Print this page
Facts on Jamaican music styles
Jamaican music styles are many and varied. People are often surprised when they learn many of the interesting facts
about Jamaica’s music styles.
Here are some things you may find interesting about Jamaican music styles
Kumina is the forerunner to all Jamaican music styles. This is the
first original style of music from Jamaica. Kumina’s main instrument
is the drum and many of its characteristics came to Jamaica with the Africans. It is still vibrant today and features extensively in Jamaica’s cultural
Jamaican music styles are always evolving; this can clearly be seen in the elements of Mento (by the way Mento is
the great, great grandmother to Reggae). As a Jamaican musical style Mento is not very well known outside the
corridors of Jamaica.
Unless you are an avid traveller to Jamaica, you may have missed this one. Mento fuses African and European elements to create a unique Jamaican music
It’s more popular than Kumina, and like Kumina it features extensively in Jamaica’s yearly cultural expressions. Do
a quick YouTube search to see how Mento is played. The instruments include the Congo drums, shakers, banjo and
other home made instruments.
Though jazz is not necessarily a unique Jamaican music style, it was nonetheless very popular in the 20s
and onward. In fact, it is the precursor to Ska – there would have been no Ska without Jazz, since as a Jamaican
style of music Ska borrowed extensively from Jazz. Interesting!
Upon until recently, Ska was the most popular of the Jamaican music styles. Like Reggae, it emphasizes the off
beat and that’s what made it different from Jazz. If you slow down the tempo of Ska, interestingly, you get
Rocksteady which leads nicely into reggae. Ska still uses the walking bassline which was made popular by
When the tempo of Ska is slowed down Rocksteady emerges. As a Jamaican
music style Rocksteady is sometimes mistaken for Reggae. This is
understandable because characteristically they are very close.
Rocksteady is a slow mellow grove and its message is mainly concerned with love (listen to Alton Ellis songs
especially Rocksteady). It is sometimes referred to as lover’s rock. Listen to some Rocksteady songs to see if you
can tell the difference between this Jamaican music style and Reggae.
It is said that reggae, as the most popular of Jamaican music styles, was developed as a direct result of using the
tape echo at Studio One, which gives the reggae guitar a doubling effect.
The other Reggae producers weren’t familiar with this sound and in their desperate bit in trying to get the sound,
the chuck or chop Reggae
guitar technique, was developed. Very interesting!
The drum beat and the message is what makes Reggae different from Rocksteady and the other Jamaican music
styles. There are three distinct drum beats associated with reggae, the one drop, steppers and rockers. Reggae’s
message is about peace, love, happiness, spirituality and justice. Its main ambassador was Bob
Few knew, when disk jockeys stated talking over the version side of various songs back in the day to entertain the
members of their audience, Dancehall as a Jamaican music style would be the result.
Believe it or not, this simple technique was the precursor to Hip Hop and started in Jamaican! Very interesting! I
suppose one could say that Hip Hop is also a Jamaican music style, but I won’t go that far. Listen to Sean
Paul and Shaggy to become more familiar with Dancehall. That’s it. Leave a comment below to let us know what
you think. For more on Jamaican
music styles and reggae music history