A beginner’s guide to Jamaica’s music scene
Music is a very important part of Jamaican culture. Music helps punctuate certain time periods in the island’s history, and is an incredibly important part of telling the nation’s story. As such, many of its genres were born out of times of struggle or celebration and some of its music festivals run alongside anniversaries and celebrations.
Music is so woven into the fabric of Jamaica that you’ll hear its unmistakable beats around every corner. So it’s well worth swotting up with your handy guide before you visit this gorgeous island.
Without a doubt, reggae is the most famous music genre to originate from Jamaica. It has even been credited as the original influence for hip-hop in America.
Reggae music at its core, however, is synonymous with both hardship and a good time, both the endurance of and the celebration of overcoming a struggle. Closely linked with the Rastafarian religion, reggae invokes a sense of upliftment and an appreciation of life in all its forms.
Mento and folk
Folk is the earliest music form in Jamaica and remains one of the most influential aspects of the island’s musical heritage. The music is characterised by three main groups: tunes for work and entertainment, religious melodies, and dance music. Each group has its own harmony, but all share a commonality in the types of accompaniments used, primarily the drum and small wind and string instruments.
Towards the turn of the 20th century, the music industry created a vibrant Jamaican music form called Mento. Its medley of banjos, hand drums, guitars and rhumba boxes created a fascinating beat with light-hearted and often times comical lyrics.
Ska was a genre that emerged when Jamaica became independent during the 1960’s and is the predecessor to rocksteady and reggae. It is characterised by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat, and takes influence from Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska also managed to make its way to the UK in the 1980s thanks to bands such as The Burial and The Hotknives.
Dancehall emerged in the late 80s and early 90's as an outgrowth of reggae, and is one of the most popular sub-genres of reggae with the younger generation. One defining feature of dancehall is the use of Jamaican Patois, instead of Jamaican Standard English. There’s also a big focus on the instrumental composition of the song as well.
Examples of Dancehall deejays include King’ Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Lady Saw, Capleton, and Bounty Killa.
Accompong Maroon Festival
The Accompong Maroon Festival is a cultural celebration that commemorates over 200 years since the signing of the peace treaty between the Maroons and the British. The festival marks the victory of the First Maroon War against the British in which they fought for their freedom, led by their late hero Cudjoe.
The festival takes place in Accompong each year at some point in January.
Emancipation Jubilee honours the contribution of Jamaica’s ancestors through song, dance, drumming, drama, food and fashion. The highlight of the day is the signature cultural concert beginning at 8pm with the midnight reading of the 1838 Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to slaves on the island. There’s also a farmers’ market, craft village, and food court offering traditional Jamaican cuisine.
The annual event, under the theme ‘Emancipation Jubilee: The Genesis’, will be held from July 31st into Emancipation Day on August 1st.
Jazz N Cabaret in the Gardens
Jazz n Cabaret is a bi-monthly concert series that features performances from acclaimed Jazz performers. It has been running for 17 years and the line-up includes some of the most skilled jazz musicians from the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and South Africa. Aside from the incredible music, there is also food and drink available as well.
The Jazz n Cabaret Recurs monthly on the 1st of every month at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.
Every year Organic HEART Group of Companies stages what has become a staple on the live music events calendar. At home at the Richmond Estate in Priory, St. Ann, Rebel Salute delivers the greatest roots reggae show on earth.
Even more, Rebel Salute serves a strict vegetarian menu complimented by a diet of cultural roots rap from Reggae’s finest. In tandem with this, is the concept of a drug-free, violence-free and non-alcohol event. Combined with the warm hospitality and abundant culture of the Jamaican people, this event is not one to be missed.
Next year’s Rebel Salute will happen in the 18th of January at Priory, St. Ann.
The year 2019 marks the 27th anniversary of Jamaica's biggest summer reggae festival, Reggae Sumfest. To mark this occasion, the organisers have expanded the event to a 6 night line-up of activities that will include an All White Blitz party, A Sound system Explosion, Beach Party and along with the 3 main concerts.
The 2018 event featured Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Beres Hammond, Maxi Priest, Cham, Capleton, Jesse Royal, Raging Fyah, Fanton Mojah, Naomi Cowan, PopCaan, Bounty Killa, Sizzla, Spice, Tommy Lee Sparta, Agent Sasco, Ding Dong, I Octane, D-Major and many others.
Next year’s Reggae Sumfest will take place between July 13th and July 20th at the Catherine Hall in Montego Bay.
Are you a fan of Jamaican music? Which genre is your favourite?
Edited by Morag@BarrheadTravel