Reggae month in Jamaica.

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Reggae’s never been my go-to in a purely musical sense, but it’s been ubiquitous throughout my adult life, and the story is fascinating.

An off-beat festival: reggae

Jamaica is home to just 2.9m souls. Drop a gungo pea on your atlas and you might cover it. Yet its influence on world culture is outsized. That, in part, is down to reggae. This week begins Jamaica’s annual reggae month, which attracts 40,000 devotees to exhibitions and performances. The music developed in the 1970s, a slowed down, cooler version of the ska and rocksteady beats that dominated Kingston’s dance halls in the 1960s. Most date it to the 1968 release of “Do the Reggay”, by Toots & the Maytals. The meaning of the word is unclear—perhaps it refers to islanders’ ragged clothes, to quarrelling or even “kings’ (‘reg’) music”. The beat has always been deeply political, rooted in Africa, slavery and Rastafarianism, which encouraged black people to rise up against white oppressors. Through Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff that message conquered imperial Britain and America. Nowadays, Marley once observed, Babylon is everywhere.

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