Since the 1950s, the sounds of Jamaican reggae have drawn global attention to the Caribbean island and its culture. Yet, few critics have examined reggae’s social origins or fully accounted for its phenomenal rise as the music of disaffected youth. Fellow Matthew Smith, professor of history at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, is working to situate reggae within the larger social dynamics of post-World War II Jamaica.
In this podcast, Smith provides an overview of the music’s history and its emergence alongside Jamaican independence in 1962 as well as its parallels with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He explores how migration—especially between Jamaica and the United States in the mid-twentieth century—facilitated musical creation. Smith’s research show us how reggae music offers a window onto the political construction of Jamaica and its movements for social change.