When you picture Jamaica, you probably think of beautiful white-sand beaches, the Blue Mountains and their eponymous coffee, all the rum you could ask for, and Bob Marley on repeat.
But hold up on that last one. While Marley was undoubtedly one of the most influential reggae singers of our time—and his legacy continues to live on around the world—there’s actually a new group of reggae stars on the rise in Jamaica. Often referred to as the “Reggae Revival” musicians (although use of that term is somewhat divisive, which we’ll get to later), they’re a fairly young bunch that makes “conscious” music that focuses on awareness. When you explore the local streets and bars in Jamaica, they’re the ones you’ll hear on the radio. But more importantly, it’s their music and ideals—not so much those of the Marleys, the Toshes, and the Cliffs of decades past—that paint the most accurate picture of Jamaican reggae culture today.
“The ‘Reggae Revival’ community grew pretty organically,” Bookman begins. It can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s, when dancehall music—music produced by a DJ and generally made for dancing in a club—began to overtake the spiritual Bob Marley–era roots music. Of course, there were artists during that time who were still producing roots music, like Shaggy and Buju Banton, but for the most part, the vibe on the island was changing.
That musical shift altered the cultural landscape, as well. Dancehall had some violent undertones, which brought Jamaica to a dark place. “One thing to know about Jamaica is that we are very influenced by our music,” Bookman says. “With dancehall, people were singing about demons, like that was something desirable to attain. It had really gone to the depths of where it could go. At that point, people were just not feeling the demon thing anymore—so they started looking around for other options.”
Enter Protoje, a “cool-looking young Rastafari from the country” who was emerging from the underground live music scene. “He was a new option at a time when people were starting to look for other vibrations,” explains Bookman. “The pendulum had to swing back to something more organic and holistic and good for you.” Once Protoje started gaining recognition, he introduced other musicians from the live music scene. Eventually, the “Reggae Revival” community was born.
For many Jamaicans, these new musicians were a much-needed breath of fresh air, but not all Jamaicans were pleased with the genre’s name. “We have elders who took offense to the term and thought it disregarded the work of all the generations past,” explains Bookman. After all, using the word “revival” implies that something was lost and then found again, which possibly discredits the artists who never stopped making roots music. Bookman, meanwhile, was just trying to spread the good word. “I knew we could have a bigger and more positive impact on Jamaica if we had a name,” he says. “But it caught on so quickly that the community didn’t have a chance to talk it through.”
Now, six years later, while there is still some backlash, many have come to accept the phrase. But regardless of what it’s called, “conscious” music is on the rise in Jamaica. Here are 12 songs to check out before you go—the videos act as nice virtual tours of the island, too!
Story continues after the slideshow
Dutty Bookman’s 12 Essential Reggae Revival Songs
One of the more famous songs to emerge from the Reggae Revival, this Protoje tune—whose main lyrics are, “And I suppose I’m pleased/To be chilling in the West Indies”—cuts right to the spirit of Jamaica. “When you go to a place like Jamaica, it’s a nice, laid-back vibe a lot of the time, and this song really speaks to that. Even in the city, there’s this energy of chill, relax, and enjoy the day, you know?” says Dutty Bookman.
Many of the songs from this new wave of reggae remind Jamaicans to think bigger, to remember that they are global citizens, not just Jamaicans. “In dancehall music, we fell into the trap of thinking we were in this Jamaica world, but this song has a global outlook. What the world needs now is a holistic approach. We need worldwide love and that concept is ingrained in the Reggae Revival philosophy,” says Bookman. This super catchy song, “Worldwide Love,” is one of Kabaka Pyramid’s more upbeat melodies. “When it came out, it blew up internationally for that very reason. It’s uplifting and the whole message is very positive.”
The Rastafari religion, an Africa-centric faith system that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, has a heavy influence on reggae in general and the Reggae Revival movement in particular. This song is a good example of the inclusive spirit of the Rastafari culture. “Everyone is an honorary Rastafari, really, because of how ubiquitous it is in our culture,” says Bookman. “For people who want to travel to Jamaica and learn the true culture, this song [which speaks to happiness and living life to the fullest] is a good look into how and why we do the things we do in Jamaica.”
As you know from many of Bob Marley’s lyrics, reggae music goes hand-in-hand with marijuana—the green plant is a holy sacrament to the Rastafari people. “Glorifying the herb is something that’s always happened in reggae music because of the convergence of music and spirituality—and this song is the latest to do that,” says Bookman. Although the song is very popular within the community, Keida isn’t in the spotlight as much of some of the other Reggae Revival artists. Bookman guesses that’s likely because she simply isn’t as active when it comes to social media marketing.
In the early days of the Reggae Revival, this song boosted the spirit and morale of the growing community. For that reason, it’s considered one of the anthems of the movement—and Raging Fyah is one of its most treasured bands. “In the early days, people looked forward to this song in that underground music scene. Judgment Day just had to be performed. The chorus is, ‘On Judgment Day, I’ll be playing music for the rebels,’ which speaks to us because we believe we are in apocalyptic times right now. Judgment Day is not one day but the entire era, one in which we are willing to stand up and fight for what’s right,” Bookman explains. “It’s like a victory song for us, a song that uses music to help heal the people.”
Jah9 is is known for examining issues very deeply in her music. She likens living in Jamaica to living in a jungle—or like the Wild West—which is very different than the picture most tourists have of the island. “Songs like ‘Jungle’ are important because they help highlight the things that could be better about our country. Travelers want to have good times, but they also want to be aware of all of the truths of the society they’re visiting, and this song helps illustrate [those struggles],” says Bookman. In other words, Jamaica is a beautiful place and many of its people try to spread positivity, but like all places, it has its problems. This song spotlights those issues to raise awareness.
Similar to “Jungle,” this song also shines a spotlight on the hardships of life in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston. “It’s good to know these realities, especially as outsiders and visitors to Jamaica. These songs highlight hardships because they are part of the country,” notes Bookman.
This song by Chronixx helped put the Reggae Revival on the map and is still helping to destigmatize the Rastafarian lifestyle every day. “Rastafari came up basically as a vilified cult in Jamaica. Many of our elders, some of whom are still alive, were persecuted and went through a lot of oppression,” explains Bookman. “So the fact that they are able to see a whole new generation of young, self-declared Rastafaris looking at Rastafarianism as a legitimate path to walk makes this song one of the anthems of this movement.”
“Jah Love” is all about love, togetherness, and unity—the core values of the conscious community in Jamaica. And even though Micah Shemaiah is one of the artists who shies away from the term Reggae Revival, according to Bookman, his work truly reflects the values of his generation, regardless of what you call it. Also, by casting children to play the major roles in this video, Shemaiah shows how much he and the entire community value youth.
Traditionally, Rastafaris have been thought of as very patriarchal—but the new Reggae Revival generation is out to change that. “They’re shaking off a bit of that rigid patriarchy and really showing respect toward women—not only in songs, but in general,” Bookman says. In this song, Chronixx’s partner is pregnant and he shows how he takes care of her while she’s expecting, all the while treating her with utmost respect. “There is no exclusion of females in the Reggae Revival community—we revere women, value their opinions, and treat them with respect and equality,” Bookman emphasizes.
Similarly, this song also illustrates how the community aims to stomp out the patriarchy and usher in a new feminist era. It’s a simple tune about courtship, but on a deeper level is about honoring the female spirit and treating women with respect. “These two songs [‘Majesty’ and ‘No Lipstick’] are two soft asides to the normally aggressive male energy,” Bookman says.
Many people—both travelers and Jamaicans alike—have a perception that Rastafaris are strapped for cash, dress in rags, and deliberately choose a path of hardship and poverty. But that’s because they were once excluded from society and had no choice but to live that way. This song illuminates their new reality. “Mahr basically says, ‘Yeah, Rasta people should look clean and nice and should dress the way they want.’ He even talks about wearing diamonds and Clarks shoes,” Bookman continues. At the heart of these lyrics is the idea that since Haile Selassie I—Ethiopia’s last emperor and God incarnate for many Rastas—was always well-dressed in suits, the people following a movement based on his ideals should look nice themselves. “We are in a different generation now—and we want to look good, too, because we can,” says Bookman.
1. Jamnesia Sessions
Jamnesia is a surf camp east of Kingston where many musicians perform during the twice-monthly “sessions.” The sessions happen every other Saturday night and are announced on Facebook and Instagram.
2. Kingston Dub Club
This performance takes place every Sunday in the hills overlooking Kingston.
3. Stone’s Throw Bar
Located right in the heart of Kingston, this bar is where many up-and-comers perform. If you aren’t going to Jamaica anytime soon, you can also catch Chronixx with his band Zincfence Redemption on tour throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kigdom, and France starting in March.
>>Next: Find a New Rhythm in Jamaica