Why Does Dancehall Love Clarks Shoes?

We picked the brains behind the book "Clarks In Jamaica" about this unusual love affair.

This article was originally posted on Noisey.

Weird, isn’t it? Jamaican rude boys and dancehall stars have long been obsessing over owning a pair of Clarks shoes for decades. So,  maybe it’s no surprise that songs about materialistic stuff coincided with the era of dancehall’s separation from roots reggae and Rasta ideals and the country’s post-independence economic depression. 

Al Newman, aka DJ Al Fingers, had long been aware of the connection, but was even more intrigued when Vybz Kartel released “Clarks” a WHOLE SONG on the matter, and decided to pilgrimage to Jamaica, with photographer Mark Read, to document this phenomenon in his new book Clarks In Jamaica. As Al said during our interview, “there’s a comedy to dancehall that isn’t there in roots music.” And it's true, these guys singing about Clarks is not as conscious and shallow as, say, Kanye and Jay-Z asking whether the jacket is Margiela. Jamaican dancehall has a knowing irony to it. Or whatever, maybe I’m reading into it, so I thought it was best to go straight to the expert, and pick his brains about everything from what Clarks really means to dancehall and how Jamaica has affected British music.

NOISEY: So, what was the first tune to big up Clarks shoes?

Al Newman: John Dillinger's 1976 tune “CB200” is the earliest one I could find, really. It was a massive tune in Jamaica at the time, I'd say it boosted the popularity of Clarks, just like Vybz Kartel did with his tunes recently. It's about a Rasta driving around Kingston on his Honda CB200, getting various things from different parts of town. He goes to the bank, he buys some pants lengths and some ganzies, he goes to a shop called Baracatt’s – which was a shop that a lot of rude boys and musicians went to in downtown Kingston – and buys his Clarks.

There was also another way people got hold of a pair during Michael Manley’s import restrictions. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Manley imposed a total ban on importation of foreign-made footwear in 1973 but it didn’t last very long, he lifted it pretty quickly. Still, he always imposed heavy duties and quotas so even when they could come into the country they were hard to get and very expensive.

So during Manley’s time Clarks were coming in from the flocks of people travelling between Britain and Jamaica. They were cheaper in England so people were bringing them in suitcases for their friends and families. They weren’t bringing them to sell, but just to give out. Jah Thomas told a story about going up to a shoe shop in northern England and basically buying the whole place out of Clarks.