Reggae 101: KINGSTON - Reggae's Nucleus

Rhythm and Blues has Motown. Hip-Hop has New York City. Spanish Reggae has Panama. Every genre of music has its own “Motherland”; its own country or city it calls home. For reggae, that place is Kingston, Jamaica. Kingston is the most populous city on the island of Jamaica and is home to many reggae artists. Before listing all the reggae greats who hail from Kingston, we first must examine the peculiar origins and development of the city.

After a devastating earthquake in 1692 that demolished Jamaica’s former capital, Port Royal, many survivors fled to nearby Kingston, which was used mostly as farmland at the time. With time, more and more people moved into Kingston because the city had become a major crossroad for traders and merchants. Kingston gradually became a tremendous financial epicenter in Jamaica.

The British abolished slavery in Jamaica in 1834 as Kingston’s population continued to grow. In effect, Kingstonians of African descent began to outnumber the rest of the city’s population by a wide margin. In addition to Kingston being Jamaica’s financial hub, this new wave of freed slaves brought much cultural diversity, slowly making Kingston the island’s cultural hub, as well.

The benefit of having a surging music scene in a fast-growing city is that artists are almost always guaranteed a crowd. Kingston residents constantly sought entertainment, especially after Jamaica gained its independence in 1962 and that entertainment came in the form of music. Reggae, already on the rise in Jamaica, found a home base in Kingston largely in part of the huge audience artists had in the city. Parties obviously hosted more people in Kingston than they did in other smaller parts of the island. Likewise, “stageshows”/concerts were much easier to fill in the relatively large city. This formula boded well for up-and-coming reggae artists during reggae music’s surge in the mid-20th Century.

Reggae musicians, such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis, Don Carlos, and countless others all found their way in reggae by making their mark on the Kingston reggae music scene. In fact, to this day, Kingston serves as a bit of a validation point for budding reggae artists. Few reggae artists have found fame without first capturing the ears of fans in Kingston.

Kingston, like any other country’s major city, is Jamaica’s nucleus, which also makes Kingston reggae’s nucleus. It has been that way since massive numbers of freed slaves poured into Kingston, and Kingston likely will be reggae’s nucleus for years to come.

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