Jamaican Beats: The Music of Montego Bay

By: Sarah Woods

January 24, 2014

From ska to reggae to dancehall and hip-hop, the music of Jamaica is an intoxicating mix of African rhythms and pulsating Euro-Latino beats. Here are a few of our favourite Montego Bay music events.

Amplified to the max through some of the most powerful sound-systems on the planet, Jamaica’s towering mega-watt speakers provide a syncopated audio backdrop to daily life – emitting a deafening distorted pulse across inner-city yards, meeting halls, bars and street corners island-wide. In Montego Bay – Jamaica’s lively coastal party resort – live band venues and the hottest reggae joints crank the volume to the max.

Stroll along the Hip Strip for a full-on audio assault, from calypso classics from kitschy neon-lit clubs and peaceful roots reggae to hardcore down-and-dirty raggamuffin with its foot-stamps and pounding drumbeats.


Jamaican music | The Music of Montego Bay

Raggamuffin and pounding drum beats © Jamaican Tourist Board


Lyrics draw on the folk music struggles of Jamaican slaves as well as proud rudeboy boasts using the grit and wit of the shanty towns. Inspiration, aspiration and determination are popular themes, as are love, sex, social justice and revolution. Many pay homage to the godfather of reggae, Bob Marley.


Bob Marley | The Music of Montego Bay

Bob Marley © Jamaican Tourist Board


Others are distinctly African and use the call-and-response style of singing so common in many genres of Jamaican music. Some favour the gangster aesthetic. Many delight in bawdy double entendres and political innuendo. Bongos form the heartbeat of many Jamaican rhythms together with bass guitar, keyboards and other forms of percussion.


Jamaican music producers | The Music of Montego Bay

Jamaican music producers © Jamaican Tourist Board

Jamaica’s musical roots run back to the 1600s, when the English first colonized the island and brought Africans slaves to the region. Today, music forms a poignant historical narrative that threads through generations – a crucial lifeblood that forms the beating heart of Jamaican society and cultural life. Children can clap and rock to music before they can walk or talk. By the time they reach their teens, it’s all-consuming – and it remains a major preoccupation until the last breath.


Jolly Boys | The Music of Montego Bay

The Jolly Boys, a mento band formed in 1945 © Jamaican Tourist Board

Jamaica’s musical calendar is dominated by celebrations of the reggae music that came from the ghettos and which retains a powerful voice. In mid-July, Mo-Bay’s musical scene hits a frenzied crescendo as the Reggae Sumfest comes to town. As one of Jamaica’s premier music festivals, this full week celebration of Jamaican music in all its many styles, draws the island’s top reggae and dance-hall acts to the Hip Strip. Hip-swinging crowds converge in animated excitement for a non-stop reggae party amidst hundreds of vendors hawking Red Stripe beer and traditional Jamaican jerk. Another musical date for the diary is Montego Bay’s Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival at Rose Hall, where spirited performances by jazz, blues, salsa and African-roots musicians thrill diehard music fans and holidaymakers alike for seven-nights in January each year.


Damian Marley | The Music of Montego Bay

Damian Marley performing at the festival © Jamaican Tourist Board

Carnival, known as Bacchanal by Jamaicans, whips the island into a storm each year during the week before Easter. Celebrations in Montego Bay feature costumed parades, street parties, dancing and live concerts with Jamaican reggae acts and soca bands adding a distinctly tropical Caribbean vibe. Crowds flock from far and wide to cheer on their favourite soca act with most concerts free to the public with the party raging “˜till dawn.


Header photo: Montego Bay’s Hip Strip © dubdem sound system


Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Jamaica. Book your flight today.


Where are your favourite places to listen to music in Montego Bay? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


Sarah Woods

Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.

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