Jamaica is Party Central

Boom boom! Thump thump! Amplified screeches, wails and shouts fill the air.

Jamaica is a noisy country, I think most of us would agree. But the noise is not that of production – machines whirring, factories under construction, people hurrying to and from work.

No, this is the sound of revelry; the clamor of partying. And we take our fun seriously.

Days and nights of awesome parties... What more could you want...
Days and nights of awesome parties… What more could you want… This one seems to be trying to attract foreigners.

I know – you are going to accuse me of being “miserable” – in Jamaican parlance, a killjoy, a wet blanket. But I like parties, too! I have a loud voice, my father often told me (he who had an even louder one). I like music; my dancing skills are barely adequate, but I try. And having grown up on a diet of rock music (I once went to a Led Zeppelin concert and my ears rang for a week afterwards) I do know what loud music is all about. But I don’t recall it being inflicted on the entire neighborhood, much. The music festivals I attended were usually in a muddy field with inadequate sanitary arrangements, miles from anywhere; and the concerts were in cavern-like town halls and old converted cinemas, even warehouses.

Here comes another party...
Here comes another party…

But hey, “It’s our culture,” I hear you cry. Yes, and other cultures have their festivals and celebrations, too. The Carnival of Venice, for example, dates back to the twelfth century. New Orleans has its Mardi Gras. When I was in Japan, I discovered all sorts of odd little festivals (omatsuri) – there was one in every small town and in fact one at every shrine, too. Never a dull moment. But let’s keep it in proportion, shall we? In Jamaica, it has become an obsession.

And I do know it to be true that Jamaica has far more to offer in terms of culture than braying into microphones at all hours of the day and night, consuming large amounts of alcohol and marijuana, and standing around dressed up to the nines in short shorts.

This is all replicated on our local television sets daily, by the way. The two major local stations believe that their demographic in prime time (holidays, weekends, evenings) is primarily aged fourteen to twenty-four years (maybe older), with an insatiable appetite for dancehall music. I suppose the videos of women with gyrating backsides must come cheap, along with the lame re-runs of eighties/nineties American network series I have never heard of. Jamaicans not in this niche audience need to find something else. Thank God for cable television.

A still from a video aired on a music show "Intense." (televisionjamaica.com)
A still from a video aired on a music show “Intense.” (televisionjamaica.com)

Another argument goes something like this: Well, poor people – they don’t have anything else in their lives. They need something to relieve the stress (how patronizing is that!) So let them inflict a cacophony of noise until five in the morning on the rest of the populace – the sick, the elderly and people who are just tired and need their sleep.

I’d suggest that one way of relieving the stress of our urban (and rural) poor might be to offer them decent job opportunities – work! Then they would have to get to bed earlier so they could get up in time to go to their place of employment. How about that? Similarly, we are told that these dances (where, if you are lucky, two or three people actually dance and the others stand around and watch) generate income for the community. People sell stuff (local drug dealers included) and they depend on these parties for their income. But these are mostly hustling; again, if they had an actual job to go to… etc, etc.

Party on... Carnival in Jamaica is a great opportunity for more of the same. (Photo: Winston Sill/Gleaner)
Party on… Carnival in Jamaica is a great opportunity for more of the same. (Photo: Winston Sill/Gleaner)

Having said that, partying does seem to be big business in Jamaica – along with the security industry (armed guards, ferocious dogs etc) and funeral homes. You can’t go wrong. “Promoters” have clout – even with politicians and the police. Politicians and police often support the promoters of noise. And it is by no means a “working class” phenomenon – although that is the wrong euphemism really, as they mostly aren’t working. The middle-class embrace the partying whole-heartedly. Academics praise it as if it is some hallowed space, wherein meaningful social interactions take place. I suppose that is the men rubbing their hips up against women’s hips part; or the fights over who steps on who’s toe, or who has stolen who’s girlfriend/boyfriend. And the middle classes love to have their photo in the newspaper – on the ubiquitous, daily “social pages.” They pretend to be embarrassed when they appear on those pages of partygoers, but they are not, really. It shows they are serious party people.

Partying is cool, and don’t you dare say anything different, or it insults our culture. The noise must go on, no matter what. It is sacrosanct.

It seems some of our visitors aren’t so keen, though. A small hotelier in Negril interviewed on television (with a loud thumping noise in the background) said his guests frequently complain about the non-stop noise in that tourist resort. Whenever they complain to the tour operator, the operator has to compensate the guest, and then deducts money from his payment to the hotel. So he, a Jamaican small business owner, is actually losing money because of noise.

Uptown partygoers. (Photo: Gleaner)
Uptown partygoers. (Photo: Gleaner)

But, I am told, why should tourists expect special treatment? Well, tourism is still our biggest earner of foreign exchange, last time I checked; and there is currently a reported shortage in that department. We sure aren’t exporting anything much, although we try. Whether we like it or not, we do depend on the tourists’ approval.

Well, if they don’t like noise they can go to one of those little quiet islands, I am told; Jamaica is the fun island. Yes, they can; and they likely will after several sleepless nights in a row, taking their dollars and euros with them. Can we remind ourselves that these tourists are mostly working people who like to sunbathe, read a book on their lounger in the sun (yes, you have seen them), take a dip in the sea and eat and sleep a lot. They are tired and stressed and want to rest and relax. Constant noise is not relaxing?

Oh, here are some drunken tourists. Spring breakers (and we all know college students are really well-off, no?) We have been trying to attract them for years but Cancun seems to have cornered the market. (Photo: jamaicamax.com)
OK, here are some drunken tourists. Spring breakers (and we all know college students are really well-off, no?) We have been trying to attract them for years but Cancun seems to have cornered the market. (Photo: jamaicamax.com)

But, don’t these tourists come here for the exciting fun of “Brand Jamaica”? Most of them, the small hotelier asserts, do not go to local dances/parties – 99 per cent of the revelers are locals. If we do only want the fun-and-excitement-loving tourists, then we could abandon the hard-working ones with lots of foreign currency in their pockets. We could seek to attract more of the travelers who think Jamaica is some kind of ganja heaven; and that sex with a “rent-a-dread” is somehow more thrilling than with dull, pale-skinned boys at home (my apologies to the Rastafarian brethren and sistren who may be reading this – I am talking about those fake ones that we know so well).

Talking of “Brand Jamaica” (a phrase that government tourism officials are very fond of, but the rest of us are uncertain what it actually is)… We do, of course, have our very own Minister of Partying. He is the Hon. Damian Crawford, who is State Minister in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, with responsibility for the Entertainment part. Well, he is young, has a nice big smile and dreadlocks. I like Damian. And he is certainly having lots of fun in his job, while working to make changes to the Noise Abatement Act. There is no abating likely any time soon. The reverse, I am afraid, is lurking on the horizon.

Our charming Minister of Partying...sorry, Entertainment.
Our charming Minister of Partying…sorry, Entertainment.

So I would recommend to tourists who don’t want their eardrums assaulted that they avoid populated areas and especially, the coastline. Where there is a beach, there is noise.

Perhaps the worst thing about the partying is that it is all so mindlessly boring. It is all the same, over and over again. The same jumping up and down, drinking out of plastic cups, displaying of one’s body parts. It builds to a frenzy around public holidays; this is the noisiest Easter weekend we have had for some time. There’s Christmas, and then there’s the entire summer… and so on. But it is all the same. If you have been to one of these parties, you have been to them all.

I have also been told that this is part of our “creative industries.” Well, how about doing something really creative, really different. Let’s educate our people, and provide jobs for them.

Then, on their days off, they can party to their hearts’ content, and with money in their pockets.


Kicking up their heels: The Awa Odori in Tokushima Prefecture is Japan's biggest dance festival, attracting millions of tourists each year. (Photo: Japan-Guide.com)
Kicking up their heels: The Awa Odori in Tokushima Prefecture is Japan’s biggest dance festival, attracting millions of tourists each year. (Photo: Japan-Guide.com)


19 thoughts on “Jamaica is Party Central

  1. I agree with some sections such as the noise that’s that is becoming a constant problem. However some of these party provide Job opportunities and also helps the country. The party promoters get paid, the bar attendants, the securities and also selectors, etc. I could go on and on. I must agree that when parties are been kept, they should be kept in a place that is suited for partying.


    1. Yes, the noise is a problem. But I agree (and I did mention) that people do earn money from these events. But wouldn’t it be better if they had real jobs, rather than selling some beers from an igloo or something? I guess uptown though, there is more money to be made. I was thinking of the dances in poorer areas where unemployment is already so high. Thanks for your comments Nev and I hope you had a GREAT Easter holiday!


  2. Love it… four weeks ago some friends & I were having some lovely cocktails & cheese at home and we turned to our party island, Jamaica. Yes, we are all jamaicans. Emma, so true but I wish you had address and dig a little deeper about the class stigma that is so apparent on this PAGE 2 in the observer.
    Its a real internal racist take on jamaica where all the jamaicans being interviewed or poising for pictures, are all preofessionals, titled people, managers, executives and their companies are there ? is that a criteria for being featured there ? Where is the picture of masses of Jamaicans having a great time without having titles in the write up ? and no offense, you notice how this camera man seems to look for the uppity uppers and browings to capture their pictures ? Do they ask them their title at work first ?

    I love a good party but i dont understand this every weekend partying or I think they call it LYMING ?! Where does the income come from to support it and do they call in sick on Monday as they party on sundays too! Maybe I am just envious and miss it – do i ? been 27 years away and i recall the good old days of Toppsi, Exodus and Ephiphany night clubs but I cant relate to the dance hall yagayaga music…. Thanks for sharing and listening to me… seriously, nothing beats a good party… but…..


    1. Thanks so much for your perspective as a Jamaican abroad, Patrick! Oh my goodness yes – the class issue is another matter and Page 2 is always a glaring example (today’s for example!) That would have to be a whole other blog post by itself, however. I was speaking more broadly across the demographics – the obsession with partying. The photographers pick out faces I think, take the photo and then ask for their titles/positions first… I confess I was once on page 2 (very small photo thank God) with my husband who of course is black, a year or two ago. I wondered if it was just because of me and my former job at the U.S. Embassy. We posed for our photo but didn’t know it was page 2 at the time! 🙂 It’s weird. Yes, I love a good party too. As for the income to support it, a few months ago we heard that loans were being offered to would-be partygoers so they could attend the back-to-back parties at Christmas time. Amazing! I think people are unwilling to make sacrifices in this area – must have their parties, it’s an addiction! 🙂 PS Those night clubs are all closed now, but there is Quad, Fiction and one or two others uptown… Nice to hear from you and do comment again!


    2. @ Patrick, you are talking about every weekend partying. In reality it is every day partying.
      Like you I am wondering where the money comes from and how it effects the productivity in this country. The low productivity of the average Jamaican employee is a major complain in the private sector. I remember a friend telling me the story of one of his employees who had a problem with habitual late coming. When he confronted him about this late coming the employee retorted that he really felt that he was doing a reasonable good job coming to work at the time he did (11am) considering that most night he did not to bed before 5 AM.
      The people in the media are always talking about how much money could be made in the entertainment industry yet after all the success stories in the music industry we still have to see significant investment by that industry in appropriate infrastructure. A few people have made a good chunk of money organizing event but the majority will never get more out it than serving drinks and food.


      1. Yes indeed – it IS every day partying. And it is one of those areas that seems non-negotiable. You can’t say to people, “Well, why can’t you start the dance at 7 or 8 pm?” Or, “Why do you hold dances on Sunday nights?” I am also tired of hearing about the economic potential of these events, but really it seems to me that the average street dance is only beneficial to some pan chicken or soft drink vendors – probably sellers of illegal drugs do quite well… It’s all the informal economy anyway. I just don’t get it.


    1. Great! I hope it did inspire another blog post (please share it with me if you do one) as there is much to be said. I didn’t really intend it as an attack on dancehall etc. but it’s just that there is too much of it and it’s all the same. I do feel Jamaica has much more to offer in terms of culture. And I am not saying we should try to please our tourists above everything else, as some people may think. Sorry if it came across that way. I avoid the north coast with those hideous hotels and closed beaches… Maybe I should write another post about that too! But if I had paid a lot of money to sit on a beautiful beach that I saw in a brochure I would be upset if I discovered that it comes with constant loud music that I cannot control…


  3. “I’d suggest that one way of relieving the stress of our urban (and rural) poor might be to offer them decent job opportunities – work! ”

    Much easier said than done. there ARE no jobs forthcoming so people have created jobs for themselves, streetdances are cottage industries supplying a large number of folk with income from the soup, peanuts, pan chicken, weed, wrigleys, cigarettes, beer and other stuff they sell. I haven’t even mentioned the number of people involved in maintaining and supplying the technological apparatuses involved in performances. These are economies that go under the radar but actually keep the country afloat more than you seem to realize. Without them crime would be much worse and this island would be uninhabitable.

    I’m not sure what alternatives you’re offering? pimping, prostitution, waiting on tourists?

    It’s amazing that the only thing successive governments have built over the years are more hotel rooms. Tourism, such a lucrative industry we’re told, has not delivered for the majority of people, it may not produce noise pollution, oh no, it produces far more deadly pollutions–environmental depradation and degradation for instance, the social costs of tourism remain deliberately unmeasured and overlooked and hotel staff live in abysmal conditions with no medical care to speak of, inadequate schools for their children and no scope for improvement in the near future.

    The tendency to dance and party which you discuss in such dismissive terms has produced the amazing music that Jamaicans are justly famous for and kept this country from being burned and looted in frustration at the persistent failure of the state and its elites to provide meaningful livelihoods for too many of its citizens.

    Instead of investing in an industry that the people have clearly shown that they can be world leaders in, instead of providing soundproof halls where concerts and dances can be held, fifty years after independence we continue to build hotel rooms and worry about what the tourists will think.

    I think we should be raising much more noise about this than we currently do, not less.


    1. Annie, thanks for your comments. I do realize that these events DO create all kinds of employment, and I know it’s easier said than done. This is the “informal” economy that people talk about, but I wish there was more of the “formal” kind. That was actually my point, there.

      “Waiting on” tourists – not sure what you mean by that, but lots of Jamaicans actually do that and would be out of a job if the tourists got pissed off and go somewhere else. The tourism industry employs a lot of people, too. Small business and entrepreneurs, and there is nothing shameful about that. Tourists can’t really wait on themselves really can they. But I am totally in agreement on the social costs of tourism, which are horrendous. Nevertheless, successive governments have depended on it – and still do – and are now trying to sell something called “Brand Jamaica” to boost it. And I don’t get why they keep building more hotel rooms.

      The kind of alternatives I am suggesting are real jobs that would grow the economy without having to depend on tourism at all. Do you think the only alternatives for people who work at dances are pimping and prostitution, since you suggested that? That’s weird and a little patronizing don’t you think? Is that all the Jamaican people are capable of? As I said, a better education system would help enormously, and as I say, good jobs. I never suggested prostitution etc…

      Yes, lots of other countries also have great music that derives from entertainment, partying etc. I am not dismissing that, just wondering why this obsession with partying has to be taken to the level where the government is (apparently) considering extending and encouraging more noise. It will probably win them some more votes, anyway, so good for them.

      As for benefiting from the music industry, I presume that some already are, aren’t they? How would you suggest the government invests more? More dances and parties? I would welcome your thoughts.

      Thanks again for commenting!


  4. Lol…I totally loved this piece Emma…sooo good…the style etc almost orgasmic…re the content…I totally appreciate your frustration (that is so eloquently woven in the words). I would however like to posit that perhaps…it could be the creation of another industry for Jamaica and Jamaican music. I see people travel from all over the world to experience Jamaica’s dancehall culture…after many shameless attempts to recreate same in their own countries and cultures. Obviously some effort must be placed into ensuring the creation of a new industry does not disrupt other people…but then I think of the siesta in spanish cultures where everyone goes to sleep after lunch, not sure if this still happens, I remember reading about this in high school and thinking how cool and practical, only if people could follow their natural leads instead of hating and fighting and TRYING hard to make what is RIGHT and DECENT work.


    1. Hi Stacy Ann and good to hear from you. Yes, you are right – it could be turned into something positive. But we have been talking about “the creative industries” for so long and the government does absolutely nothing about it. The hotels play nothing but Bob Marley music, because most foreigners do not appreciate or understand dancehall. In fact, at least in Europe roots reggae music remains popular but dancehall is not. And it has had a very bad rap with all the homophobic and misogynistic lyrics (I know not all of it is like that, but it still has that very negative image). I asked many people in England when I was there last year and no one even knew or cared about dancehall (although they had heard about Buju Banton’s song). So yes, you may attract some young people with dancehall but it’s not a significant number. I agree, it’s not just in Spain but all around southern Europe they have siesta. It’s a quiet time. I often wondered why we don’t have it in Jamaica! Yes – we need to follow our natural leads, indeed. Hope you are having a great Easter Stacy Ann…


  5. smiles at J Scott…. I’ll agree .. you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all but I guess most will tell you that it’s the company you go with that the makes the party ‘awesome. I wouldn’t consider myself a party goer but I have my week spots 🙂 lol Would be great to channel such ventures (which i too agree are becoming a bit overbearing – what’s up with the year out repeat of ATI.RTI??!!!) into something much more profitable for the country.


    1. Thanks for your comments! Yes, the company helps! 🙂 I think that the whole thing is just over the top and as you say, who is really benefiting from it apart from people trying to sell food and drink? It needs to generate more income…


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