Jamaica is an island country located in the Caribbean Sea. Taino, the indigenous people of Jamaica, call it ‘Xaymaca,’ meaning ‘the land of springs.’ Whereas the geography of a country shows its physical being, its culture is reflective of its soul. Folk songs are almost an integral part of all cultures. In 1907, Walter Jekyll published a book Jamaican Song and Story which is a collection of 108 Jamaican songs. Its contents comprise four parts titled: Anancy Stories, Digging Songs, Ring Tunes, and the Dancing Time. Jekyll wrote about the digging songs, ‘Nothing more joyous can be imagined than a good ‘digging-sing’ from 20 throats, with the pickers”so they call their pickaxes”falling in a regular beat.’ In addition to the folk songs, the Jamaican music includes: ska, reggae, and dancehall. Jamaican music is a fusion of American, African, and Caribbean music including elements of blues and soul. Jamaican music has also influenced other countries’ musical culture as seen in American toasting, rapping, and the British’s love of rock and jungle music. On account of Bob Marley’s international fame, reggae is a popular music genre throughout Jamaica.
1. Bob Marley
Nesta Robert Marley OM, Jamaican Order of Merit, better known as Bob Marley, was born in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica, on February 6, 1945 and died in Miami, Florida, U.S. on May 11, 1981 at the age of 36. He was the lead singer of the renowned musical bands: Reggae, Rocksteady, SKA, and Bob Marley & the Wailers. Introducing Jamaican music and the Rastafari Movement worldwide is attributed to him. The Rastafari followers worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, as Jesus incarnate. He was mostly inspired by the political and social issues of Jamaica. His famous songs include: ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ ‘No Woman,’ ‘No Cry,’ ‘Get Up,’ ‘Stand Up,’ ‘Jamming,’ ‘Three Little Birds,’ ‘Buffalo Soldier,’ and ‘Iron Lion Zion.’ His album Legend was released in 1984 after his death. Selling 25 million copies worldwide, it was 10 times platinum or a 1 Diamond in the U.S. His song ‘One Love,’ has been voted as the best song of the 20th century.
2. Rita Marley
Alpharita Constantia Anderson, better known as Rita Marley, was born to Leroy Anderson and Cynthia Jarret in Santiago de Cuba on July 25, 1946. She is the widow of the reggae legend Bob Marley. She was raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She has written about her early life in her book No Woman, No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley. She was one of the I Threes Group comprised of Rita, her cousin Constantine, and Marlene Gifford. Bob Marley managed the group, and it was after meeting here that they married on February 10, 1966. She founded the Robert Marley Foundation in 1986 and the Rita Marley Foundation in 2000. She has adopted 35 children in Ethiopia and has helped 200 children in Konkonuru Methodist School in Ghana.
3. Jimmy Cliff
Jimmy Cliff OM was born in Somerton District, St. James, Jamaica on April 1, 1948. He attended St. James Primary School, and it was there that he started writing songs. Presently, he is the only living musician who holds the Order of Merit which is the highest achievable civil award in the arts and sciences. His famous songs include: ‘The Harder they Come,’ ‘Sitting in Limbo,’ ‘You Can Get It if You Really Want,’ and ‘Many Rivers Across.’ He is best known for his starring in the film The Harder They Come directed and produced by Perry Henzell and Chris Blackwell. Cliff was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
4. Gregory Isaacs
Gregory Isaacs was born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 15, 1951 and died in London, England on October 25, 2010. A New York Times writer, Milo, described Isaac as ‘the most exquisite vocalist in reggae.’ His African Museum Record Label song ‘My Only Lover’ was a hit followed by other hit records including: ‘All I Have is Love,’ ‘Lonely Soldier,’ ‘Black a Kill Black,’ and ‘Loving Pauper.’ He had recorded for many famous producers, and he was featured in a 1982 documentary Land of Look Behind. His performance at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 inauguration at Jamaica was a memorable event. His ‘Isaac Meets Isaac’ was nominated for a Grammy Award in November, 2010.
5. Orville Richard Burrell
Orville Richard Burrell, better known by his stage name Shaggy, was born in Kingston on October 22, 1968. He is a Grammy Award winning Jamaican-American and best known as a pop singer and rapper. His famous songs include: ‘Boombastic’ and ‘It Wasn’t Me.’ He released his album Hot Shot in 2001 featuring the singles ‘It Wasn’t Me’ and ‘Angel.’ This album was six times certified platinum in the U.S. He performed the official song ‘The Game of Love’ and ‘Unity’ for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007. He performed at the closing ceremony of the IPL 2009 in South Africa and at the inauguration ceremony of Champions League Twenty20 in 2009 at Banglore, India.
6. Dennis Emmanuel Brown
Dennis Emmanuel Brown, also known as The Crown Prince of Reggae, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on February 1, 1957 and died in Kingston on July 1, 1999 at the age of 42. He was educated at the Central Branch All Age School and St. Stephen College. Brown’s 1994 album Light My Fire and 2001 album Let Me Be the One were nominated for Grammy Awards. Brown said about his songwriting ‘When I write a song I try to follow Joseph’s way’¦.I don’t want to sing and not live it. I must live it.’ At the 49th Independence Day of Jamaica, the governor general of Jamaica posthumously conferred the Order of Distinction for Brown.
7. Desmond Dekker
Desmond Dekker was born in Kingston, Jamaica on July 16, 1941 and died in Thornton Heath, Greater London, England on May 25, 2006 at the age of 64 years. He attended Alpha Boy’s High School. The song ‘Israelites’ which he performed along, with Wilson James and Easton Barrington was the first international Jamaican hit. It was released in 1968 and topped the U.K. singles chart in April, 1969 and was on top of the Top Ten of the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 in June, 1969. His other most famous songs include: ‘007,’ ‘Shantytown’ and ‘It Miek.’ He was known as a top-class singer in Jamaica and as a songwriter and musician in the outside world.
8. Lee Perry
Lee Scratch Perry was born in Kendal, Jamaica on March 20, 1936. He was one of the foremost producers whose mixing experimentation yielded the new genre Dub. He built a studio, The Black Arc, in 1973 and is credited with producing famous singers like Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, The Congos, and Max Romeo. Remaining behind the desk for years, he experimented with basic equipment at his studio and produced such an exquisite music that it became an integral part of the history of reggae. For his album Jamaican ET, he won a Grammy Award in 2003. Perry ranked # 100 on the Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time.’
9. Queen Ifrica
Queen Ifrica’s birth name was Ventrice Morgan, and she is also known as Fvah Mumah. She was born in Omntego Bay, Jamaica on March 25, 1975. She is the daughter of the SKA music legend Derrick Morgan. She started her career after winning a talent competition at home and then joining Tony Rebel’s record label, Flame Production. She has performed so nicely and so profusely that her recordings like ‘Randy,’ and ‘Boxers,’ and ‘Stockings’ have become staple to Jamaican reggae. Her art is reflective of her family association and the society she loves and lives in.
10. Marcia Llyneth Griffiths
Marcia Llyneth Griffiths, also known as the Queen of Reggae, was born in Kingston, Jamaica on November 23, 1949. She started her career by performing on stage with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires in 1964. She performed with Bob Andy in the group Bob and Marcia from 1970 to 1974 and as a member of I Threes from 1974 to 1981. Her recording of the ‘Bunny Wailer Song Electric Boogie’ released in 1976 for the first time and in 1989 for the second time, ranked #51 on the U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100. It is an all-time, highest-selling single by a female reggae singer.
Reggae is quintessential to Jamaican music, and Bob Marley opines reggae has been derived from ‘regal,’ ‘the king’s music,’ while Toots Hibbert has an interesting explanation, ‘There’s a word we used to use in Jamaica called ‘streggae.’ If a gal is walking and the guys look at her and say ‘Man, she’s streggae,’ it means ‘she doesn’t dress well.’ It was just something that came out of my mouth. So we just start singing ‘Do the reggay, do the reggay.’