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Chris Blackwell, cofounder of Island Records, recalls the rise of the Jamaican music scene during his youth.

Chris Blackwell, cofounder of Island Records, recalls the rise of the Jamaican music scene during his youth.

The Music of Jamaica

How one island changed the world.

Although it’s a mere 146 miles long and 52 miles wide, Jamaica has long been a powerful force in music. The Caribbean nation is the birthplace of a host of world-renowned genres—ska, reggae, dancehall to name a few. Per capita, Jamaica creates more recorded music than any other nation on the planet. For David Yurman, music is a constant source of inspiration, so it was only natural to shoot our Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 campaign in a place that celebrates the power of creativity. From Goldeneye to Kingston, Jamaica is a wellspring of artistic originality, influencing a new generation of voices.

The Music of Jamaica

How one island changed the world.

Although it’s a mere 146 miles long and 52 miles wide, Jamaica has long been a powerful force in music. The Caribbean nation is the birthplace of a host of world-renowned genres—ska, reggae, dancehall to name a few. Per capita, Jamaica creates more recorded music than any other nation on the planet. For David Yurman, music is a constant source of inspiration, so it was only natural to shoot our Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 campaign in a place that celebrates the power of creativity. From Goldeneye to Kingston, Jamaica is a wellspring of artistic originality, influencing a new generation of voices.

Live the Life You Love

Before music became one of the nation’s greatest exports, Jamaicans had to take to the streets to hear local rhythms. In the 1950s, American rhythm and blues records ruled Jamaican air waves. To compete with the radio stations, DJs and MCs threw outdoor parties, blasting New Orleans R&B from stacks of speakers—and the sound system movement was born. Eventually, sound systems began to play songs by Jamaican musicians.

Live the Life You Love

Before music became one of the nation’s greatest exports, Jamaicans had to take to the streets to hear local rhythms. In the 1950s, American rhythm and blues records ruled Jamaican air waves. To compete with the radio stations, DJs and MCs threw outdoor parties, blasting New Orleans R&B from stacks of speakers—and the sound system movement was born. Eventually, sound systems began to play songs by Jamaican musicians.

Everywhere you go, you hear English music, American music and Jamaican music. How come? It's unbelievable. Jamaica is just blessed like that.

— C H R I S   B L A C K W E L L

Everywhere you go, you hear English music, American music and Jamaican music. How come? It's unbelievable. Jamaica is just blessed like that.

— C H R I S   B L A C K W E L L

A collage of color and black-and-white photos of Jamaican musicians with sound systems, Jamaicans dancing outdoors, a painting of an Ethiopian flag with a lion holding a scepter, a young Chris Blackwell seated with other people.

During the 1950s, the sound system concept became wildly popular in Kingston. All throughout the city, DJs and MCs loaded up trucks with stacks of speakers and threw outdoor parties. Tired of the same American R&B songs broadcast on the radio, Jamaicans loved the new music created by these sound systems and eventually these local artists began recording LPs including albums produced by Chris Blackwell.

During the 1950s, the sound system concept became wildly popular in Kingston. All throughout the city, DJs and MCs loaded up trucks with stacks of speakers and threw outdoor parties. Tired of the same American R&B songs broadcast on the radio, Jamaicans loved the new music created by these sound systems and eventually these local artists began recording LPs including albums produced by Chris Blackwell.

In his early twenties, Chris Blackwell found himself at the center of this exploding music scene. While working as a waterskiing instructor, he fell in love with the music of a jazz ensemble playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. “I probably had a couple too many rums and said to the band, I’d love to record you,” Blackwell remembers. He drove the band, fronted by a young blind pianist named Lance Hayward, to a sound studio in Kingston, and Island Records was born—named after Alec Waugh’s novel, Island in the Sun. At the time, Jamaican records catered only to tourists. With no experience beyond a love of music, Blackwell soon produced a number of singles that became local hits—created by Jamaicans for Jamaicans.
 

In 1962, Jamaica gained its independence from England and soon the nation became a powerhouse for popular music around the world. Blackwell, a British citizen, moved to London where Island’s music was embraced by the immigrant population. He delivered LPs to record shops in the West Indian communities of the U.K., driving from town to town in his blue-and-white Mini Cooper. Blackwell’s releases also began to strike a chord with young Brits—the Mods, in particular. Part of the Youthquake movement of the 1960s, the Mods—known by their slim suits, miniskirts and motor scooters—sparked a cultural shift that resonated around the world. Two years later, “My Boy Lollipop,” a ska tune by Millie Small—one of Blackwell’s artists—became a smash hit, selling 6 million copies around the world.

In his early twenties, Chris Blackwell found himself at the center of this exploding music scene. While working as a waterskiing instructor, he fell in love with the music of a jazz ensemble playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. “I probably had a couple too many rums and said to the band, I’d love to record you,” Blackwell remembers. He drove the band, fronted by a young blind pianist named Lance Hayward, to a sound studio in Kingston, and Island Records was born—named after Alec Waugh’s novel, Island in the Sun. At the time, Jamaican records catered only to tourists. With no experience beyond a love of music, Blackwell soon produced a number of singles that became local hits—created by Jamaicans for Jamaicans.


In 1962, Jamaica gained its independence from England and soon the nation became a powerhouse for popular music around the world. Blackwell, a British citizen, moved to London where Island’s music was embraced by the immigrant population. He delivered LPs to record shops in the West Indian communities of the U.K., driving from town to town in his blue-and-white Mini Cooper. Blackwell’s releases also began to strike a chord with young Brits—the Mods, in particular. Part of the Youthquake movement of the 1960s, the Mods—known by their slim suits, miniskirts and motor scooters—sparked a cultural shift that resonated around the world. Two years later, “My Boy Lollipop,” a ska tune by Millie Small—one of Blackwell’s artists—became a smash hit, selling 6 million copies around the world.

A collage of color and black-and-white photos of LPs from Island Records, the front page of a newspaper declaring Jamaica’s independence and the Skatalites.

C L O C K W I S E   F R O M   T O P   L E F T :  An LP by jazz pianist Lance Hayward that was produced by Chris Blackwell; Jamaica became an independent nation in 1962; a rare edition of Hayward’s album with an incorrect spelling of his last name; Blackwell helped introduce the Skatalites, early pioneers of ska, to the world.

C L O C K W I S E   F R O M   T O P   L E F T :  An LP by jazz pianist Lance Hayward that was produced by Chris Blackwell; Jamaica became an independent nation in 1962; a rare edition of Hayward’s album with an incorrect spelling of his last name; Blackwell helped introduce the Skatalites, early pioneers of ska, to the world.

Get Up, Stand Up

Upbeat and danceable, Jamaican ska music gave way to laidback rocksteady and then reggae, which was intimately linked to the local Rastafari community. Rastafarians, members of an Africa-centered political and religious group, were originally feared and discriminated against on the island. However, Bob Marley’s Rasta-inspired songs changed society’s perception of this countercultural movement and propelled the former frontman of The Wailers to stardom. Behind Marley’s meteoric rise was Blackwell. (When Blackwell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, he was described as “the single person most responsible for turning the world onto reggae music.”)

Get Up, Stand Up

Upbeat and danceable, Jamaican ska music gave way to laidback rocksteady and then reggae, which was intimately linked to the local Rastafari community. Rastafarians, members of an Africa-centered political and religious group, were originally feared and discriminated against on the island. However, Bob Marley’s Rasta-inspired songs changed society’s perception of this countercultural movement and propelled the former frontman of The Wailers to stardom. Behind Marley’s meteoric rise was Blackwell. (When Blackwell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, he was described as “the single person most responsible for turning the world onto reggae music.”)

It’s extraordinary that there’s this much music coming out of one little island.

— C H R I S   B L A C K W E L L

It’s extraordinary that there’s this much music coming out of one little island.

— C H R I S   B L A C K W E L L

After Bob Marley, Island went on to sign a diverse list of influential artists, including Grace Jones, The Cranberries, Melissa Etheridge, Tom Waits, U2 and Amy Winehouse. Thanks to Blackwell’s eclectic taste and keen eye for talent, the independent record label soon transformed into global powerhouse and was eventually bought by PolyGram in 1989.

After Bob Marley, Island went on to sign a diverse list of influential artists, including Grace Jones, The Cranberries, Melissa Etheridge, Tom Waits, U2 and Amy Winehouse. Thanks to Blackwell’s eclectic taste and keen eye for talent, the independent record label soon transformed into global powerhouse and was eventually bought by PolyGram in 1989.

I Put a Spell On You

Since the David Yurman Spring 2019 campaign captures Jamaica’s tropical beauty, it was only natural for us to feature a song that celebrates its creative heritage. “I Put a Spell on You” made its debut in our campaign and showcases prolific Jamaican artists Mykal Rose, Sly & Robbie and Ernest Ranglin.

I Put a Spell On You

Since the David Yurman Spring 2019 campaign captures Jamaica’s tropical beauty, it was only natural for us to feature a song that celebrates its creative heritage. “I Put a Spell on You” made its debut in our campaign and showcases prolific Jamaican artists Mykal Rose, Sly & Robbie and Ernest Ranglin.

Produced by Youth—a British bassist who has collaborated with U2, Paul McCartney and the Verve—the track from the ‘Red, Gold, Green and Blues’ album puts a reggae spin on American blues. Its release in April 2019 also celebrated the launch of Trojan Jamaica, a new record label from BMG, Australian musician Sharna “Sshh” Liguz and Zak Starkey, a drummer for The Who and the son of Beatle Ringo Starr.
 

“It’s our aim to bring a range of new Jamaican music to the masses,” says Liguz. “I find both reggae music and American blues to be similar with a different approach,” explains Starkey. “Jamaican music is ‘up’ music with a serious message,” he continues. “US blues has a very similar message in the words, yet the music can be harder or more ‘down.’ But both rock just as hard.”

Produced by Youth—a British bassist who has collaborated with U2, Paul McCartney and the Verve—the track from the ‘Red, Gold, Green and Blues’ album puts a reggae spin on American blues. Its release in April 2019 also celebrated the launch of Trojan Jamaica, a new record label from BMG, Australian musician Sharna “Sshh” Liguz and Zak Starkey, a drummer for The Who and the son of Beatle Ringo Starr.


“It’s our aim to bring a range of new Jamaican music to the masses,” says Liguz. “I find both reggae music and American blues to be similar with a different approach,” explains Starkey. “Jamaican music is ‘up’ music with a serious message,” he continues. “US blues has a very similar message in the words, yet the music can be harder or more ‘down.’ But both rock just as hard.”