ART IN THE DANCEHALLJamaican music design and illustration from 1980 to now

Early 1980s Jamaica was a changing place politically, economically and musically. A new generation of deejays, singers and producers were moving away from the roots-dominated music of the 1970s, bringing in a fresh, exciting sound that became known as dancehall. Focussing less on repatriation to Africa and more on everyday runnings back a yard, artists such as General Echo, Lone Ranger and Yellowman developed a new kind of chat over sparse, heavy rhythms from pioneering producers such as Henry “Junjo” Lawes, Jah Thomas and Linval Thompson. This scene revolved around live deejay performances, dance moves, slackness and soundclash. And mirroring the change in the music were illustrators and graphic designers translating the energy, colour, invention and playfulness of dancehall into image.

As an introduction to the subject, Art in the Dancehall features album cover artwork by seminal 1980s artists Wilfred Limonious (Jamaica), Jamaal Pete (USA) and Tony McDermott (UK), alongside posters by Jamaica’s most celebrated poster designer, Denzil “Sassafras” Naar. This foundation is complemented by the work of five young artists from four different countries who have taken inspiration from dancehall culture to keep the tradition alive in 2012: Robin Clare (Jamaica), Ellen G (Israel), GABE (Germany), Peter Edwards (UK) and Daniel David Freeman (UK).


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