Visiting a new vacation spot like Jamaica is usually a rush of sensations—new smells, sights, and of course, sounds. And what people love to mention after visit Jamaica is the music. It permeates every aspect of life. You’re bound to hear it while enjoying breakfast, shopping, and visiting local bars and venues.
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To give you an idea of the kind music you’ll hear in Jamaica (and to impress your travel buddies with some insider knowledge), here are four of the most famous music genres to come out of Jamaica.
Similar to calypso (a musical form of Trinidad and Tobago), mento is a type of Jamaican folk music that draws on musical traditions from both West African slaves and European settlers. Mento typically relies on acoustic instruments like guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rhumba box. Street musicians in Jamaica, especially in areas frequented by tourists, can be found playing mento tunes.
The most famous, exported, and commercialized genre of Jamaican music is reggae. Though reggae is an umbrella term for many types of Caribbean music influenced by jazz and calypso/mento, its most recognizable features are thick bass lines, call-and-response lyrics, and the danceable, offbeat, staccato (“skank”) chords.
Ska’s roots actually extend a bit earlier than reggae, for which it was fundamental influence. Music historians speculate that ska’s famous shuffle beat, guitar chop sound, and blaring horns grew from Jamaican artists reinterpreting American R&B tunes. Ska has seen at least 3 waves, and has spread to England, Australia, and the US, resonating with working-class youth who used it as symbol of racial harmony since many bands featured both white and black members.
Dub is a type of electronic music that developed when artists experimenting with mixing equipment would copy or double (hence the name “dub”) reggae tunes, strip away the vocals, and emphasize the bass and drums for playback over high-powered stereo system in Jamaican dancehalls. With the growth of more sophisticated mixing gear, dub artists used various effects like music samples, echo, and reverb to mold the source material in creative and almost unrecognizable ways.