Music of Jamaica

Music of Jamaica
Music of Jamaica
General topics
Related articles
National anthem Jamaica, Land We Love
Regional music
v · Jamaica includes Jamaican folk music and many popular genres, such as mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub music, dancehall, reggae fusion and related styles. Jamaica's music culture is a fusion of elements from the United States (rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul), Africa and neighboring Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago (calypso and soca). Reggae is especially popular through the international fame of Bob Marley. Jamaican music's influence on music styles in other countries includes the practice of toasting, which was brought to New York City and evolved into rapping, For years, and still today, Jamaican Music, such as slangs and beats has been copied into other cultures because of the originality and creativity within the islands vibe. British genres as Lovers rock and jungle music are also influenced by Jamaican music.


Folk music

108 Jamaican folk songs was published 1907 at Walter Jekyll's Jamaican Song and Story.[1] Unlike much other Jamaican music, these folk songs are in the public domain. They served as the basis for much research in Jamaican folk music and folklore, and several (along with other folk songs) were arranged by Olive Lewin and published by Oxford University Press. Several melodies in the Jekyll and Lewin collections, such as "Linstead Market", were adapted to other styles, including mento.


Mento was recorded in Jamaica in the 1950s due to the efforts of Stanley Motta, who noted the similarities between Jamaican folk and Trinidadian calypso, which was becoming popular around the world. For decades, mento bands toured the big hotels in Jamaica.[2] While mento never found as large an international audience as calypso, some mento recordings, such as by Count Lasher, Lord Composer and George Moxey, are now widely-respected legends of Jamaican music. Although mento has largely been supplanted by successors like reggae and dub, the style is still performed, recorded, and released internationally by traditionalist performers like the Jolly Boys.

Sound systems

Mobile sound systems that played American hits became popular in the 1950s in Kingston, Jamaica. Major figures in the early sound system scene included Duke Reid, Prince Buster and Sir Coxsone Dodd. In 1958, due to a shortage of new material, the first local rhythm and blues bands, most influentially the duo Higgs and Wilson (Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson), began recording to fulfil the local demand for new music. Rupert E. Brown was the original owner of the "King Attarney" sound system, which was popular from 1975 to 1976. His only album was Dubbing to the King In A Higher Rank. The DJ crew that worked for King Attarney was Danny Dread, U-Roy, and Ranking Trevor.


From early in the 20th century, Jamaica produced many notable jazz musicians. In this development the enlightened policy of the Alpha School in Kingston, which provided training and encouragement in music education for its pupils, was very influential. Also significant was the brass band tradition of the island, strengthened by opportunities for musical work and training in military contexts. However, limited scope for making a career playing jazz in Jamaica resulted in many local jazz musicians leaving the island to settle in London or in the United States. Among the most notable Jamaican jazz instrumentalists who made successful careers abroad was alto saxophonist Joe Harriott, now regarded internationally as one of the most original and innovative of jazz composers. Also internationally successful were trumpeters Dizzy Reece, Leslie 'Jiver' Hutchinson and Leslie Thompson, bassist Coleridge Goode, guitarist Ernest Ranglin and pianist Monty Alexander. Harriott, Goode, Hutchinson and Thompson built their careers in London, along with many other instrumentalists, such as pianist Yorke de Souza and the outstanding saxophonist Bertie King, who later returned to Jamaica and formed a mento-style band. Reece and Alexander worked in the US. Saxophonist Wilton 'Bogey' Gaynair settled in Germany working mainly with Kurt Edelhagen's orchestra.


Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae.[1] Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. The first ever ska recording was done by Count Ossie a Nyabhingi dummer from the rasta community.[3] It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods. Later it became popular with many skinheads.[2][3][4][5]

Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960s (First Wave), the English 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s (Second Wave) and the third wave ska movement, which started in the 1980s (Third Wave) and rose to popularity in the US in the 1990s.[6]

DJs and toasting

Along with the rise of ska came the popularity of DJs like Sir Lord Comic, King Stitt and pioneer Count Matchuki, who began talking stylistically over the rhythms of popular songs at sound systems. In Jamaican music, the DJ is the one who talks (known elsewhere as the MC) and the selector is the person who chooses the records. The popularity of DJs as an essential component of the sound system created a need for instrumental songs, as well as instrumental versions of popular vocal songs.

In the late 1960s, producers like King Tubby and Lee Perry began stripping the vocals away from tracks recorded for sound system parties. With the bare beats and bass playing and the lead instruments dropping in and out of the mix, DJs began toasting, or delivering humorous and often provoking jabs at fellow DJs and local celebrities. Over time, toasting became an increasingly complex activity, and became as big a draw as the dance beats played behind it. In the early 1970s, DJs such as DJ Kool Herc took the practice of toasting to New York City, where it evolved into rap music.


Rocksteady was the music of Jamaica's rude boys by the mid-1960s, when The Wailers and The Clarendonians dominated the charts. Desmond Dekker's "007" brought international attention to the new genre. The mix put heavy emphasis on the bass line, as opposed to ska's strong horn section, and the rhythm guitar began playing on the upbeat. Session musicians like Supersonics, Soul Vendors, Jets and Jackie Mittoo (of the Skatalites) became popular during this period.


By the early 1970s, rocksteady had evolved into reggae, which combines elements from American soul music with the traditional shuffle and one-drop of Jamaican mento. Reggae quickly became popular around the world, due in large part to the international success of artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Marley was viewed as a Rastafarian messianic figure by some fans, particularly throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and among Native Americans and Australian Aborigines. His lyrics about love, redemption and natural beauty captivated audiences, and he gained headlines for negotiating truces between the two opposing Jamaican political parties (at the One Love Concert), led by Michael Manley (PNP) and Edward Seaga.


By 1973, dub music had emerged as a distinct reggae genre, and heralded the dawn of the remix. Developed by record producers such as Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby, dub featured previously-recorded songs remixed with prominence on the bass. Often the lead instruments and vocals would drop in and out of the mix, sometimes processed heavily with studio effects. King Tubby's advantage came from his intimate knowledge with audio gear, and his ability to build his own sound systems and recording studios that were superior to the competition. He became famous for his remixes of recordings made by others, as well as those he recorded in his own studio. Following in Tubby's footsteps came artists such as U-Roy and Big Youth, who used Rasta chants in songs. Until the end of the 1970s, Big Youth-inspired dub music with chanted vocals dominated Jamaican popular music. At the very end of the decade, dancehall artists like Ranking Joe, Lone Ranger and General Echo brought a return to U-Roy's style.

Other 1970s developments

Other popular music forms that arose during the 1970s include: Briton (Linton Kwesi Johnson's dub poetry); Sly & Robbie's rockers reggae, which drew on Augustus Pablo's melodica, becoming popular with artists such as The Mighty Diamonds and The Gladiators; Joe Gibbs' mellower rockers reggae, including music by Culture and Dennis Brown; Burning Spear's distinctive style, as represented by the albums Marcus Garvey and Man in the Hills; and harmonic, spiritually-oriented Rasta music like that of The Abyssinians, Black Uhuru and Third World. In 1975, Louisa Marks had a hit with "Caught You in a Lie", beginning a trend of British performers making romantic, ballad-oriented reggae called lovers rock.

Reggae and ska had a massive influence on British punk rock and New Wave bands of the 1970s, such as The Clash, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Police, The Slits, and The Ruts. Ska revival bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter developed the 2 Tone genre.

Dancehall and reggae

During the 1980s, the most popular music styles in Jamaica were dancehall and ragga. Dancehall is essentially speechifying with musical accompaniment, including a basic drum beat (most often played on electric drums). The lyrics moved away from the political and spiritual lyrics popular in the 1970s and concentrate more on less serious issues. Ragga is characterized by the use of computerized beats and sequenced melodic tracks. Ragga is usually said to have been invented with the song "Under Mi Sleng Teng" by Wayne Smith. Ragga barely edged out dancehall as the dominant form of Jamaican music in the 1980s. DJ Shabba Ranks and vocalist team Chaka Demus and Pliers proved more enduring than the competition, and helped inspire an updated version of the rude boy culture called raggamuffin.

Dancehall was sometimes violent in lyrical content, and several rival performers made headlines with their feuds across Jamaica (most notably Beenie Man versus Bounty Killer). Dancehall emerged from pioneering recordings in the late 1970s by Barrington Levy, with Roots Radics backing and Junjo Lawes as producer. The Roots Radics were the pre-eminent backing band for the dancehall style. Yellowman, Ini Kamoze, Charlie Chaplin and General Echo helped popularize the style along with producers like Sugar Minott.

The 1980s saw a rise in reggae music from outside of Jamaica. During this time, reggae particularly influenced African popular music, where Sonny Okusuns (Nigeria), John Chibadura (Zimbabwe), Lucky Dube (South Africa) and Alpha Blondy (Ivory Coast) became stars. The 1980s saw the end of the dub era in Jamaica, although dub has remained a popular and influential style in the UK, and to a lesser extent throughout Europe and the US. Dub in the 1980s and 1990s has merged with electronic music.

Variations of dancehall continued to be popular into the mid 1990s. Some of the performers of the previous decade converted to Rastafari, and changed their lyrical content. Artists like Buju Banton experienced significant crossover success in foreign markets, while Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and others developed a sizable North American following, due to their frequent guest spots on albums by gangsta rappers like Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. Some ragga musicians, including Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks and Capleton, publicly converted to a new lyrical style, in the hope that his new style of lyrics would not offend any one particular social group.[citation needed]

Reggae fusion

Reggae fusion emerged as a popular subgenre in the late 1990s. It is a mixture of reggae or dancehall with elements of other genres such as hip hop, R&B, jazz, rock 'n roll or indie rock.[4] It is closely related to ragga music. It originated in Jamaica, North America and Europe

Non-Rastafarian Jamaican religious music

The Bongo Nation is a distinct group of Jamaicans possibly descended from the Congo. They are known for Kumina, which refers to both a religion and a form of music. Kumina's distinctive drumming style became one of the roots of Rastafarian drumming, itself the source of the distinctive Jamaican rhythm heard in ska, rocksteady and reggae. The modern intertwining of Jamaican religion and music can be traced back to the 1860s, when the Pocomania and Revival Zion churches drew on African traditions, and incorporated music into almost every facet of worship. Later, this trend spread into Hindu communities, resulting in baccra music.

The spread of Rastafari into urban Jamaica in the 1960s transformed the Jamaican music scene, which incorporated drumming (played at grounation ceremonies) and which has led to today's popular music. Many of the above mentioned music and dance have been stylised by the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica led by Prof. Rex Nettleford artistic director (ret, prof and vice chancellor of The University of the West Indies) and Marjorie Whyle Musical Director (Caribbean Musicologist, pianist, drummer, arranger lecturer at the University of the West Indies). Since 1962, this volunteer company of dancers and musicians have had many of these dances in its core repertoire and have performed worldwide to large audiences, including The British Royal family.

Other developments

Other trends included minimalist digital tracks, which began with Dave Kelly's "Pepper Seed" in 1995, alongside the return of love balladeers like Beres Hammond. American, British, and European electronic musicians used reggae-oriented beats to create further hybrid electronic music styles. Dub, world music, and electronic music continue to influence music in the 2000s.

JaFolk Mix is a term coined by Jamaican musician Joy Fairclough, to mean the mix of Jamaican Folk Music with any foreign and local styles of music and the evolution of a new sound created by their fusion. This is the latest Jamaican Music stylistic development of the late 20th century and 21st century. Jamaican music continues to influence the world's music. Many efforts at studying and copying Jamaican music has introduced the world to this new form of music as the copied styles are performed with accents linguistically and musically slanted to that of the home nation in which it is being studied, copied and performed.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Mento Music: Hotel Bands
  3. ^ Reggae and Caribbean Music by David Thompson, page 261]
  4. ^ Big D (2008-05-08). "Reggae Fusion". Reggae-Reviews. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 


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