Music All Around
Jamaica is a country of music.
Like many other truths about Jamaica, this is best realized by visiting other countries, and especially other Caribbean countries.
In Trinidad, soca music "runs tings" from January to Ash Wednesday, and after that takes a significant back-seat to dancehall music. The fetes just about disappear down, and people go on a nation-wide retreat to prepare for next year's Carnival.
In Barbados the only music ones hears is from the occasional taxi that is risking its license by playing music that is audible when you open a door. There are lots of people waiting to tell the driver to turn it down, making downtown Bridgetown a very quiet place indeed.
Jamaica is anything but. Driving anywhere in Jamaica is to be virtually bathed in music, unlike anyplace I have been in the world. Of course, I have not been everywhere, but of the places I have been, our loosely enforced noise abatement laws leads to a cacaphony of sounds the drives some crazy, and others to delight.
This morning I sat in Oracabessa, overlooking the north coast and listened to a mad man singing a song of his own creation as he walked by. The tune sounded similar to "Pass the Kutchie" but the words were all his, including a line that said something about "unnu B_mb_Cl_t!"
But this is typical -- children walking, cyclists riding, women standing on a corner... all singing for their own entertainment. In Manhattan, there are those who will sing for small change, but I have never once seen that here.
In addition to those who pass by singing, there are cars driving by with music blaring -- almost always with dancehall music at top blast. Add to that the music from cell ringtones, and from car horns set to certain tunes and a normal day in traffic is transformed to a day set to popular tunes. At night, Kingston turns into concert city with soundboxes set outside on weekend and holiday nights, going well into the morning. On Sunday mornings and on crusade nights, the churches take over.
I lived beside a church for over a year that assaulted my senses from 7:30 - 2:30 each Sabbath morning, with more than just music. This in addition to regular Sunday evening and Wednesday morning services. Add to all of this loudspeakers from drive-by advertising, sirens going off, alarms rending the air, dogs barking and car horns used to communicate everything from "hello," "goodbye", "f__k off," "wake up" and "Pull ovah so mi cyan pass yuh."
By contrast, I can't recall seeing anyone in the mall, or on the road singing a song or even humming a tune in the U.S. just for the sheer fun of it. Living in Jamaica is chaotic. Yet, underlying it all is a le of music that is so profound, and so democratic that even a mad man can make up his own song, and make it heard.