A Brief History of Jamaican Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A Brief History of Jamaican Folk Music – from its African roots to the modern day, learn about the fascinating history of Jamaican folk music.

Origins of Jamaican Folk Music

Jamaican folk music is a mixture of European, African, and indigenous influences. The first folk music on the island was brought over by the Spanish and British colonists. African slaves brought their music with them when they were brought to Jamaica, and this music blended with the music of the colonizers. The result is a unique Jamaican sound that has been passed down through the generations.

African musical traditions

African musical traditions were brought to Jamaica by African slaves who were forcibly brought to the island by the British to work on plantations. These African slaves brought with them a wealth of musical traditions from their homeland, which would lay the foundations for the unique folk music that would develop in Jamaica.

The early folk music of Jamaica was largely influenced by the music of Africa, with rhythms and instruments such as drums, maracas, and clapping being prominent. This African influence can still be heard in Jamaican folk music today.

One of the most important aspects of Jamaican folk music is its oral tradition. This means that much of the music has been passed down through generations by word of mouth, rather than being written down. This oral tradition means that the music is always evolving and changing, as new ideas and influences are added to it.

Jamaican folk music has also been greatly influenced by the music of other cultures, including British and American folk music, as well as Caribbean and Latin American styles. All of these influences have helped to create the rich and diverse musical tradition that exists in Jamaica today.

European musical traditions

The first recorded Jamaican folk song, ” again copyright law and ʻ oral tradition, were brought to the island by English, Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 17th century. These ballads, known as , were generally sentimental songs about lost love or parted lovers. Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that combines elements of African and European musical traditions. The African influences include the use of call-and-response vocals, Polyrhythmic percussion, and Sudanese fiddle music. European influences include work songs, ballads, quadrilles and Quadroon dances.

Development of Jamaican Folk Music

Jamaican folk music is a mixture of African, European, and indigenous influences. The first recorded folk music of Jamaica was developed by Maroons, who were African slaves who escaped into the Jamaican mountains. Maroon music is characterized by its use of the African drum and its focus on call and response vocals.

Ska and rocksteady

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s. It was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and Rhythm and Blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat, as well as trumpet, trombone, and saxophone solos. Ska developed in pirate radio stations such as Radio Luxembourg, which played American R&B records. The popularity of ska grew quickly in Jamaica, and by the early 1960s it had replaced mento as the dominant style of Jamaican popular music.

Rocksteady is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in 1966. It was developed from ska andmento, and is characterised by a slower tempo than ska, and a focus on the singer rather than the instrumentalists. The first rocksteady song is generally considered to be “Hold Me Tight” by Alton Ellis. Rocksteady evolved into reggae in 1968.

Reggae is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. It is a development of ska and rocksteady, and is characterized by a distinctive rhythm guitar sound, played on the off-beat, that accents Jaelyn Offbeats dun dun drum sound (in contrast to ska’s more complex upstroke strumming). Reggae lyrics are often political or social commentary on topics such as poverty, racism, religion, and justice.


Reggae is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, “Do the Reggay” was the first popular song to use the word “reggae”, effectively naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican danceable music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady. Reggae is based on a rhythmic style characterized by regular beats on off-beats, clipped echoes and emphasized bass guitar Lines.

Reggae developed from African American mento, calypso and jazz-influenced Rhythm & blues in Jamaica during the 1950s. One of the earliest types of Reggae was ska, which evolved from mento (a Jamaican folk music which includes elements of African rhythms). Ska was very popular in Jamaica during the 1960s; it was created by Jamaican musicians who were influenced by American R&B, jazz and mento music. Ska is characterized by its offbeat or skanking guitar rhythms played on guitars (usually upstroked) with a heavy backbeat provided by drums played on drum kits with snare drums, Ride cymbals and bass drums. The tempo of ska is usually slower than that of rocksteady or reggae.

Contemporary Jamaican Folk Music

Jamaican folk music is a product of the island’s history and its people. The music is a blend of African, European, and indigenous influences. The African influence is the strongest, evident in the music’s drumming and call-and-response vocals. European influences include the use of string and wind instruments, as well as harmony and melody.


Dancehall is a type of Jamaican popular music that developed in the late 1970s. It is a style of popular music that is influenced by Jamaican ska and reggae, as well as American hip hop, R&B, and disco. Dancehall is characterized by its own unique style of DJing, which involves the use of toasting, or rhyming lyrics over pre-recorded reggae beats.

Dancehall became popular in the 1980s and 1990s, with artists such as Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, and Buju Banton becoming some of the most famous dancehall artists in the world. In the 2000s, dancehall experienced a resurgence in popularity, with artists such as Vybz Kartel and Mavado becoming some of the most listened-to artists in Jamaica.


Dub is a genre of Jamaican popular music that originated in the 1960s. It is a highly experimental form of music that incorporates elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as studio techniques such as echo and reverb. Dub is often characterized by sparse instrumentation and a heavy reliance on bass and drum rhythms.Js

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