Jamaican artists British love affair
Clarks Originals: Booted And Musically Suited

Beth Lesser’s unique book, Dancehall, covers the scantily-documented lives, fashion choices and hang outs of Jamaican Dancehall stars in the 1980s. The book is unique, in that it has the largesse to follow the careers of obscure yet worthy artists, who in some cases made little imprint outside Jamaica, and in others examples [as is so often the case] acquired a cult following in places like the US, Canada, the UK and Japan whilst still living in the zinc-roofed shanty towns of Kingston.

Many of these stars, we noticed for the purposes of this project, wore Clarks. The predominance of Clarks in Dancehall, and general Jamaican culture, has since been documented in songs from Vybz Kartel to Josie Wales. Vybz Kartel’s song Clarks was a runaway smash last year, with lyrics like: “Everybody haffi ask weh mi get mi Clarks/ Di leather hard, di suede soft, toothbrush get out di dust fast”. And Josie Wales’ lyric, on Love I Want: “Some come from Portland, some From St Elizabet-a / Some inna Clarks, Some inna battered crepes [shoes]”. Then there’s Little John [not to be confused with the US crunk artist] who wrote Clarks Booty, where he exhorts: “Hol' up yuh foot and show your Clarks booty…Fling out your foot ‘cause your shoes brand new”.

In Lesser’s book, we see images of ‘Cool Ruler’ Gregory Isaacs wearing Clarks, also Junior Reid, then a crime-prone youngster, also wearing a box-fresh pair of suede Clarks. We also see Cocoa Tea sporting a pair, also Nitty Gritty, who was shot dead in 1991 in New York. Rival toaster Super Cat was suspected of the shooting. Another photo shows ‘Daddy’ U-Roy, recognized as the father of the toasting genre hanging out with the Stur-Gav Posse, several of which are wearing mint Clarks. Josie Wales, another famous toaster [previously cited] named after the Clint Eastwood character, is pictured there performing a wheelie.

Clarks were a symptom of the reaction to the years of Michael Manley’s ‘democratic socialism’ in the late 70s and early 80s. After this an era of status-led consumerism came in with in dancehall, with Clarks and a gold chain heading the list of must-haves.

Other trends in Jamaica are remembered by Adrian Boot, reggae’s most famous photographer, in an interview with Clash [the full interview is available to read HERE]: “Jeans didn’t really exist back then, so people had trousers, like schoolboys’ trousers, dyed with striped down the side. Then there was the ever-present white towel in the back pocket…having the belt undone with the trousers still on [a trend documented in Beth Lesser’s book] didn’t come in until later, in the 80s.”

The Wu-Tang Clan borrowed the style from the wave of Caribbean immigrants coming into New York, and bucked the trend of Timberlands and trainers by wearing Clarks. On The Wu’s Raekown track track Glaciers of Ice, Ghost Faced Killer talks of his plans to customize his Clarks [by dyeing them], that summer: “Yo son we gotta take it and go get the Clarks man…Niggas don't even know son…Yo I got a crazy idea how to do Clarks now…this how you freak ‘em…You go get you go get the cream joints right? Now, the way you dye ‘em is this shit right here…Boom, and this, yaknowhatI'msayin? Any color you want…But it'd be like, blue and cream, yaknowhatI'msayin? But you gotta drip it like it's marble cake...”

Words by Miguel Cullen
Photo by Beth Lesser

View an accompanying photo gallery from Beth Lesser's book, 'Dancehall', HERE.

Find out more about Beth Lesser on her website HERE

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