Jamaican music is the defining feature the island culture in a country that is relaxed, friendly, and known for its easy-going ways across all fronts. In Jamaica, it is impossible to miss the beats of reggae music drifting through the air almost everywhere you go. The beat is a steady one and the lyrics are everything from political to just plain fun. In Jamaica, reggae music has always been a favored way for expression and continues to live on and revolutionize through each new generation. Jamaican music also includes genres such as rocksteady, dub, ska, ska jazz, reggae fusion, and dancehall. The music culture includes a blend of soul, rhythm, and blues from the United States. “Toasting,” a musical practice in Jamaica, was exported into NYC by Jamaican musicians; it evolved into what is known today as rapping.
Jamaican Music History
The foundation of Jamaican music began following the slavery era. Traditional folk music was formed by African tunes blending with European harmonies and melodies. In the 1940s, swing bands became popular and following this, Jamaican mento music evolved. Mento is a broad term describing Jamaica’s traditional (secular) music including instrumental style, dance, and song and was popular from the later 1800s through to the 1960s. Rhythm and blues hit the scene in the 1950s around the time big bands were also on the music circuit. With technology came access to all types of music. Slowly, Jamaican style seeped into modern music production—Rastafarian drum beats mixed with R&B, swing, and more to create a new, fresh, and energetic sound called ska which developed leading up to 1962, Jamaica’s independence. Following this period, the distinct reggae sound also emerged, heavily influenced by Jamaica’s Rastafari. Since Island Records signed Bob Marley in the 1970s, the term “reggae” has come to embody (most) all Jamaican music today.
Jamaica’s most iconic and transcendent individual, Bob Marley was born in February 6th, 1945. Marley was a musician and singer-songwriter and lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the band Bob Marley and the Wailers. The band performed a repertoire that included reggae music, ska, and rocksteady beats. A true Rastafarian, Marley made Jamaica and reggae synonymous and took the Rastafari movement to the world stage. You can learn more about this iconic island hero at the Bob Marley Museum.
Jamaica’s most famous music genre is reggae, a type of sound evolved from a combination of rocksteady and ska genres in the 1960s when music was revolutionizing. Music professionals also explain the development of reggae music as having been formed by influences from American jazz music, Africa’s traditional music, and old-style rhythm and blues. To hear authentic Jamaican music, attending one of the top reggae festivals, like Reggae Sumfest, is a must. Head to Montego Bay in the middle of July for this amazing music festival headlining incredible artists since 1993.
Street & Beach Performers
Jamaican music can be heard throughout the streets and beaches at almost anytime of the day or night. In the streets it’s common to see musicians sharing music with crowds. This goes the same for the beaches, where singers and songwriters perform for sunbathers by touring around the beach, stopping to sing a song or two. It isn’t uncommon to see the same beach-dwellers belting out songs at hotel bars across the country. Many seaside hotels book live bands to play beach stages at sunset. Music is so ingrained in Jamaican culture that it is literally everywhere across the country.