As the legend Bob Marley sings… “One good thing about music …when it hits you, you feel no pain”.
Kingston, Jamaica is a melting pot of music and history and positive vibrations! With so many legends and genres of music born out of Kingston, Jamaica from rock steady, reggae and ska to dance hall…. let’s just say a music lovers vacation here is by far the coolest music history class you will ever take.
The safest and easiest way to navigate the epic music scene in Kingston is to hire a driver. I highly recommend JUTA Tours so that you can plan your own agenda and hit up all the sights and sounds at your own irie pace. Take a guided bus tour like the ‘Making of The Music Tour’ or map out your own musical adventure. Since you are heading to the birthplace of reggae, remember that Jamaica is a place for those music lovers with an open mind and an open heart. Interestingly, flocks of Japanese and Europeans flock to Kingston for the music scene. In fact, you’ll see many who have adapted the Rastafarian way of life and never left.
In Jamaica, the drum is the heart of the music and the roots of the Afro people. Truth, unity and one love are heard in the power and lyrics of Jamaican music. Bob Marley sang about his early years living in the rags of Trench Town in many of his songs and Jamaican’s do consider it the birthplace of reggae music. Many music legends were brought up in the poor area of Kingston known as Trench Town. Alton Ellis, the Grandfather of Rock Steady, Mortimer Planno (Bob Marley’s mentor), Dean Fraser and many more are just a few of the legends that shared tight quarters and hardships. Although this stop is not offered on the mainstream Kingston music tour route, you can call ahead or show up for tours in person HERE so you that you don’t miss this critical piece of music history. Local guides like Trevelle take pride in the culture of the area and times past and present. If only the walls could talk, you will learn about Bob Marley’s early years, his life as it was in the poorest neighbourhood, his mentors and influencers and the inspiration behind many of his most powerful songs and lyrics. Life in Trench Town really was the motivation behind his music and his journey into life as a Rastafarian.
After Bob Marley left Trench Town he moved ‘downtown to uptown’ as they say in Jamaica. Bob moved from Trench Town to his 56 Hope Rd where he lived from 1975 until his death in 1981. Today, his home and recording studio, stands as the Bob Marley Museum, a protected heritage site that pays homage to the music legend and continues to influence the hearts of many of us. Experience the history, the personal life and music career of the legend himself. Tour guides literally sing you through the rooms of his home, exploring his life as a legendary artist, father and Rastafarian. Jamaica is currently in the process of making Feb 6 (his birthday) Bob Marley Day – a national government holiday during Reggae Month in February that offers a full month of reggae-inspired events and concerts.
A few years after Bob’s death, Rita Marley and the Bob Marley Foundation opened Tuff Gong Studios, a rehearsal and recording space where artists like Shaggy, Jay Z and Koffee to name a few are known to rehearse. You’ll find some of Bob Marley’s original instruments and awards as well as the vinyl record album factory and flat bed truck used to distribute his vinyl record albums back in the day. Tuff Gong is an interactive music experience that runs tours Monday to Saturday from 9:30am until 4pm.
The Peter Tosh Museum is another impressive Kingston music attraction for music fans. Learn about the life, death and musical career of one of Jamaica’s rebel legends, a founding member’s of the Wailers but also the forgotten one. A self-taught musical genius who could play every instrument he touched yet faced hard times in his fight for legalization, equal rights and justice. Fiery and strong willed, Tosh didn’t get his big break until he collaborated with The Rolling Stones in 78’. Jamaicans connect Bob Marley with ‘One Love’ and with Peter Tosh with ‘Legalize It’.
If you are planning to travel anywhere for your love of music it’s easy to scratch the surface, but if you have time…did deep. Take a tour of the Alpha Boys School in Kingston for some reggae 101. Established in 1880 as a school for ‘Wayward Boys’ by the Sisters of Mercy, many Alpha students went on to become musical pioneers in ska, reggae and early dancehall. You won’t forget the talent and inspiration observed within the walls of this converted nunnery.
Once you have tackled the rich history of Kingston, rest your head and get ready for a night of good vibes, great music and tropical beats. Everything happens late at night in Kingston so you’ll want to take some downtime so you can keep up with the Jamaican music scene after-dark. Here are a few music hot spots that will give you a taste for the diversity of the music and the people of Kingston.
Tuesday Night Sankofa Sessions at The Pallet – DJ Iset Sankofa blends musical genres and collaborates with local artists and bands to create a unique DUB vibe that pays tribute to the Jamaica’s African heritage. Afro Beat, Afro Pop and Reggae on Dub create a special vibe set in a lounge style atmosphere that attracts musicians and music lovers from all corners of the world. Vibe: Up-tempo and spicy
Thursday Nights at The Pallet: Lively up yourself with live music featuring local and upcoming artists. Vibe: Chill & mellow
Weddy Wednesdays – Stone Love Dancehall party at the Stone Love HQ. A variety of DJ’s take you on a Jamaican Dance Hall journey you won’t soon forget. You’ll be cutting a rug with Kingston celebs and locals as they come out of the woodwork late at night and flock to this legendary weekly Dance Hall showdown. VIBE: Anything goes
Vinyl Thursday – A weekly dancehall session featuring ‘Exile The Brave’ and his King Harar Sound. Strictly vinyl, this session features mainly old school reggae. VIBE: 70’s dance hall scene VIBE: Cool runnings
Friday DJ / dancehall scene: Kingston on Fridays après business hours is a scene in itself. Join the uptown crowd for some of the best DJ’s and Dance Hall in town as they take over venues like Devon House and East Japanese Next Door. Start the party at Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records and end the night at Pulse8. VIBE: Decompress
Kingston Dub Club: Sunday Nights on Skyline Drive – Follow the locals up Reggae Mountain for an evening of undiluted reggae and roots at the private home of DJ turned Rastafarian Karlyle ‘Gabre Selassie’ Lee. Gabre hosts this spiritual musical journey that will satisfy your soul and curiosity, especially those looking to experience the musical lifestyle of the Kingston Rastafari firsthand. Everyone is welcome to head to the hills, high above the city for views and vibes shared by neighbouring celebrities like Rita Marley and Chronixx to name a few. VIBE: Source Energy
Don’t forget Reggae Sum Fest is coming up this July 14-20!