Big Up, Jamaica!!! Happy 50th!!!

Let’s face facts: Jamaica is probably the closest Christopher Columbus ever came to what was later called the United States of ‘Merka, the country he is alleged to have ‘discovered.’ And, when he landed in Jamaica in 1494, there were already people there. The Arawak and Taino peoples, who had originated in South America, had been on the island by as much as 2,500 – 5,000 years by then. By the time of Columbus’ arrival there were over 200 villages, but he claimed the island in the name of Spain anyway. The British, led by the same William Penn who founded the ‘Merkin province of Pennsylvania, forced the Spanish out in 1655, with slavery and sugar becoming the main exports, until the British abolished slavery in 1807. Then it was just sugar. Still needing a workforce, they imported Indian and Chinese workers as indentured servants. This is one of the reasons Jamaican population is such a multicultural mix and reflects its national motto: “Out of many, one people.” It’s also why so many Jamaican dishes use curry and other hot spices.

Skipping ahead a hundred and fifty years: On this date in 1962, after 4 years of being a province in the Federation of the West Indies, gained full independence and adopted its national anthem.

However, it’s not the music of the National Anthem that has spread Jamaica’s reputation around the world: It’s Reggae music. According to the WikiWackyWoo:

Many other internationally known artists were born in Jamaica including Millie Small, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Big Youth, Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, Desmond Dekker, Beres Hammond, Beenie Man, Shaggy, Grace Jones, Shabba Ranks, Super Cat, Buju Banton, Sean Paul, I Wayne, Bounty Killer and many others. Band artist groups that came from Jamaica include Black Uhuru, Third World Band, Inner Circle, Chalice Reggae Band, Culture, Fab Five and Morgan Heritage. The genre jungle emerged from London’s Jamaican diaspora. The birth of hip-hop in New York City, New York also owed much to the city’s Jamaican community.

Chris Blackwell
I had the pleasure of working for Island Records Canada when it was still an independent company run by Chris Blackwell. Blackwell is one of my heroes. He didn’t create Reggae, but he took it global starting with Millie Small. Blackwell discovered the 15-year old singer and produced her single “My Boy Lollipop,” which sold over 7 million records worldwide. Then he signed Bob Marley and many other Reggae artists; launching many careers (and not just Reggae artists) onto the international stage. I met Blackwell once, on the same day I met Bob Marley, yet they were not together, nor were they even in the same country. It’s a long, complicated story that I keep promising to write and, maybe, one day I will.

Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, is a fitting
symbol for How Jamaica Conquered The World

I was also honoured to be interviewed for my (very small) part in “How Jamaica Conquered the World,” a terrific series of podcasts which documents Jamaica’s outsized influence, when compared to the small footprint of the small island nation of just 4,244 square miles, smaller than Connecticut, the 48th largest state.

However, let’s face it: It’s the music and ganja for which Jamaica is known. Since I can’t push any ganja through my computer, I am reduced to just sharing a small sampling of the music. Here’s a Jamaican Jukebox so you can celebrate along with Jamaicans all around the world as they proudly wave the flag on their half-century anniversary.



About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.