And what flowers there were around Kingston are blue
I ripped them up from the dry soil and draped them over you
Doctors Cave Beach, Montego Bay
The word Jamaica immediately conjures up images of pristine beaches framed by postcard-perfect palm trees replete with bikini clad goddesses sipping fruity, umbrella-bearing cocktails, while the dreadlocked Rastafarians smoke ganja in the shade to reggae blasting from a stereo at odds with the jaunty steel-drum band playing in the beach-bar.
Neighbour to Haiti and Cuba, though almost 200km of azure Caribbean sea separates the islands from each other, Jamaica is a paradise and tourist hot-spot despite recent reports from the UN naming Jamaica one of the most violent and possibly even the most homophobic country on earth. These statistics of violence and hate crime don't fit well with the idyllic beaches and laid back reggae lifestyle lived in a miasma of marijuana.
Like many of the other Caribbean nations ripped apart by war and dictatorships, Jamaica has had her fair share of political unrest since the British first landed on her shores. In the 1970s, much of Jamaica became unstable due to politics when the two emerging parties enforced a code allowing only their supporters access to jobs and public services. This created turmoil, particularly in the Trench Town district of Kingston. Support for the two political parties was divided by Seventh Street and Trench Town which eventually became the site for an all-out war, resulting in the destruction of two blocks of the Government Yards. These political issues have since been resolved, making poverty Jamaica's biggest problem today. However, that even paradise could have a dark side is perhaps evident as an undertone in “Going to Jamaica,” yet another tune adding to the growing series of “Going to...” songs by the low-fi band, The Mountain Goats.
“Going to Jamaica” appears on the band's final installment in a three-part series of compilation albums. The album, Ghana
, released in 2002, includes 31 tracks. Of those, six are part of the “Going to...” series. “Going to Jamaica” isn't an outstanding song. At a mere 2 minutes 35 seconds, the song consists of strained vocals and basic guitar strumming. It's as uncomplicated as a song can get and recorded with The Mountain Goats’ signature low-fi stylings that render the guitar particularly metallic and twangy, while making the vocals husky, as if the perfectly smooth and pleasant analogue tape had undergone a good sandpapering in some misguided attempt at creating an archaic aesthetic. Despite the Jamaican national pride that is reggae, The Mountain Goats chose not to infuse “Going to Jamaica” with even the faintest hint of off-beat rhythms. The closest the song comes to hinting at the musical stylings of the island nation is an overwrought guitar that, if made any more shrill, might start to sound like a warped steel-drum.
While the lyrical content seems to have a more romantic leaning about gathering flowers and stringing them in a girl's hair, the song definitely has a darker streak, too, with some obvious references to the political unrest of the 1970s, “We saw the last of the bright colored birds coming home. I saw you address them through your megaphone...and what flowers there were around Trench Town were red.” Today, Trench Town is the cultural heart of Kingston, thrumming to a ska and reggae beat, home to a thriving musical scene of both established and emerging artists.
Violence and homophobic tendencies aside, Jamaica is a stunning island retreat for those content to sip cocktails on the beach and kick back in the ganja-reggae haze without dwelling too long on the country's crime statistics.
~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.