Ghetto-based sound systems – involving powerful homemade sound equipment, stacks of vinyl, and full of deejay crews- rocked local dancehalls and gave birth to a new golden age of Jamaican music. The ’80s was the age of dancehall and Lloyd ‘Jammy’ James was King. Having begun his musical career as an apprentice to King Tubby – the legendary producer, soundman and engineer credited with inventing dub music – Jammy soon moved out on his own to build a musical empire comparable to Coxsone Dodd’s in the ‘60s or King Tubby’s a decade later. Propelled by a fresh approach and a willingness to experiment with new ideas, King Jammy’s sound system ruled the dancehall for much of the ‘80s, as his labels turned out one innovative hit after another, forever changing the sound of reggae music. While many newcomers were being discovered at Channel One, the studio they were destined for would be Jammy’s, where many of them would make their career-defining recordings.
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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