Facts about Jamaican music

Getty Thinkstock

Jamaican folk music from African slaves was the start of the island's music era. However, that genre eventually evolved into several other forms of music such as mento, ska, rocksteady and reggae. The island's music is a form of expression regarding recent events, history and religious movements.


Jamaican music has a deep-rooted history that dates to the mid-1600s when England controlled the island. After the English captured Jamaica from Spain, England expanded its slave trade, and continued to import thousands of African slaves through the 19th century. With the slaves came new languages, religions, cultures and music. The slaves used singing, dancing and drumming as their spiritual acts of freedom.

Jamaican folk

According to Jamaicanmusic.com, "the interaction between Europeans and Africans created a new language which evolved into Jamaican Creole or Patois. This language was used in most Jamaican folk songs." Folk music is the earliest Jamaican musical genre. Prior to Jamaicans earning their independence, African (Jamaican) folk music was looked down on by the British slave owners and was excluded from the education system.


A new form of Jamaican folk music, called mento, developed in the early 1900s. This genre featured numerous acoustic instruments including the guitar, banjo, hand drums and the rumba box. The new form of folk music thrived well into the 1950s, which became known as "the golden age of mento" (due to the music having its prime moments of fame at the time). Mento greatly influenced later genres, including ska.


Ska was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae music, according to Skabeat.com. Ska combined the music elements of mento and calypso along with American jazz plus rhythm and blues. It is driven by a "walking bass line" that accents rhythms on the upbeat. By the 1960s, ska was the island's dominant genre and was popular among the British mods and skinheads.


Perhaps the most popular of all Jamaican musical genres is reggae. As the tempos of ska and rocksteady began to slow down, reggae emerged in 1968 and became that new slowed-down version of Jamaican music. Jamaicanmusic.com explains that "the word reggae with regards to music comes from the song 'Do the Reggae' by the Maytals." Bob Marley was the most famous reggae musician to come out of Jamaica. His lyrics, along with the genre in general, expresses personal freedom, independence, religion and gossip.