It was during the early ’90s, at a weekly reggae night at House of Roots in Vauxhall, that emerging and former Face photographer, Mark Alesky first came across Aba Shanti‑I’s now-legendary sound system sessions.
“I just really liked the community vibe that was there,” Mark says.
Before the influx of phones and Instagram – this community of Rastas and reggae-heads led Alesky to capture a scene and moment in history that no one else was.
“I was the only one in House of Roots with a camera,” he says. “It’s important to show the positive impact, to get it out for people to see the past and to see how people integrating works.”
Unification was key to the House of Roots nights. But Alesky, a white man holding a camera, was scoping out a close-knit Rasta community. So, how did the regulars feel about it?
“I didn’t get my camera out for two weeks,” he says. “As a white man walking in with a camera, I did feel like they were thinking ‘who do you think you are?’, but very quickly you’re welcomed and then you’re part of the crew.”
“With most photography, you don’t dive in with a camera to be honest. Not for something that’s underground. You have to be part of the community to gain trust, and then you’re fine.”
The images captured form the backbone of an upcoming book Bassline, currently raising funds for printing on Kickstarter. Over 20 years since they were taken, Alesky has his reasons for the timing.
“There’s a lot in the air right now,” he says. “Nationalism, separatism, we’re hearing all these voices saying ‘you don’t belong here’, ‘you’re not part of this island’. To me it doesn’t make sense.
“[The photographs] have changed as a collection now. It’s showing what British culture is and the positive cultural impact that migration has had in Britain, specifically the music scene.”
In Alesky’s eyes, music and photography is the key to building a bridge across the tensions he describes.
“It’s a visual documentation of what is achievable if everyone’s head is in a clear space and you’re not listening to all this distraction, noise, or the rhetoric when you see things clearly.”
He continues. “For me, a healthy community isn’t something which is laid in concrete. It’s fluid [and] evolves with time. Community is acceptance. It’s learning”
And what has he learned in the years since the images were taken?
“There’s a saying in the Rasta community: each one, teach one. We can all teach each other about each other if the doors are open.”
Mark Alesky’s book Bassline is currently being funded on Kickstarter. If you want to see these images in action, donate so he can print some more!