For an island of less than three million people, Jamaica has had a startling effect on global popular music. Since the world discovered Bob Marley and reggae, Jamaican rhythms, Jamaican-style dub, re-mixes and electronic effects have made an indelible mark.
Now, for the first time ever, images and artifacts from the entire kingdom of Jamaican music have been gathered together in a permanent collection at Reggae Xplosion, the island’s first reggae museum (in fact the only such museum in the world), located in the north coast resort of Ocho Rios.
Housed in a purpose-built two-storey gallery, whose walls have been painted black to give a nightclub feel, Reggae Xplosion is a multi-media celebration of Jamaica’s native music. The exhibits, which comprise over 400 striking images, are in the form of large-format laminated photographs, video walls, television monitors and multiple audio soundpoints. Close to the beach, between the harbour and Dunn’s River Falls, the museum is part of a new complex that includes cinemas, a concert arena and over 50 shops.
The idea for the museum emerged about four years ago when photographer Adrian Boot was sitting on the beach at Goldeneye, the former home of James Bond author Ian Fleming, which is now owned by Chris Blackwell. Boot was with Anne Hodges, the architect who designed the Goldeneye village and Strawberry Hill, Blackwell’s luxury hotel complex above Kingston.
“We suddenly realised that what was needed on the north coast was a permanent reggae exhibition,” Boot says. “We initially didn’t like the word ‘museum’ because that seemed associated with dead things, like dinosaurs, and reggae is a living force. We decided it should be more like an Orlando-type experience, something entertaining. On the beach Anne and I did these sketches, and the museum looks like those sketches we drew on the beach.”
Most contemporary Jamaican stars were present at the opening of Reggae Xplosion last March, including Beenie Man, Shaggy, Bounty Killer, and Lady Saw. “I was brought to tears with pride,” said Saw, the queen of dancehall. Equally impressed was Shaggy, who called it “a fantastic representation of reggae music.”
The museum, which is broken up into eight roughly chronological zones, is considered an ongoing work-in-progress: subject matter will constantly be added and removed. “The idea is that Reggae Xplosion should be organic, and constantly developing,” says Adrian Boot. “Just like reggae music and Jamaica itself.”