In Jamaica, A rich cultural stew of music, film and television
By Danielle Aihini
The holiday season is approaching and winter is in full-swing. The days are shorter and the nights longer, a fact of life that never seems to get easier to accept.
Amid the snow and cold weather, many people are planning their next vacation getaway. Jamaica, a global center for music and dance, is home to some of the world’s most beautiful waters and nature.
Most people hear Jamaica and immediately think resorts, but though a small nation in the Caribbean, Jamaica is also home to many hidden gems and a thriving pop culture scene.
Start in Port Antonio
Let’s begin our virtual trip in Port Antonio. You fly into Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and drive about two and a half hours to get to the island’s third largest port, home to bananas, coconuts and sugarcane, and where many iconic American films have been shot, of course.
Close your eyes and imagine driving hours through thin, winding roads. The hum of reggae and dub music is constant and each passing car, furnished with large speakers in their backseats, remind you of how vibrant the country truly is.
Now open your eyes. To your left you see rainforest over the side of the mountain, an amalgamation of vegetation covered in greens, yellows and reds. The drive is an adventure, climbing through mountains, passing coconut and art vendors every mile, and reaching the destination is an exciting victory.
Port Antonio, originally settled by Spain, is home to Frenchman’s Cove, a resort considered to be the world’s first all-inclusive hotel. Frenchman’s Cove Beach, one of the island’s most popular beach spots, opens into the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Wooden swings hang down from palm trees over the turquoise-colored waters. The sun hits the soft sand keeping your toes warm during your walk from bench to water and back again.
Seven miles east of the port is the Blue Lagoon, where cold water meets warm and fresh rivers mix with the sea. The name is fitting, with clear blue waters surrounded by lush vegetation. Boats line the sides creating a postcard-like image.
It’s no surprise that Brooke Shield’s 1980 film, “The Blue Lagoon,” was filmed at this spot, but after several hurricanes, the scenes from the movie are almost unidentifiable.
About 23 miles outside of Port Antonio in the settlement of Manchioneal lies Reach Falls, an exotic waterfall and river pool. The
natural spring water is safe to drink and stretches over four and a half miles.
Beside the waterfall and underneath the rock face where only the bravest of visitors cliff jump, is an underground cave open for all to explore.
Kenton Davy, Reach Falls’ lifeguard and tour guide of ten years, has a personal connection to the popular spot.
Davy learned how to swim at the falls and started saving people from drowning years before even becoming a lifeguard.
Like Father, Like Son
His love and commitment to the waterfall is inspiring and like father like son, he taught his son how to swim in that same spot. His son is now training to become a lifeguard, following in his old man’s footsteps.
Similar to The Blue Lagoon, Reach Falls is home to several Hollywood films such as Tom Cruise’s 1988 film “Cocktail”
and the 1990 version of “Lord of the Flies.”
With a growing film industry and pop culture scene, Jamaica is a hot spot for all things creative. It’s no surprise that one of the most well-known musicians, Bob Marley, came out of Jamaica. Music is the glue that keeps the people of Jamaica together, its at the heart of the country’s culture and it continues to expand internationally.
Geejam, a luxury resort and recording studio in Port Antonio, one of the top ten most fascinating places to hang out, according to the Jamaican press, is where music meets relaxation.
Movie Stars and Musicians
It was Audrey Hepburn’s vacation spot and Alicia Keys’ musical getaway.
Actors and musicians such as Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone, Drake, Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Shaggy, Gwen Stefani and many more have spent time there to record and enjoy the spa, swimming pool and breathtaking views.
Geejam, owned by Music Producer John Baker, has been rated Jamaica’s number one hotel by TripAdvisor.
After Amy Winehouse’s death in 2011, Baker had The Jolly Boys, a Jamaican mento band influenced by ska and reggae music, create a cover of her song “Rehab.”
Winehouse stayed at Geejam several times and when the staff heard of her death, they were devastated. “She was like family to Geejam,” they said.
The hotel serves meals throughout the day and if you’re lucky enough, you may have the pleasure of enjoying curry shrimp as The Jolly Boys serenade you in the background. I was one of the lucky ones.
Headed to Kingston
Pop culture in Jamaica is not exclusive to Port Antonio, though. Kingston, the island’s capital and city center, is home to many artists, museums and filmmakers.
The Peter Tosh Museum in Kingston, a tribute to the life and works of the reggae icon Peter Tosh, opened on November 1. Tosh was a musician, songwriter and advocate for equal rights and the legalization of marijuana.
The museum takes you through his life starting with his early days as a musician to his career as a founding member of the critically acclaimed reggae group, the Wailers, where Bob Marley launched his career.
The museum has many of Tosh’s memorabilia on display, including his famous M16 rifle-designed guitar.
The museum incorporates a multidimensional experience with narratives and interactive visual elements and is open to the public Monday through Saturday for $20 per person.
Close by and similar in theme lies a landmark of Jamaica, The Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.
The global artist is now remembered and celebrated in his old home after his wife, Rita Marley, converted it into a museum in 1987. The property is home to a theatre, photo gallery, gift shop and display of Marley’s memorabilia and is also open Monday through Saturday for $25 per person.
Kingston Dub Club
In the spirit of music and in the hills of St. Andrew, overlooking the city’s bright lights at night, there exists a magical place known as the Kingston Dub Club. With a handful of massive speakers stacked on top of one another, the traditional sounds of Jamaica fill the property with powerful bass and a fierce desire to dance.
Rocksteady, reggae and dub music all electrify the outdoor space, home to many Rastafarian people. The club is only open on Sundays, an exclusive and hidden gem of Jamaica where “the only good system is a sound system.”
Can’t make it to Jamaica quick enough to have the Dub Club experience?
The Dub Club at Echoplex in Los Angeles is another spot serving classic reggae, dub, and dancehall as a sneak peek to the real Jamaican experience.
Supporting Local Filmmakers
The pop culture of Kingston doesn’t stop there. The city’s trade and investment hub, (JAMPRO) has partnered with the Jamaica Film and Television Association (JAFTA) to establish The PROPELLA! Initiative which “aims to support the talent of Jamaican filmmakers, and garner international exposure for Jamaican culture through film,” according to its website.
Five projects were chosen to feature in a September film festival to kick off the project and I was lucky enough to attend the second screening of all five. “The Silent Ones” by Gregory Lopez and Janet Morrison, for example, is a short film about child sexual and physical abuse and is “dedicated to all children affected by the silence.”
Another titled “Sugar” by filmmakers Laurie Parker, Sharon Leach, and Michelle Serieux was a dramatic story about a young girl working as a hotel maid willing to do whatever it takes to make enough money to go to school. The initiative and the team behind it continue to work on exposing filmmakers and publicizing Jamaica as a center for film and television.
Jamaica’s pop culture is growing in all forms. Music, film, and television have fostered the country’s growing culture and continue to expand globally. There’s more to Jamaica than beaches and jerk chicken, as one tourism board member reminded us. The culture is plentiful and the overwhelming pride the Jamaican people have for their country is inspiring.
Danielle Aihini is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is a content specialist at Robin, a software company in Charlestown, Mass.