advertisement

Books

Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, by Timothy White (Guernsey Press), chronicles the reggae musician's life and career, from poverty to international fame.

Jamaican Folk Tales and Oral Histories, by Laura Tanna (Institute of Jamaica Publications), is a collection culled from the best Jamaican storytelling and told with humor and style.

The Cimaroons, by Robert Leeson (William Collins), is the story of an enslaved people who fought stubbornly for their freedom. Their story does not appear in many history books, yet is true and exciting.

X/Self, by Edward Kamau Brathwaite (Oxford University Press), one of the finest of the Caribbean poets, traces his African/Caribbean ancestry in an extraordinarily rich, imaginative sequence of poems.

History -- The Gleaner Geography & History of Jamaica (Gleaner Company) is a regularly revised textbook through which Jamaican schoolchildren learn about their country. The latest edition is available in major bookstores around Jamaica.

Travel -- Tour Jamaica, by Margaret Morris (Gleaner Company), describes an island of infinite variety with interesting and warmhearted people. Covering six regions, the book provides data on places of interest, local personalities, and historic and topical anecdotes. Featured are 19 recommended tours.

The Adventure Guide to Jamaica, by Steve Cohen (Hunter Publishing), leads you on a tour of unforgettable parts of the island few visitors know how to reach.

Cuisine -- The Jamaican Chef, by Byron Murray and Patrick Lewin (Life Long Publishers), provides recipes for an array of island dishes.

Traditional Jamaican Cookery, by Norma Benghiat (Penguin), includes local recipes never before written down, having been passed down by word of mouth.

Films

More than any other island in the Caribbean, Jamaica has offered itself to the movie industry as a site for fabricating celluloid dreams. Partly the result of savvy marketing, partly the result of a landscape varied enough to offer diverse film-making settings, the island might at any time during your visit host crews for filming movies, documentaries, or TV shows and commercials.

This is to some extent the heritage of 1940s and 1950s film star Errol Flynn, whose parties and personal shenanigans added a Hollywood gloss to Port Antonio and other areas of Jamaica. The actor owned both a hotel and a house in Port Antonio for years, and the town is still the home of his widow, ex-film actress Patrice Wymore. Hollywood filmmakers first visited the island in 1941 to shoot exteriors for the George Brent and Ann Sheridan comedy Honeymoon for Three, and again in 1954 to shoot the climax of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Altogether, more than 50 motion pictures and dozens of documentaries, music videos, and TV commercials have been filmed amid the shantytowns, Great Houses, Spanish and English colonial forts, deserts, beaches, and seascapes of Jamaica.

The best-selling novels of the 20th century include the James Bond spy series written by Ian Fleming at his house on Jamaica's northeast shore. The movie versions of some, such as Dr. No and Live and Let Die, were partly filmed in Jamaica. The filming of other, even larger, adventure films followed shortly after the first Bond films. Although its story is set mostly on Devil's Island off French Guyana, Papillon, starring Steve McQueen, was largely filmed in Jamaica, near the crowded North Shore town of Falmouth. A make-believe French colonial prison was constructed, using British overseers and an army of Jamaican carpenters and masons.

During the 1970s, when Jamaican politics took an abrupt turn to the left, foreign filmmakers (as well as investors in other industries) stayed away from the island. In 1984, however, the newly elected centrist prime minister, Edward Seaga, relaxed import-export laws and enacted tax incentives for the film industry, making Jamaica again an important site for international films. The government also cut red tape. Filmmakers were lured in addition by Jamaica's trained technicians and actors (all nonunion, offering services priced much lower than their U.S. or British counterparts), and occasional access to army and navy facilities. Because of the various advantages, Jamaica snared the location rights for Tom Cruise's Cocktail, Whoopi Goldberg's Clara's Heart, Bill Murray and Peter O'Toole's Club Paradise, and a 1990 remake of Lord of the Flies. Each was filmed near Errol Flynn's old stamping ground, Port Antonio.

Documentaries have been filmed in Jamaica as well. Heritage Films chose the Blue Mountains as a cost-effective substitute for Kenya and Tanzania when producing a biography of zoologist Dian Fossey. Entitled The Strange Life and Death of Dian Fossey, this film should not be confused with Sigourney Weaver's Gorillas in the Mist, which was shot in Africa. Several films dealing with reggae have also been produced in Jamaica.

For the 26-episode remake of the Flipper TV series, which presented the adventures of two young brothers with a herd of tame dolphins, the locale was shifted from the Florida Keys to Jamaica, and the script was updated to include a Jamaican actor as one of the young protagonists.

Even in films not requiring a Caribbean setting, Jamaica retains a strong pull on the imaginations and budgets of Hollywood filmmakers. One such example is the humorous horror movie Popcorn, which a viewer might easily believe had been filmed in Los Angeles. Actually, the film was shot with English and American actors in Kingston, and has nothing to do with swaying palms and coral reefs. Most challenging to the film's art directors was the creation of a giant mosquito poised menacingly atop the protagonists' car.

The Lunatic, released in 1992, is a ribald comedy. Set in a tiny Jamaican hamlet, it tells the madcap story of a vagabond with a good heart, a "randy" German visitor, and a butcher of many talents. The film has been called "a Caribbean fantasy."

Wide Sargasso Sea (1993), an adaptation of the Jean Rhys novel of 1966, received good critical notices. Rich in imagery of 19th-century Jamaica, it tells the story of a young English aristocrat named Rochester (played by Nathaniel Parker) who arrives in Jamaica and marries a Creole sugar-plantation heiress (played by Karina Lombard). Rochester turns out to be the Rochester -- that is, the brooding man of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. In her novel, Rhys attempted to "fill in" the doomed saga of Rochester's first marriage as a prelude to Jane Eyre.

Stepping Razor -- Red X (1993) has been called a "reggae Malcolm X." This politically galvanizing portrait tells the tragic story of reggae legend Peter Tosh, who was murdered in 1988. The voice in the film is that of Tosh himself, culled from the "Red X" tapes he was working on for a planned autobiography. Much vintage footage of life in Jamaica in the 1960s is shown in the film, along with re-creations of Tosh's childhood.

Cool Running (1993) is loosely based on the story of a Jamaica bobsled team that achieved massive publicity at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The team had practiced without ever having seen snow. The film was shot not only in Calgary (site of the Olympics) but also in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. One critic suggested it was a snowbound Chariots of Fire with reggae music.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) is an effective commercial for the island, starring Angela Bassett as a vacationing San Francisco stockbroker who dallies with Taye Diggs amongst lush scenery. The Jamaica tourism board says that travelers still call to ask where the movie was shot. The answer: mostly in and around Mo Bay, at Half Moon Beach and the Round Hill Hotel, where Diggs returned for his off-screen wedding.

Several less flattering films focus on the lives of gangsters ("shottas") and drug traffickers in Kingston. Belly (1998) features rappers DMX, Nas, Method Man, and TLC's T-Boz; popular Jamaican actor Paul Campbell stars in Third World Cop (1999); and Wyclef Jean appears in Shottas (2002).

Instinct (1999) stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., as a psychologist studying a disturbed anthropologist, played by Anthony Hopkins, who's been living with a pack of gorillas in the African jungle. The movie is another example of the Jamaican landscape's scenic versatility, with the Roaring River and rainforests outside of St. Ann plausibly standing in for the wilds of Rwanda.

Although Jamaica does not feature prominently in any recent releases, many of the films previewed above are available on DVD.

Music

Many people visit Jamaica just to hear its authentic reggae. Reggae is now known around the world and is recognized in the annual Grammy Awards run by the U.S. music industry.

The roots of Jamaica's unique reggae music can be found in an early form of Jamaican music called mento. This music was brought to the island by African slaves, who played it to help forget their anguish. Mento is reminiscent of the rhythm and blues that, in the mid-20th century, swept across North America. It is usually accompanied by hip-rolling dances known as dubbing, with highly suggestive lyrics to match. Famous Jamaican mento groups reaching their prime in the 1950s included the Ticklers and Pork Chops Rhumba Box Band of Montego Bay.

In the late 1950s, Jamaican musicians combined boogie-woogie with rhythm and blues to form a short-lived but vibrant music named ska. Jamaican artists in this form included Don Drummond, Roland Alphanso, Lloyd Knibbs, Theophilus Beckford, and Cluet Johnson. The five often played together during a vital chapter in Jamaica's musical history. It was the politicization of ska by Rastafarians that led to the creation of reggae.

Calypso -- No analysis of Jamaican music would be complete without the inclusion of Jamaican-born musician, actor, and political activist Harry Belafonte. Recognizable to more North American and British listeners than any other Jamaican singer in the 1950s and early 1960s, he became famous for his version of the island's unofficial anthem, "Jamaica Farewell," in which the singer leaves a little girl in Kingston Town. Although he worked in other musical forms, Belafonte is particularly known for his smooth and infectious calypsos. Note: Some purists in the crowd will point out that calypso is really a product of Trinidad, but it remains very popular in Jamaica (and Barbados).

Reggae -- The heartbeat of Jamaica, reggae is the island's most distinctive musical form, as closely linked to Jamaica as soul is to Detroit, jazz to New Orleans, and blues to Chicago. The term reggae is best defined as "coming from the people." It is taken from a song written and performed in the late 1960s by Jamaica-born "Toots" Hibbert and the Maytals ("Do the Reggay").

With a beat some fans claim is narcotic, it has crossed political and racial lines and temporarily drained the hostilities of thousands of listeners, injecting a new kind of life into their pelvises, knees, fingertips, and buttocks. It has influenced the music of international stars such as the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, the B-52s, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Third World, as well as lesser-known acts such as Black Uhuru, Blue Riddim Band, and many rap groups. Most notably, it propelled onto the world scene a street-smart kid from Kingston named Bob Marley. Today the recording studios of Kingston, sometimes called "the Nashville of the Third World," churn out hundreds of reggae albums every year, many snapped up by danceaholics in Los Angeles, Italy, and Japan.

Reggae's earliest roots lie in the African musical tradition of mento. Later, the rhythms and body movements of mento were combined with an improvised interpretation of the then-fashionable French quadrille to create the distinctive hip-rolling and lower-body contact known as dubbing. Lyrics became increasingly suggestive (some say salacious) and playful as the musical form gained confidence and a body of devoted adherents.

In the 1950s calypso entered Jamaica from the southern Caribbean, especially Trinidad, while rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll were imported from the United States. Both melded with mento into a danceable mixture that drew islanders into beer and dance halls throughout Jamaica. This music led to the powerful but short-lived form called ska, made famous by the Skatalites, who peaked in the mid-1960s. When their leader and trombonist, Don Drummond, became a highly politicized convert to Rastafarianism, other musicians followed and altered their rhythms to reflect the African drumbeats known as kumina and burru. This fertile musical tradition, when fused with ripening political movements around 1968, became reggae.

One of the most recent adaptations of reggae is soca, which is more upbeat and less political. Aficionados say that reggae makes you think, but soca makes you dance. The music is fun, infectious, and spontaneous -- perfect for partying -- and is often imbued with the humor and wry attitudes of Jamaican urban dwellers. Soca's most visible artists include Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. A skillful entrepreneur and organizer, Lee is the force behind the growing annual Jamaica Carnival (first week of April), which draws more than 15,000 foreign visitors to Kingston, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay.

Leading early reggae musicians included Anton Ellis and Delroy Wilson. Later, Bob Marley and (to a lesser degree) Jimmy Cliff propelled reggae to world prominence. Marley's band, the Wailers, included his Kingston friends Peter MacIntosh (later known as Peter Tosh), Junior Brathwaite, and Bunny Livingston (now known as Bunny Wailer). Since the death of Marley in 1981, other famous reggae musicians have included his son Ziggy Marley, Roy Parkes, Winston "Yellowman" Foster, and Roy Shirley. Among noteworthy bands are Third World and the Mighty Diamonds.

Rap -- After 1965 the influx of Jamaican immigrants to North America's ghettos had a profound (and profitable) influence on popular music. Such Jamaican-born stars as Clive Campbell, combining the Jamaican gift for the spoken word with reggae rhythms and high electronic amplification, developed the roots of what eventually became known as rap. Taking on a street-smart adaptation of rhyming couplets, some of which were influenced by Jamaica's rich appreciation of word games and speech patterns, he organized street parties where the music of his groups -- Cool DJ Herc, Nigger Twins, and the Herculords -- was broadcast to thousands of listeners from van-mounted amplifiers.

Designed to electrify rather than soothe, and reflecting the restlessness of a new generation of Jamaicans bored with the sometimes mind-numbing rhythms of reggae, popular Jamaican music became less awestruck by Rastafarian dogmas, less Afro-centric, and more focused on the urban experiences of ghetto life in New York. Music became harder, simpler, more urban, and more conscious of profit-searching market trends. Dubbed dance-hall music, the sounds seemed inspired by the hard edge of the survival-related facts of life ("girls, guns, drugs, and crime") on urban streets.

One of the major exponents of the new form is Super Cat (William Maragh), who wears his hair cut short ("bald-head") in deliberate contrast to the dreadlocks sported by the disciples of Marley. The sounds are hard and spare, the lyrics as brutal and cruel as the ghetto that inspires them. Whereas Marley, during the peak of his reggae appeal, sold mainly to young whites, the new sounds appeal mostly to young black audiences who relate to the sense of raw danger evoked by dance-hall music's rhythms and lyrics. During some of Shabba Ranks's concerts, audiences in Jamaica have shown their approval by firing gunshots into the air -- known locally as a "salute of honor."

Recommended Recordings -- Jamaica's culture is indicative of and certainly can be defined by its main musical export -- reggae. The undisputed king of reggae, the late Bob Marley, popularized the genre, which is musically stylized by percussive guitar riffs and lyrically peppered with political and social activism.

Legend (The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers; Tuff Gong/Island Records, 422846210-2) chronicles the late artist's body of work. Termed a poet and a prophet, Marley brought reggae into the American conscience and mainstream. The album features a collection of hits such as "Get Up, Stand Up," "Jamming," "One Love," and perhaps his biggest hit, "Stir It Up." Legend was released in 1984 and has already outsold such megahits as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

Honorary Citizen (Columbia/Legacy, C3H 65064), a three-CD boxed set, covers the career of Marley's contemporary, Peter Tosh, a reggae legend in his own right and also termed a poet, prophet, preacher, and philosopher. Honorary Citizen features the best of Tosh's work, including some unreleased and live tracks with artists such as Marley, Bunny Wailer (of the Wailers), Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. Tracks include "Fire Fire," "Arise Blackman," and "Legalize It."

Liberation (Shanachie Records, 43059) by Bunny Wailer is another important album of the reggae movement. When Newsweek selected the three most important musicians in the Third World, Bunny Wailer was among them. He has controlled his artistic development, despite tragedies in his career, while avoiding any compromise of his vision.

One Love (Heartbeat Records, CDH111/112) by Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh offers the three biggest legends of reggae together on one album -- a "Three Tenors" of reggae. This compilation is the first chronological and definitive study of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Peter Tosh in their formative years. The music, the cornerstone of the ska era, includes previously unreleased alternate takes and rarely recorded Jamaican singers.

Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Best of 1988-1993 (Virgin, 724384490821), spans the successful and ongoing career of one of Bob's many children. Ziggy is largely responsible for reggae's 1990s mainstream acceptance, penning such crossover hits as "One Bright Day," "Joy and Blues," and "Brothers and Sisters," which are contained in this collection. His debut album, Conscious Party, is still his best work.

Liberation -- The Island Anthology (Island Records, 314518282-2) by Black Uhuru is a boxed set of collected works from the band's 1980s Island Records catalog. The 1980s were still dominated by the Marley sound, and Black Uhuru was the band that passed the reggae torch along to Ziggy Marley.

The Lee "Scratch" Perry Arkology (Island/Jamaica, 61524 3792) is another recent boxed set release of another "old skool" reggae artist from "back in the day." Covering Perry's entire career, it contains recordings from the many different bands he formed, as well as solo works, including two never-before-released tracks.

In Concert -- Best of Jimmy Cliff (Reprise, 2256-2) is a recording with a legendary pedigree. Produced by legends Andrew Loog Oldham and Cliff, this album features Ernest Ranglin on lead guitar and Earl "Baga" Walker on bass. It includes the classic "Many Rivers to Cross" and "The Harder They Come."

Jah King Don (Mango/Island Records, 162539915-2) by Burning Spear is known for its strongly political lyrics. This record could serve as a definition for hard-core reggae. It includes "World Power" and "Land of My Birth."

Too Long in Slavery (Virgin, CDFL9011) is an album by one of Ziggy Marley's contemporaries, Culture. All songs were written and performed by J. Hill, K. Daley, and A. Walker.

The recordings by the Marleys, Tosh, and the Wailers are considered to be purist reggae, defined as such today because of reggae's splintering into many different forms, such as dance/house music and rap.

Best Sellers (Rykodisc Records, 20178) by Mikey Dread is a compilation album spanning the career of Dread, Jamaica's best-known DJ. With material ranging from 1979 to 1990, it was Dread (along with the band Maxi Priest) who ushered reggae into the new dance movement.

Many Moods of Moses (VP Records, VPCD1513-2) by Beenie Man is the latest release by an artist whose political lyrics maintain all the criteria for purist reggae, but he adds a dance beat heard only from the likes of Dread before the 1990s. Tracks from this album include "Who I Am (Zim Zamma)" and "Oysters and Conch."

Sawuri (Dom Records, CD 1067), the self-titled release by Sawuri, offers a Creole taste to the Jamaican sound. It features the Caribbean artists Marcel Komba and Georges Marie.

Militant (Ras Records, ML 81811-2), released by Andrew Bees, is a signal that the purist reggae will always remain en vogue in Jamaica. Tracks such as "Struggle and Strive," "Militant," and "Life in the Ghetto" evoke modern realizations of the same themes Marley, Tosh, and Wailer sang about in the past -- except now with the mounting frustrations of citizens from a Third World society.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.