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Wheel & come again!

A second serving of Beth Lesser's Rub-a-Dub Style

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Sunday, October 29, 2017

BETH Lesser and her fiancÚ were often the odd couple at Jamaican dancehall events in the 1980s. They not only jammed to the exciting music, but documented the era's emerging artistes and trends.

Recently Soul Jazz Books reissued Lesser's second book, Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Dancehall Music, in the United States and United Kingdom.

First released in 2008, it contains a trove of photographs Lesser, an American, took during visits to Jamaica from 1982 to 1988. Dancehall's leading lights were captured, including Sugar Minott, Tenor Saw, Junior Reid and producer Lloyd “King Jammys” James.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer from her home in Toronto, Lesser said she gets many requests from publications for her archives, which she puts at over 1,000 photos. People are fascinated by the earthy music that came out of Jamaica during the 1980s.

“It was still reggae not like the stuff you hear today that sounds the same or like it's coming from America — it was unique,” said Lesser, who is in her early 60s. “The melodies, the harmonies were so gripping, so captivating.”

The sound of Jamaican music changed in the 1980s. Uptempo computer beats, starting with the Sleng Teng in 1985, replaced the loping one-drop made famous by Bob Marley and The Wailers a decade earlier.

The re-release of Rub-a-Dub Style comes at a time when Lesser is updating her website (Bethlesser.com). Presently it has two of her books: King Jammys and The Legend of Sugar Minott. Eventually she plans to post her archives as well as issues of Reggae Quarterly, the magazine she and her Canadian husband David Kingston operated over 30 years ago.

Minott, who died in 2010, is special to Lesser and Kingston. They used to hang out at his Youthman Promotions company in Kingston which was a hub for dancehall's rising stars.

The couple got married at a Youthman Promotions dance in Kingston in 1986. Lesser believes Minott stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries.

“He was a true roots artiste who lived in the ghetto and never lost that feeling for the people. He was good at discovering and developing new talent,” she said.

Kingston and Lesser are no longer immersed in Jamaican music. She has worked with special needs children and researched folk and traditional music from South America. Kingston is now a banker.

For all her documentation, Lesser does not consider herself an authority on '80s dancehall.

“No, not all. I've moved on to other interests. I'm no longer researching the music; other people are doing it and that's a good thing,” she said.