“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” –Bob Marley
There’s something about the culture of Jamaica that just can’t be found at the luxury all-inclusive resorts: despite the boozy cocktails infused with the island’s finest crafted rum.
Here, music reigns supreme.
The melodic roots of this island nation run deep throughout the Caribbean: beckoning you to pay close attention to the musical legends whose tunes are entrenched in the genres of reggae, dancehall and more. From the rhythmic cadence of their speech, to the island’s popular production houses, music is a way of life and unifying emblem for Jamaicans. And its influences span so wide that UNESCO named Kingston a creative city of music.
If you really want to discover what Jamaica is all about, you’ve got to get off the beach chair, save the zip-lines for another day, and plug your ears into the rich soundtrack of the musical heritage that invites natives and visitors alike to listen up.
Here’s how to dive in and explore the island through music.
Celebrate at Rebel Salute & Reggae Sumfest
Attending a music festival in Jamaica is an exhilarating experience that typically starts late in the evening, runs throughout the night and ends as daybreaks. So rest up in the afternoon to prepare for an all night celebration with a high-energy bunch of natives proudly paying homage to hometown legends. My first experience burning the oil way past midnight was at Rebel Salute this year: one of Jamaica’s largest annual two-day reggae music festivals in Ocho Rios. Luminary artists from both the old and new school performed crowd favorites, jamming out on a mashup of roots and conscious music.
Head to Montego Bay and you’ll find Reggae Sumfest happening in July. As an annual tradition, this one kicks off with a beach party, and proceeds through a weeklong celebration of more themed gatherings and live performances.
Discover the Legendary Bob Marley & Peter Tosh Museums
Bob Marley was a pioneer in bringing reggae music to the world’s center stage. And because of it, the home he purchased in 1975 was memorialized and turned into a museum. Featuring the musician’s personal treasures, here you gain insight into how he thought, spoke and felt about life and humanity: most notably, his desire for the world to be filled with peace and love. And in the words of the tour guide who showed me around during my visit, “Bob had big hair and an even bigger heart.”
Although Marley was a musical genius in his own right, there are many other players who were integral in paving the foundations for Jamaica’s music culture as well. Case in point is Peter Tosh whose instrumental talent was considered the backbone of the reggae band, The Wailers. Step inside the museum dedicated to Tosh and you’ll find special artifacts and photos commemorating his life.
Learn about the making of music at Tuff Gong Studio
A Marley-owned recording studio, many artists around the world travel here to make musical magic. And inside on a large wall are the lyrics to Bob Marley’s hit song “One Love”: pieced together using individual letters of broken up license plates from various states. A tour with a bit of an interactive component, I enjoyed singing hit songs, karaoke style, and learning all about the record making process: from tiny vinyl pebbles to the finished product.
Jam with the DJ at top nightclubs
Nestled in the hills of St. Andrew overlooking Kingston, there’s a party going on in an outdoor hideaway called the Kingston Dub Club. Walk down the concrete steps and you’ll be enticed by good vibes, multicolored lights, and the sounds of dub, roots, and reggae music bouncing from the DJ’s speakers. This is what a typical Sunday night looks like here. But not just here, nightclubs are one of the best places to let the music of the island float through your eardrums.