Reggae Around The World – The Americas

The United States of America

Matisyahu and Sean Kingston

Also performing on the Jamaica Jazz & Blues stage this year was SOJA, an eight-piece band out of Arlington, Virginia. Their sixth album, Amid The Noise and Haste scored their highest Billboard chart debut to date, number 20 on the Billboard 200 and premiered at number one on the Reggae Albums chart. The band’s conscious message resonates with fans in their native Virginia and abroad, especially in Hawai’i, the USA’s reggae hub and South America.

Reggae music is a big deal in the Hawai’i, where it began to take root in the 1970s. The islands even have their own style of reggae, known as ‘Jawaiian,’ developed in the 1980s. It blends traditional Hawaiian melodies and reggae instrumentation. The lyrics are usually in English, but some songs are in Hawai’ian, or a mix of the two languages. Pioneers of this sound include artistes Butch Helemano, Bruddah Walter, Ho’aikaneKapena and Na Waiho’olu’u o ke Anuenue. Today’s performers include FijiKiwini Vaitai, Micah G and The Green.

Although there are hundreds of reggae bands and solo artistes scattered across the states, most of them never achieve popularity. Among the acts that have established names for themselves and gone on to commercial and critical success are Matisyahu, Iration, Rebelution, the now defunct Sublime, John Brown’s Body, Groundation, the Christian reggae band Christafari and 311, an alternative rock band that has released several reggae singles. There are other non-reggae artistes who have been influenced by the music and have produced reggae hits as well, such as No Doubt, whose 2001 album Rock Steady included reggae and dancehall hits Hey BabyUnderneath It All and Start the Fire.

Of course, we couldn’t fail to mention ‘Jamerican’ reggae and dancehall acts. Although they are descendants of reggae royalty and are now a part of the local reggae community, the members of Morgan Heritage were actually born in New York. They have released several chart-topping albums, including Miracles, Don’t Haffi Dread and Full CircleShinehead (who was actually born in the UK but raised in The Bronx) is credited as one of the originators of reggae fusion – mixing reggae and hip hop. His hits in the 1990s include Strive, Jamaican in New York and Try My Love. contemporary counterpart would be Sean Kingston, who burst on to the scene in 2007 with the smash hit Beautiful Girls. His reggae fusion style found a huge fan base not only in the US, but as far away as Spain, Australia and New Zealand.

There are also several notable reggae events in the States, particularly in California, which is second to Hawai’i when it comes to reggae’s popularity. These include California-based Reggae On The River, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Reggae On The Mountain and California Roots Music and Art Festival, as well as the Midwest Reggae Festival in Ohio and Reggae In The Park in Philadelphia.