The world's largest producer of vinyl records is the small tropical island of Jamaica. The tiny Caribbean island has revolutionized urban music from around the world, and has introduced countless musical talents and legends, from its most notable, Bob Marley, to production pioneers like Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby.
Jamaica is like a tropical iceberg, the emerging part of which, Bob Marley's reggae, conceals a singularity that goes far beyond music. The wall art of the streets of Kingston, loud album covers, flyers, the graphic exuberance of street mobile DJs, and the fashion, all evoke the musical and political journey that Jamaica has gone through over the years.
There's a new exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris which is devoted to the musical history of Jamaica. From early Mento records sleeves and King Tubby's missing mixing console, to hand-painted panels from famed open-air balls and dance halls, the exhibition is the most extensive and largest to celebrate the many facets of Jamaica's history.
For more than half a century, Jamaica has written its name in letters of fire on the map of world music history. As early as the late 19th century, genres like mento — a form of Jamaican Creole music, which sounds a lot like Calypso, became prevalent, until the arival of a new sound, ska. While a global decolonization movement began after the Second World War, where India, Kenya, Malaysia, one by one, all took back their autonomy, Jamaica, gained its independence in 1962. The pride of being "master of one's fate" opened up a bracket of enthusiasm and optimism that was celebrated in music: ska, a mixture of local musical traditions and American rhythm and blues or jazz. The 60s in Jamaica saw unbelievable music production, where some sound pioneers invented unique musical practices in Kingston studios like Motta's Recording Studio and Studio One. Simultaneously, Bob Marley and The Wailers were rising to international fame, and outdoor dance parties headed by young, hungry music lovers playing records not heard on the radio, became the impetus for the technical, stylistic and musical innovations of sound systems, and eventually would lay the foundations of contemporary DJ culture.
Deejay, sound system, remix, dub: so many daring inventions, tinkered with since the 1950s in the ghettos of Kingston, prove to be are the sources of contemporary urban music. Whether it was sacred or secular music, rural or urban, militant or light, voices of the Rastafarian sages or rough boys of the ghetto, taking in the cultural, historical and political context of Jamaican music, we get a better understanding of the mechanisms that led Jamaica to produce the most popular music in the world.
For more information about the "Jamaica Jamaica!" exhibit and the rad book they came out with to accompany the exhibition head here.