Soul Rebels

Music as an alternative source of tourism

The Jamaican lifestyle and reggae are becoming unexpected breadwinners for the island nation.

Famous for its coffee, rum, and picturesque beaches, Jamaica attracts over 4 million tourists each year, who come from less sunny lands such as Canada, the US, Britain, and Europe to spend a week or two on the tropical island. Traditionally, western tourists tend to stay in high-end beach resorts centered in Montego Bay and, increasingly, in Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. Some tourists also venture into the real Jamaica and spend time in Kingston. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Jamaican economy, accounting for well over half of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and nearly a quarter of all jobs. However, what sets it apart from similar Anglo-Caribbean destinations is the country’s influence on the popular culture of the world: Jamaica’s 1988 bobsleigh team and its memorable debut in the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, the country’s legendary sprinters, and music icons such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh have all achieved universal recognition.

Jamaica’s rich musical culture draws on the folk rhythms and tunes of the island, which have African roots. At the same time, American jazz and R&B have had a presence for decades. Reggae, the most iconic music genre of Jamaica, was born in the 1960s, incorporating elements from both of Jamaica’s traditional music, known as mento, and jazz. Since then, it has left its mark on many music genres in the US and the UK and continues to be performed on the island to this day.

In an interview during the 2018 Sumfest Reggae festival, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, pointed out that music tourism is on the rise, and Jamaica needs to claim its share from this market. He convincingly argued that music could move Jamaica closer to achieving its goal of 5 million tourists per year. “Each year, more and more reggae music fans converge on the island to enjoy great music and the offerings of a remarkable destination. The resounding success of music festivals like Reggae Sumfest and Sting have helped to enhance our international profile significantly.”

To tap into the world’s eagerness for hearing Caribbean tunes, the country is currently hosting a number of music festivals to showcase the island nation’s music, which has become an indispensable part of the Jamaican lifestyle. Some such events have made a name for themselves in recent years, and the new and more supportive stance of the government will hopefully promote these events in 2019. Moreover, Jamaica’s winter tourist season peaks in February, which coincides with the country’s reggae month, a decision made in 2008 to commemorate the impact of the genre on national identity. Events such as Bob Marley Birthday Bash in Negril and Blue Mountain Music Festival (BMMF) in Kingston are just two of the events taking place that month. In addition to music, Jamaica’s Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth, and Sports has taken the initiative of internationalizing February by scheduling musical award ceremonies, music-related exhibitions, and film festivals. Meanwhile, Sumfest, the largest musical event of the year, has been held in July since 1993, with performances whose heat is said to match the tropical summer. According to Jamaica’s Tourist Board, this festival alone attracted over 6,000 visitors last year. Sumfest 2018 was decidedly an upgraded version of the event, attracting both international sponsors and visitors to Montego Bay.

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