Jamaican Music in Spanish-speaking Countries

With its close geographic proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America, Jamaica has not only received influences from these cultures but has also been influential on molding and forming an integral part of Spanish-speaking nations. The growing popularity of reggae and Jamaican culture as a whole is apparent all over the world and is catching on quickly. Although there are reggae groups found in many of the Spanish-speaking countries worldwide, there is not much literature that has focused on their history or followed their progress, just like there is not much-published work about reggae and Rastafarianism. This paper intends to focus on the Spanish involvement in Jamaica and also chart the musical influence of reggae in these aforementioned regions.

Although there is not much evidence regarding the Spanish involvement in Jamaica, the Spaniards were the first to arrive on the island, and settle it shortly after Christopher Columbus changed off his path and came upon the small island in the Caribbean on his second voyage in May of 1494. The island was however already inhabited by the indigenous group of people called the Arawak’s, who came from Venezuela and had already named the island Xaymaca. Unlike the other Caribbean islands the Spaniards inhabited, their presence decimated the indigenous population. The influx of disease and mistreatment of the indigenous people by the newcomers led to their eventual demise, 70-80 years after the Spanish arrival (Musgrave). Fifteen years after the Spaniards first encountered the island; they founded a settlement and were quickly establishing dominance in the region. In 1509, the Spaniards built a town named after an existing Spanish town, Sevilla La Nueva, New Seville. It was located near what is now St. Ann’s Bay on Jamaica’s north coast. With the local indigenous population declining due to disease, Spaniards began to bring Africans to the island to work as slaves and perform hard labor. When the Spaniards left and the English took over, many of the slaves fled, who became known as Maroons and settled in what is now known as The Cockpit Country, located in the center of the island.

The Spanish presence in Jamaica was relatively brief, and never flourished under Spanish rule. They handed it over to Britain in 1655, after engaging in a battle with the British. There are several places named in Jamaica that show the Spanish involvement, such as Ocho Rios and Spanish Town, which were called St. Jago de la Vega in colonial times. Although the influence of Spanish-speaking countries on Jamaica has not been long lasting, Jamaican influences on other countries have been more significant and are still growing. During the construction of the Panama Canal, many Jamaicans left their homeland and went to work on the extensive project in the early 1900’s. It could be said that many of them stayed and raised families who now are a part of the 14% of the black population that now exists in Panama.

As Jamaican influences grew, so grew the influences of reggae music and Rastafarianism. The Jamaican and Reggae influence became more popular around the world, especially in Spanish-speaking countries. Many of these groups are based in the United States, where there is a strong population of Spanish-speaking people who have shown their appreciation for not only Jamaican reggae, but reggae that is sung in their respective language. Some of these reggae espanol groups have formed websites in order to spread the word of reggae espanol, promote their albums or concert dates and allow fans to understand where they came from and where they want to go in the future. One of these groups come from Guadalajara, Mexico and they call themselves “El Mito”, translated into English “The Myth.” It is apparent in the description of who they are not that they do not want to be mistaken for a salsa band from Miami, but when telling who they are, they stress the fact that they interpret and write reggae songs. They want people of all creeds to listen to their music and say they do not discriminate based on race, nationality, language, or religion. For this reason, their songs are sung in English, French, and Spanish. The songs listed are as follows: “Manzana, Regresar, Si Je Pouvais, Talawah, Greenpeace, Hermanos, Tlalli, La Fuerza del Leon, and Rastaraka.”

An interesting song that promotes reggae music as a whole is entitled “Rastaraka.” It is obvious that the title stems from the influences of Rastafarianism and Jamaican culture. This song is sung in French, English, and Spanish so more people are able to listen to the words and understand their meaning. The song begins in French:

Tout le Monde

Sont des-Freres

Ils font la fete

Ensemble comment

Niimporte le couleur

De la peau

N’importe s’il est

Noire, blamc au jaune

Chorus:

Africa loves reggae

Mexico loves reggae

Jamaica loves reggae

Then everybody loves,

Reggae music

Reggae music. . .

Don’t judge your brother

By the color of his skin

Is the same as the color of his eyes

Don’t judge him

Don’t kill him

Don’t treat him down

(Chorus)

El amor es a todos

Sino todo esto no es amor

No importa si tu hermano

No es del color de tu piel

Lo importanta es lo que sientes

Lo que importa es lo que siento

No lo juzgues

No lo mates

No lo dejes abajo

(Chorus)

All the verses basically mean the same thing, with only slight variations occurring among them. This is a positive song promoting racial tolerance all over the world. It sends a very uplifting message that should be heard by all. It is a song that is looking to the future and awaiting harmony after hundreds and hundreds of years of systematic racial oppression have occurred all over the world. Another song that shows Jamaican cultural and reggae influences is one titled “La Fuerza del Leon,” or “The Force of the Lion” in English. This song is sung entirely in Spanish.

El Mito va a llegar,

No necesita de fuerza militar.

El Mito ya lleg,

Tan solo necesita la fuerza del len.

La guerra no queremos,

Pues su efecto conocemos.

Muchos caminos hay para la paz,

Pero todos usan un maldito antifaz.

La raza necesita la fuerza del leon,

El reggae trae consigo la fuerza del leon.

La raza necesita la fuerza del leon,

El Mito trae consigo la fuerza del leon.

El mundo esta dacado,

Y el no ha ayudado.

Nagasaki e Hiroshima, Chile y Argentina.

La fuerza del leon

Es la fuerza del leon.

A first verse repeated.

Parate y mira a ver si tienes la fuerza del leon. (x3)

Si no El Mito la va a dar.

La Fuerza del leon es la Fuerza del leon.

(Third verse repeated)

I am going to translate this into English but it may sound a little funny or not grammatically correct because sometimes things get lost in the translation.

The Myth is going to arrive

It doesn’t need military force.

The Myth already arrived,

It just needs the force of the lion.

We don’t want war

Well, its effects we know.

Many roads there are to peace,

But everybody uses a damned mask.

The race needs the force of the lion,

Reggae brings with it the force of the lion.

The race needs the force of the lion,

The Myth brings with it the force of the lion.

The world is damaged,

And human has not helped.

Nagasaki and Hiroshima,

Chile and Argentina.

The force of the lion

Is the force of the lion.

(Third verse repeated)

Stop yourself and look to see if you have the force of the lion. (x3)

If not The Myth will give it.

The force of the lion

Is the force of the lion.

(Third verse repeated)

The significance of this song is directly related to the symbolism of the lion that can be found in Jamaican reggae and Rastafarianism. In Rastafarian culture, the lion represents Halie Selassie, the Conquering Lion of Judah. The lion is a prevalent symbol that appears in the form of artwork, songs, or poems. The lion has been known to represent King of the Jungle, the King of Kings, and some even believe that it represents “dominant maleness” (Barrett, p. 142). Like the beliefs of Rastafarians everywhere, this song speaks about the injustices and crimes that are committed throughout the world. The Rastafarians of Jamaica feel they have been held down and abused by the authority figures, mainly the white people who have held political positions. This song deals with oppression and injustices that have occurred in the form of war, which is condemned by El Mito because they have seen what it can do to people. In the fourth verse, they sing about how people have contributed to the destruction of the world in which we live. They refer to the dropping of the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then refer to the evil practices of the governments of two South American countries, Chile and Argentina.

The theme of Rastafarianism occurs throughout the other songs of the groups El Mito. In “Greenpeace,” they talk about the destruction of the land and question why it keeps occurring. “I ask myself, why must we destroy this lovely land, I don’t know, tell me Jah Jah, I don’t know, tell me Jah Jah.” In a song sung in both Spanish and English, entitled “Hermanos,” (Brothers), they preach the benefits of being a Rasta. They talk about racism, which is a common theme in many of their songs, and preach to “Be a rasta, be a rasta.” Many of their other songs deal with love and loving all human beings, which stems directly from the Rastafarian religion, which believe all people are equal, and joined together by one God, or Jah.

Although reggae espanol is not what you would call mainstream in the United States, it is growing in Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries. There is a large fan base in the United States because there are so many Spanish-speaking people who want to hear music in their native or preferred language. El Mito, the group from Guadalajara, Mexico, uses some of the same themes the Rastafarians from Jamaica sing about in their reggae music. They are looking toward the future and singing about brotherhood and sisterhood. They are eager to see changes in society but have not forgotten the past injustices and current oppression that can be found in every part of the world.

One song that goes back in time to mark the injustices of their people is entitled, “Talawah.”

Es la gente de mi peublo,

“Pequena pero fuerte”

Cuitlahuac,

Era un principe guerrero.

Unos senores borbones

Lo cegaron con mentira

Y canones

Tenochtitlan la derrumbaron

Y todo el oro se llevaron,

El penacho de Moctezuma,

Esta del otro lado de la laguna.

Kukulkan era su dios,

Kukulkan los enga

Una cruz de ceniza

En la frente les pintaron

Y otra mas de acero

En el vientre las clavaron.

El tapabarros se los quitaron

Diciendo que eran unos depravados.

Kukulkan era su dios,

Kukulkan los enga.

English Version

Talawah,

Are the people of my town,

“Small but strong”

Cuitlahuac,

Was a warrior prince.

Some Bourbon men

Blinded him with lies

And cannons

They crumbled Tenochtitlan

And took all the gold with them,

The crest of Montezuma,

Is from the other side of the lagoon.

Kukulkan was their god,

Kukulkan deceived them

A cross of ash-gray

They painted on their foreheads

And one more of steel

They drove into their bellies.

They took their loincloths from them

Saying they were some depraved people.

Kukulkan was their god,

Kukulkan deceived them.

This song says a great deal about how the Aztec Indians living in Mexico were tricked by the Spaniards. Cortas befriended the Indians so they would be easier to conquer and he and his men ambushed them at night, which is what happened to Cuitlahuac in the second verse of the song. The Spaniards took their gold but the Talawah god was unable to save the people, for this, they felt deceived. In verse 5, they are singing about how the Spanish baptized them with an ash-gray cross on the forehead and made them slaves by putting them in shackles.

There are many similarities of themes in the songs of Jamaican reggae and reggae espanol, especially from the group El Mito. Reggae fans are bountiful in Jamaica but the culture and music behind Rastafarianism and reggae are not just going to stay in the small island in the Caribbean. Reggae is being listened to all over the world, and unlike the Spanish influences in Jamaica, reggae will be an integral part of Spanish-speaking countries for many years to come. It will change and grow based on the culture and times in which it is located, but it will always have its roots the country where it has become an important part of culture and society, Jamaica.

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