Music of JamaicaJamaica's music is distinctive and unique; it is also one of the few Third World nations whose music has achieved long-standing international acclaim across the globe. In the case of Jamaica, the popularity of reggae and dub has made the tiny Caribbean island one of the musical centers of the world.
Originally inhabited by the Arawaks, Jamaica was colonized first by the Spanish and then, in 1670, by the British. Many of the slaves brought to the island by the Spaniards were ordered to resist the conquering troops of Great Britain while their masters fled. These people formed their own, mostly autonomous communities in the rural interior of Jamaica and became known as the Maroons.
British plantations soon covered the island until the 19th century. Slavery was abolished in 1838, but the practice continued in the guise of indentured servitude. The modern Bongo Nation, for example, has its roots in Angolans imported as indentured servants instead of slaves, a distinction that meant little in practice. The Bongo Nation remains a culturally distinct part of Jamaican society, and is known for Kumina, which refers to both a religion and a form of music.
The distinctive modern intertwining of Jamaican religion and music can be traced back to the 1860s, when the Pocomania and Revival Zion churches drew on African and Christian traditions and incorporated music into almost every facet of worship. Later, this trend spread into Hinduism among the numerous Indians (coolies), resulting in baccra music, and, most famously, Rastafarianism transforming the Jamaican music scene in the 1960s, incorporating religious byabhingi drumming from grounation worship ceremonies.
Junkanoo (a type of folk music, also known as jonkonnu] more closely associated with The Bahamas), the quadrille (a European dance) and work songs were the primary forms of Jamaican music at the beginning of the 20th century. Mento arose early in the century, primarily from junkanoo and other folk musics; this was the earliest recorded Jamaican music.
Mento was recorded in the 1950s due to the efforts of Stanley Motta, who noted the similiarities between Jamaican folk and Trinidadian calypso, which was then finding international audiences. Count Lasher, Lord Composer and George Moxey are among the best-remembered recording artists of this period, which found mento only very limited success. More modern artists like the Jolly Boys have continued to play pure folk mento in an attempt at crossover success.
By the mid-1950s, Jamaica had switched from a rural society to an urban one. The new city dwellers in Kingston and Richmond, for example, were exposed to American R&B and rock and roll. Sound systems arose to play music at parties. Entertainers like Duke Reid and Sir Coxsone began to make their own music, as well as opening recording studios. In 1958, the first local R&B bands, including most influentially Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson, began recording for domestic audiences. Chris Blackwell's Island Records became the biggest label on the island by the 1960s, when a UK affiliate opened that came to introduce Jamaican music to the UK and, by extension, global pop markets. Blackwell's stable of artists included the first major hit, from 1964, "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small.
By 1964, a distinctive Jamaican music had sprung up based around the sound systems - ska. Ska was fast, easily danceable and very influenced by American rock. Perhaps the greatest exponents of the original wave of ska was The Skatalites, whose career went on to span decades and incorporate much of the history of Jamaican music. Poor ska fans, or rude boys, were hard-edged, violent and misogynist thugs who brought controversy to the ska scene, and scorn from the newly-independent island's white middle- and upper-class, as well as attention from national politicians, who promised protection, gifts of weapons or other incentives to harness the massive voting power of the rudeboys At first primarily instrumental, ska's rhythms generally didn't lend well to vocal stylings, though many of the most popular artists, including The Maytals, The Wailers and Jimmy Cliff, had strong vocal components. Along with the meteoric rise of ska came DJs like Sir Lord Comic, King Stitt and pioneer Count Matchuki, who began talking over the rhythms of popular songs, setting the stage for dub and hip hop.
Ska's popularity grew steadily in Jamaica and abroad, and soon dominated the Jamaican music scene. Rastafarianism, a native religion, began to grow more popular at the same time, especially in urban areas, where ska was primarily played. Soon, Rastafarianism had spread throughout the music industry, and the lyrics of ska songs began to focus on Rastafarian themes. Slower beats and chants entered the music from religious Rastafarian music, and ska soon evolved into rock steady.
Rock steady was the music of Jamaica's rude boys by the mid-1960s, when The Wailers and The Clarendonians dominated the charts, taking over from pioneers like Alton Ellis. Desmond Dekker's "007" brought rocksteady to international attention, while the music continued to emphasize the bass line over the ska's strong horns, and the rhythm guitar began playing off-beat. Session musicians like Supersonics, Soul Vendors, Jets and, most influentially, Jackie Mittoo (of the Skatalites).
In the late 1960s, performers like King Tubby began stripping the vocals away from tracks played at sound system parties. With the bare beats playing, DJs began toasting, or delivering humorous and often obscene jabs at fellow DJs and local celebrities. Before long, this had evolved into dub. In the early 1970s, dub musicians like DJ Kool Herc had taken the sound to American cities, especially New York. In the US, dub quickly evolved into hip hop, which was distinctively different from dub by the beginning of the 1980s.
By the early 1970s, rock steady had become reggae music (the style made at the time is now known as roots reggae) due to the influence of funk and adding the traditional shuffle of mento to rock steady. This quickly became one of the most popular forms of music in the world, led by Bob Marley & the Wailers. Marley himself (and to a lesser degree, Peter Tosh and others) was viewed by many, especially those in the Caribbean and Africa, as a messianic figure. His lyrics' focus on love, redemption and natural beauty captivated audiences, and he soon gained headlines for negotiating truces between rival gangs and, later, two violently warring factions in Jamaican politics. Reggae music was intricately tied to the exploding Rastafarian religion, and its principles of pacifism and pan-Africanism. Aside from Marley and the Wailers, musicians like Gregory Isaacs, John Holt and Burning Spear solidified the sound of reggae.
By 1973, the elements of dub music were in place. Mot influentially invented by King Tubby, dub combined toasting (rhythmic delivery of rhymed, alliterative and assonant lyrics) with ska, R&B or funk percussion breaks. Producers like King Tubby became famous from releasing dub records, but the DJs soon became even bigger stars, beginning with U-Roy and his successor as pop king of Jamaica, Big Youth. Big Youth dominated Jamaican pop music until the end of the decade, when dancehall artists like [Ranking Joe]], Lone Ranger and General Echo brought a return to U-Roy's style from Big Youth's Rasta chanting songs. Dub was also experimented with by musicians like Linton Kwesi Johnson and his dub poetry, Sly & Robbie and their rockers reggae, which drew upon another major influence, Augustus Pablo and his melodica playing. Sly & Robbie's rockers sound produced hit groups like The Mighty Diamonds and The Gladiators, while the style was mellowed by producer Joe Gibbs for best-selling artists like Culture and Dennis Brown. Long-time major player Burning Spear became a critical star in mid- to late-1970s with influential albums like Marcus Garvey and Man in the Hills. In reaction against the rockers sound, harmonic, spiritually-orinted Rastas like The Abyssinians, Black Uhuru and Third World.
In the later part of the 1970s, Brit Louisa Marks had a hit with "Caught You in a Lie" (1975 in music), beginning a trend of British performers making romantic, ballad-oriented reggae called lovers rock. Reggae and ska soon became major influences on various American and British punk bands of the late 1980s, with punk ska achieving great mainstream success in the mid-1990s. Other American and British musicians, playing various kinds of electronic music, frequently used reggae-oriented beats. Dub, techno and electronica remained closely intertwined throughout the 1990s.
During the 1980s, the most popular musics in Jamaica were dancehall, a form of dub characterized by complex rhythms and rhymes, and ragga, characterized by the use of electronic beats in reggae songs. Ragga is usually said to have been invented with "Under Mi Sleng Teng" by Wayne Smith (1985 in music). Ragga went on to barely edge out dancehall as the dominant form of Jamaican music in the 1980s, with Chaka Demus and Shabba Ranks proving themselves especially long-lasting and influential, and helped inspire an updated version of the rudeboy culture called raggamuffin. Dancehall was often very violent in lyrical content, and several rival performers made headlines with their feuds across Jamaica (most notably Beenie Man vs Bounty Killer), and is usually traced back to pioneering recordings from the late 70s by Barrington Levy with Roots Radics backing and Junjo Lawes as producer. Yellowman, Ini Kamoze, Charlie Chaplin and General Echo followed, along with producers like Sugar Minott.
The 1980s saw a rise in reggae music from outside of Jamaica, most importantly including Africa, where Sonny Okusuns of Nigeria, John Chibadura (Zimbabwe), Lucky Dube (South Africa) and Alpha Blondy from Ivory Coast became stars.
In the mid-1990s, other forms of dancehall were popular, and many of the most violent performers of the previous decade had converted to Rastafarianism or otherwise changed their lyrical contents. Artists like Buju Banton also saw significant cross-over success in foreign markets, while Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and others developed a sizable American following due to their frequent guesting on albums by gangsta rappers like Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. Some ragga musicians, including Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks and Capleton, publically converted to a new style of conscious music-making. Other trends included the minimalist digital tracks which began with Dave Kelly's "Pepper Seed" in 1995, alongside the return of love balladeers like Beres Hammond.