him, Barrington Levy was still a raggamuffin youth. But he was already blessed with a rich voice and the ability to make up lyrics on the spot. Wherever he went, whatever he was doing, he accompanied himself with song. He had a new vibration and the interaction between the adolescent vocalist and the young but experienced session men, created an electrifying musical mix that reflected a change in the course of reggae.

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Early B

Early B did have lyrics. He took the story telling aspect of toasting to a whole new level with hits like “Send In The Patient”, “Sunday Dish”, “Gateman Get Fraid” and “One Wheel Wheelie”, all of which were in the JBC top 100 songs for 1984. With so many lyrics, he made a perfect recording deejay. In 1994, Early B was yet another victim of random dancehall violence. He was shot while performing with Brigadier Jerry at the Windsor Cricket Club in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

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U Brown

The young deejay U Brown, the heir to U Roy’s vocal styling, followed the teacher closely in those early days. U Brown hung around King Tubby’s sound system doing odd jobs, lifting the sound boxes and traveling with the crew to dances to set up, until he got comfortable and began to feel like “one of the family”. Until, one night he got his chance at the microphone. Once they heard how close U Brown was to the ‘originator’, they invited him to fill in whenever U Roy was absent.

Visit this page regularly…more photos are coming!

Beth Lesser

During the 1980s, my husband and I traveled frequently to Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, NY from our home in Toronto, Canada to follow the changing reggae scene. In that period reggae was changing fast, moving from the heavy roots sound of suffering and redemption to the lighter, faster, digitized sound of modern dancehall.

My husband and I saw it happen. We saw Junjo’s Volcano empire rise meteorically and them crash as his young artists emigrated or met untimely deaths. We witnessed Jah Love’s Brigadier Jerry take over the dancehall scene without ever having recorded a 45 – powered by the new popularity of dance hall cassettes.

We were in Waterhouse when King Jammy unleashed his Sleng Teng rhythm to an analog world and, one by one, producers dropped their previously recorded rhythms and started building again from scratch using programmable keyboards and drum machines. We were in Jammy’s yard while he cut the dubplates for the Clash of the Century, the event that brought dancehall culture to the larger Jamaican audience.

Over those years, I collected an archive of material that I would like to make available to the public – to present and future reggae scholars and fans.

All images © 1982-1988 Beth Lesser

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