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.
Reggae enthusiasts may already recognize some of their names—Protoje, Chronixx, Kelissa, Jah9, and Kabaka Pyramid, for example—although to list them individually ultimately misses the point. Together, the Revival artists produce “conscious” music rooted in positivity that informs listeners about the world at large. They see themselves as a true package deal; one united collective out to change the world. Jamaican writer and public relations expert Dutty Bookman knows this well. In fact, Bookman coined the term “Reggae Revival” back in 2011, so I checked in with him to get the inside info on the new wave of reggae. “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 to listen to on the plane, or really whenever. Take it to the next level when you land and check out some live music. Here are a few key places where you’ll find a truly authentic Reggae Revival experience:
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
The Kingston Dub Club performance takes place every Sunday in the hills overlooking Kingston.
3. Stone’s Throw Bar
Located right in the heart of Kingston, Stone’s Throw 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.
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