Get your dose of reggae, soca, hip-hop and R&B on the Caribbean's most musical island.
Anywhere you go in Jamaica- from urban-jungle Kingston to laid-back Negril, from sumptuous resort to humble roadside rum shack-one thing is a constant: that beat. It’s reggae, of course, on the island that invented it, making it blissfully impossible to enjoy a non-musical Jamaican holiday. To really up the reggae ante, though, visit the island during one of its annual music festivals and get lost in the glorious riddim.
Jamaica Jazz & Blues (January, Trelawny)
This blockbuster festival has a bit of blues, a decent dose of jazz and a good measure of contemporary and classic R&B—all courtesy of international artists. But it also delivers plenty of local talent: reggae artists performing extra-smooth sets, jazzing up their style and kicking it up with extra flair for an audience that’s come from as far as Japan and as near as the tony suburbs of Kingston. In past years this fest has hosted big- name acts, ranging from Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross and Celine Dion to the Jamaican pop star Shaggy and the reggae crooner Maxi Priest.
Rebel Salute (January, St. Ann)
Do you like to praise Jah with your music? Drink in conscious lyrics? Sway to classic reggae rhythms? Then this is the festival for you. It was launched by local artist Tony Rebel as a one-day homage to roots reggae—a subgenre of reggae and the direct descendent of Marley and co.—and is now a two-day affair, with a lineup showcasing the best of today’s and yesterday’s Jamaican music scene. No alcohol or meat is served, but there are plenty of vendors selling ital—read: Rastafarian-friendly delicacies, such as vegetarian food and wine made from roots and spices.
Bacchanal Jamaica (April, Kingston)
Carnival time in Jamaica is all about being TrinJamaican—a lively fusion of Trinidad-style soca music events and uber- Jamaican reggae ones. Fetes and a grand street parade are held across Kingston, just as one would find in Trinidad’s famous bacchanal. There are even “socacise” events, which turn working out into a fabulous shindig. But the birthplace of reggae music serves up plenty of hometown rhythms along with the soca jams, concerts, all-inclusive fetes and more.
Reggae Sumfest (July, Montego Bay)
If you’re a diehard reggae fan, this is the be-all-and-end-all of Jamaican music shows, and it’s held right in the heart of the music’s mecca. If you’re a casual listener, Sumfest will convert you into that diehard fan. Since 1992 this festival has attracted tens of thousands to a colossal field for performances by all the relevant names in reggae and its younger, hip-hop-flavored offspring, dancehall; at least a couple of big-deal hip-hop and R&B acts are also thrown in for good measure. Get your stamina up beforehand. For three nights the shows wrap up well after sunrise, so devote an extra week on the beach to recovery time.
The Reggae Marathon and Half Marathon (December, Negril)
Talk about an inspiring fitness soundtrack: This certified running event—set on the glorious white-sand beaches and rugged cliffs that make up tourist-friendly Negril—has reggae at the heart of it. The whole event is, really, a grand reggae party, with roadside DJs spinning the latest tunes and the classic oldies. At a Victory Party and Village Bash, runners can celebrate themselves by dancing the night away.