Music & Dance
find Reggae Roots and Culture in your holiday rhythm
Come and discover the island through our endless amounts of great music. From rocksteady to reggae and island “riddims,” hear for yourselves why we’re the peaceful and world-changing paradise we are today.
Music is at Jamaica’s heart. Every pulsing beat pushes forth the creativity and soul of a bold, strong and resilient people.
There is no beat that is too difficult to complement with the art of movement; no tune that doesn’t make us groove. No condition that we cannot master through the rhythm and word combination. We feel the vibrations, we live the lyrics and we redefine our space and place with music.
Jamaican music is world famous, not only for making you want to sing along and shake your hips, but also for being a powerful tool for ‘change.’ Although Reggae is commonly used to define Jamaica’s music, the island’s traditional or folk music is rich – heavy with the substance of African rhythms and collective experiences – and has continued to evolve into an extraordinary legacy. Drawing from several different influences, our music reflects the tides of the time with the sounds and rhythms, each possessing its own distinctive beat.
Folk is the earliest music form in Jamaica and remains one of the most influential aspects of our heritage. Its beat shakes social barriers and unifies our nation with its intensity and ingenuity. Its power to heal, inspire and incite makes it an essential part of the Jamaican identity. The music is characterized 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 we soaked up calypso, tango and samba, fusing to create 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.
Awaiting our Independence during the 1960's, we became saturated with optimism. Filled with high hopes and huge dreams, Ska’s buoyant jazz rhythms, though influenced by American Rhythm and Blues, became Jamaican naturalized. Everywhere you went it was ska, ska, ska! When the sound hit abroad, it spread like wild fire through London’s underground scene, scoring ‘big time’ with Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’.
The ‘giddy-up’ bug took a hiatus, the music beat slowed and a heavy bass emerged in the 1970’s. Social messages were turned into song. Dance moves became languid and ‘rude boys’ found kinship with the new sound that epitomized the times. This was Rock Steady but this epoch was transitory, for it had to make way for the inevitable scorching, rebel music – Reggae!
Reggae is Jamaica’s most internationally recognized music and the heartbeat of our people. The music form has undergone a series of phases including Roots, Ragga, Dub, and Dancehall. Nevertheless it remains a primary platform used by Jamaican artistes to express their thoughts on social and political conditions. Still, Reggae in its purest form continues to dominate. Bob Marley’s posthumous greatest hits compilation, ‘Legend’, has sold over 15 million copies and he was awarded the Grammy Life Time Achievement Award for 2001. TIME Magazine named Marley’s ‘EXODUS’ the best album of the 20th century, and his song ‘One Love’ was adopted by the British Broadcasting Corporation as its Millennium Anthem.
As a genre, reggae music reverberated with the dispossessed. Jamaican legends Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Peter Tosh helped to shape the music form. The sounds dominated the recording studios, filled record shops, bellowed from sound systems and reigned supreme at street dances. Jamaicans from all walks of life descended on downtown lawns and halls and various night clubs to ‘level the vibes’.
Reggae music is synonymous with both hardship and a good time, both the endurance of and the celebration of overcoming a struggle. The feel-good experience of reggae music blaring from sound system speakers is had both at the local corner store and a major reggae festival. Closely linked with the Rastafarian religion, reggae invokes a sense of upliftment and an appreciation of life in all its forms. It's music for the people.
Reggae remains popular on the international scene from roots rock to dancehall. It has gained success abroad and has been credited for the birth of the popular American genre, ‘Hip-Hop’. Modern artistes continue to fuse the reggae rhythms with other music forms to create new sounds, infusing their messages and spreading cool island vibes. Without doubt, Jamaica has left an indelible imprint on the musical landscape. Our music continues to uplift and inspire, possessing that natural groove that keeps you feeling good.
Dancehall is one of the most prominent forms of reggae that has found much favour with the younger generation. It emerged in the late 80s and early 90's as an outgrowth of reggae. The high energy and hardcore ‘riddims’ capture the vibrant popular culture from the slangs to fashion and dance moves. The experience of local street dances and 'dance halls' equipped with sound systems and stereo boxes stacked high is unlike any other entertainment event in the world. Hardcore lyrics toasted over computerized ‘riddims’, deejay clash (face offs), sound systems and new dance styles and fashion statements are standard trademarks. Deejays’ reputations are built on their prowess for versatile rhymes, catchy new phrases and their ability to ‘ride’ a riddim. Popular deejay acts ‘King’ Yellowman, Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Lady Saw, Capleton, and Bounty Killa attained celebrity status and became the keepers of young Jamaica’s hype.
Dancehall is credited as the predecessor of Hip Hop music and is a popular choice as the undercurrent of today's top billboard hits. Though easily experienced anywhere on island, the city of Kingston has drawn visitors from far and wide, eager to learn the latest dance moves at a weekly street dance. If reggae is music for your soul, dancehall is music for your feet.
Come Experience It
The National Dance Theatre Company showcases Jamaica’s colourful history and contemporary ideas, while groups like the Jamaica Folk Singers and University Singers perform traditional song and dance that honour the country’s past. Kingston's lively theatre scene offers a rich variety of locally themed and topical plays. A hallmark of Jamaican theatre is the Ward Theatre’s LTM Pantomime- an annual Jamaican folk musical with original song and dance and dramatic costumes. The season opens each year of December 26th and runs for several months.
Join us at any of these annual music festivals and events.