AT THE HEART OF CARIBBEAN ART
    The Folk Power of Jamaican Dancehall Signs

The Folk Power of Jamaican Dancehall Signs

Since the late nineteen-seventies, the streets of Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, have been decorated with ad-hoc placards promising quick, transformative thrills. The signs—hand-painted on discarded slabs of splintering plywood, or on whatever else was freely available—direct passersby toward outdoor lots or indoor nightclubs, and list dancehall performers (Stone Love, Grenade, Beenie Man, City Beat, Super Force) and entry fees (usually between one and ten American dollars). Lettering is done in a vivid red, gold, green, or blue paint on matte black backgrounds, and is sometimes accompanied by a custom illustration, like a young lady, a heart, or a car. The signs promise blessings or guidance or free Jell-O shots. “Bikini Car Wash All Day.” “A Yah Suh Haffi Nice Fish Fry.” “Vibes.”

A new book called “Serious Things A Go Happen: Three Decades of Jamaican Dancehall Signs,” which was published by Hat and Beard Press, gathers more than a hundred dancehall signs, all plucked by the collector Maxine Walters, a Jamaican film director and producer who has admitted to climbing “light posts, walls, bridges, down hillsides—I would go anywhere to reach and capture a sign that attracted my attention.” In the book’s introduction, the Jamaican novelist Marlon James writes, “If hip-hop’s visual language is graffiti, then dancehall’s visual language is the sign, the event poster—the notice that big t’ings a gwaan down di street.”...read more

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