For travelers whose reggae experience begins and ends with BobMarley’s’ Legend, Jamaica’s real music scene may be island’s biggest surprise. “It’s never really been a place to hear live bands,” says Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, the label that launched Marley and others, and the Goldeneye hotel. “Most of the music you hear on albums was created in the studios, with session players. If you want to hear music, you go to the sound systems.” Imagine a gathering of multiple DJs spinning everything from reggae and ska to dancehall, music booming from an improvised wall of speakers in a borrowed church hall or parking lot, and you’ll start to get the idea. Young Jamaicans dance, sweaty Red Stripes in hand, and at any moment, a sound clash—the DJ equivalent of a dance-off—could erupt. To find one in touristy Montego Bay, watch for fliers in Trelawny and St. James or ask your local bartender. “They really get cooking on weekends,” says Blackwell.
Or just head to Kingston. “Monday is the big night there,” says Jamaican music aficionado Jesse Serwer of Largeup.com. “Mojito Mondays is very popular and has been running for a long time at Susie’s Bakery. The main guy behind that is Supa Hype. Chromatic Sound, though, is the most popular DJ crew with the youth in Jamaica right now. Stone Love is among the most relevant and current of the long-running legacy sound systems from back in the day.”