Jamaica - Music and Performing Arts | Travel | Smithsonian

Jamaica - Music and Performing Arts

Jamaica - Music and Performing Arts

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Reggae is the musical genre most commonly associated with Jamaica and its distant roots are in folk music, while its closer relatives are the ska and rocksteady styles of the 1960s. Ska developed out of a combination of American rhythm and blues and jazz; one of ska's early standouts was the group The Skatalites. The slower sounds of rocksteady evolved to counter the tempo of ska and rocksteady's best known groups include The Paragons and Toots and the Maytals, who later went on to coin the term "reggae" on their single "Do the Reggay" in 1968.

Undoubtedly, Jamaica's most prominent musician is Bob Marley, who spent part of his childhood in St. Ann on the northern portion of the island, then lived in Kingston, where his passion for music grew as he listened to the likes of Ray Charles, Curtis Mayfield and the Drifters. Marley formed The Wailing Wailers with friends Neville O'Riley Livingston (also known as Bunny Wailer) and Peter McIntosh and over the years became an international sensation. He is largely credited with making reggae music mainstream and is famous for his politically charged lyrics and his firm belief in Rastafarianism. Shortly before his death in 1981, Marley was given the Order of Merit, which is bestowed upon "Any citizen of Jamaica who has achieved eminent international distinction in the field of science, the arts, literature or any other endeavour."

Jamaica continues to celebrate the life and work of Marley through activities such as the annual week-long Bob Marley Celebrations, an event hosted by the Bob Marley Foundation, in conjunction with the Jamaican Cultural Development Commission and the Jamaica Tourist Board. In past years, activities have included tribute concerts, lectures, and a number of events at the Bob Marley Museum, which is located in Marley's former home.

A more recent addition to the Jamaican music scene is the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, which started in 1996 and now welcomes some 40,000 people to listen to three days of jazz, blues and reggae, as well as Gospel, country, R&B, Latin and a variety of other genres performed by both Jamaican and international artists.

Reggae Sumfest, held every summer, showcases emerging and established talents with a heavy emphasis on reggae, but incorporates other forms of music as well—Bob Marley's children Damian (Junior Gong) and Ziggy have performed at Reggae Sumfest, as has Marley's former bandmate Bunny Wailer.

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