Walking down a few rocky stone steps and through a lush garden, I join a crowd of people swaying to dub reggae in front of a perfect panorama of Kingston. I can see a narrow strip of land – the Palisadoes Road, which brings you to the airport – in the outer harbour. The hugeness of the view temporarily deafens me to the music I’d followed up the mountainous Skyline Drive in search of Kingston Dub Club.
The vibe is so relaxed that it’s tough not to feel like I’m in someone’s outdoor living room – which I am. Welcome to Gabre Selassie’s home. (That’s also his monstrous stack of speakers in the corner.) Every Sunday night, the dean of Dub Club welcomes a few hundred of his newest friends into his hilltop house, drawing them here with cold Red Stripe, a range of ital food – vegetarian stews, wraps and burgers – and, of course, dub, a 1970s Jamaican invention that strips down roots reggae music to its key elements of rhythm and bass. Alongside classic dub, the weekly event showcases the work of a new generation of musicians, such as Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid and Jah9, all part of an ongoing roots reggae revival.
For decades, dub was tough to find in Jamaica. Dancehall reggae and pop music ruled the airwaves and soundtracked street dances and community parties. Dancehall is still around, but there are other options – “rootical options,” as Selassie calls them.
Down the hill, Redbones Blues Café, an open-concept venue, hosts a panoply of events, including Kingston on the Edge, an annual festival held each June that celebrates new and eclectic art – the perfect place to spot emerging artists who are part of the revival. Under a canopy of mango trees, I catch Uprising Roots, proponents of Rastafari culture popularized in the 1970s by artists like Jimmy Cliff. With the band’s particular brand of conscious-roots reggae playing in the background, I tuck into a meal of shrimp stuffed with salted codfish pâté and callaloo strudel (the main ingredient is amaranth, the Jamaican answer to spinach). I’m struck by how accessible the scene is. In the dwindling hours of the weekend, it’s just as easy to strike up a conversation with an NGO worker from Kingston as it is with a member of reggae royalty. (Oh, hi, Damian Marley.) These are small venues, and the island is a small place. But I try my best not to be star-struck; that would be terribly un-Jamaican.
Funky KingstonKingston Dub Club, 7b Skyline Dr., 876-815-1184 Redbones Blues Café, 1 Argyle Rd., 876-978-6091