Denzil “Sassafras” Naar is a legend in Dancehall history, who basically defined the way that dancehall events were marketed and promoted.
Just like Wilfred Limonious pretty much defined the look and feel of 80s dancehall and reggae record sleeves, it was Sassafras who set the style and standard of the posters promoting dancehall events and sound systems. His work was so distinctive and ubiquitous in the 80s dancehall scene that the language and slang he often employed on his posters became adopted in the dancehalls and by Sound Systems.
Denzil “Sassafras” Naar was born in 1947 and was nicknamed after a popular racehorse that used to run at Caymanas Park, Jamaica’s only racecourse, due to his love for horse-racing.
He started his career in design in 1975 when he started illustrating and creating hand-drawn posters to publicize the latest events, parties, and sound system clashes, for local promoters. He stumbled into poster design as a career when a friend asked Sassafras to design a poster for a dance he was holding, and Sassafras came up with a design that was unlike any others that were currently being made to promote events.
His kinetic design style, distinctive lettering, and use of street slang was an instant hit and he quickly established himself as Jamaica’s premier designer for promoters and Sound Systems. At his peak, Sassafras has said that he was working 18 hours days and churning out 15 posters each week.
His posters were soon seen all over the island, and his vast body of work is basically now serves as a catalog of artists, sound systems, and events that defined reggae and dancehall music through the 80s – each hand-drawn Sassafras poster was packed with information.
The popularity of his posters soon earned him another nickname ‘The People’s Promoter’.
Even if you have never heard of Sassafras, but have a working interest in reggae and dancehall music, then you will have seen his style, or at least seen other works that have been heavily influenced by the Sassafras.
Sassafras has left his visual signature permanently on reggae and dancehall music, and you can see some of his posters collected below.
Sassafras dancehall posters: