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Arts & Culture

By Sadeke Brooks

Before reggae put Jamaica on the map, the island’s music was deeply rooted in African folk culture. Traditional dances such as kumina, with its mesmerising drumming and movements, gerreh and dinki-mini are still practised today. Mento was Jamaica’s first popular music, which you can still enjoy courtesy of The Jolly Boys, Port Antonio’s oldest mento group, formed in the 1950s.

After the worldwide phenomenon of Bob Marley and reggae’s inspiring rythms and laid-back vibe — embodying the heart and soul of Jamaica — music continues to be Jamaica’s most popular export. Jamaican artistes like Shaggy, Sean Paul, Shabba Ranks and Beenie Man have helped the country to maintain a steady presence. However, things took an interesting turn in recent years with international superstars like Drake, Rihanna, Tory Lanez, Beyoncé, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar either sampling songs done by Jamaican acts or collaborating with Jamaican artistes.

Whilst acknowledging that dancehall has made some strides on the world stage, artiste manager and booking agent Jerome Hamilton says reggae is the genre that has been making the most progress.
“Jamaica has produced some more traditional sounding music in the past three years, and that has brought us back some international eyes. From a reggae point, there has been an uprising from a new crop of artistes,” he says.

Despite the island’s small size, our musical influence continues to be felt all over the world. Jamaica-born singer Omi is the most recent artiste to achieve international fame, as his song “Cheerleader” not only went to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart but also went platinum in Australia, Canada, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

For dancehall artiste Agent Sasco (also called Assassin), reggae and dancehall has always maintained a presence on the world stage.
“The difference now is that more high-profile artistes are including it in their works or performing straight-up reggae or dancehall tracks. Either way, the music is being sought because it is proven to be viable and there is great demand for it,” he says.

FASHION
With yearly fashion events in the region, like Saint International Style Week and Pulse’s Caribbean Fashion week, it’s no surprise that local fashion designers have made their mark on the industry.
Burgeoning fashion designers include Ashley Martin, whose listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for creating the fiest and heaviest dress made entirely of glass, Kurt Campbell, whose shown at Milan Fashion Week and Saint International Style Week, and Jami Spence, owner of Yahdi Conscious.

Whilst proud of the advancements Jamaicans have made in fashion, Keneea Linton-George, fashion designer and executive producer of reality TV show “Mission Catwalk,” believes much more needs to be done to promote Jamaica’s fashion industry worldwide.

“I think we are slowly growing and doing better. We are not doing as [well] as we used to in the 1950s and 1960s, but we are getting back there. More Jamaicans are getting their pieces in boutiques internationally. Those who are doing [well] are inspiring others to do well,” Linton-George says, adding that the industry took a downturn in the 1980s when many textile factories closed their doors.

MOVIES
Not to be outdone by other areas of the Jamaican culture, Jamaican films have also gotten their stamp of approval. Films like Dancehall Queen, Third World Cop and Shottas have done well in the past, whilst more recent films like Jeremy Whittaker’s Destiny and Storm Saulter’s Better Mus’ Come have received good reviews worldwide and have been shown in theatres in North America, Europe and the Caribbean.

Art
Slowly gaining momentum internationally is Jamaican art. Artist Leasho Johnson says the local art community has been doing impressive work.

“Compared to the rest of the world, we have some catching up to do. But based on the small community and what we are doing, it is commendable,” says Johnson, who has shown at Yale University, Royal West England Academy and Transformers in Washington, D.C.

Whilst there is the traditional art, Johnson says the current crop of Jamaican artists cater more to a “complex audience, persons who are interested in the stories that we are telling with art.”

In Kingston, Studio 174 is a beacon of hope for inner-city youths and young emerging artists. “It’s an educational facility that provides fine arts and the activities that help to develop individuals through the arts,” explains Studio 174 founder and director, Rozi Chung.
Ocho Rios’ Harmony Hall has also been a safe haven for artists. Thanks to these galleries and more, the future of Jamaica’s art scene is bright.