Why British music owes a lot to Jamaica

Given the size of it as a country compared to the US, England has contributed well above its weight with regard to music. It is home to some of the most successful rock bands ever in The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, some of the most successful punk bands ever with The Clash and the Sex Pistols, it even contributes to the world of hip hop with its very own slant on the genre through grime artists like Tinie Tempah and Skepta. While England’s contribution to the world of music is one of huge proportion, it would be unfair to say that it was not influenced by the music of other countries which ultimately helped inspire the musicians of England to produce such quality work. One nation’s music style, in particular, seemed to resonate rather well with British musicians was that of Jamaica. Take bands like The Police, The Clash, UB40 and Madness who infused their British sound with that of reggae rhythms in the 70’s and 80’s. So why was it that certain British music seemed to thrive when it collided with Jamaican music? Related Variety.

Related Variety is a concept in economics which discusses the likeliness of innovation occurring due to information spillovers between sectors due to them sharing some complementary competencies. It’s used by public policy makers to try and make sectors more conducive towards innovation leading to growth. Take a look at Silicon Valley in California for example, the area consists of a variety of firms that provide different services e.g. Google is a web browser and Facebook is a social networking site, but all these firms are in the same basic industry. So, related variety would suggest that because they are related enough that they can understand each other they can communicate and because they are slightly different from each other they will learn new information from one another leading to the occurrence innovation.

Related Variety is the same way in which bands like UB40, The Clash, The Police and Madness came to find their sound through combining their punk and rock based music with reggae and ska rhythms. The reason that reggae music made its way into British society in such a big way was the wave of immigration from Jamaicans in the 1950’s and 60’s when the British government was experiencing huge labour shortages in its economy and encouraged the citizens of its foreign colonies to move to Britain to fill these job vacancies. The result was a large number of Jamaicans moving to Britain in the 1950’s and 60’s and bringing their traditions and music with them. Then twenty years later when the children of these immigrants, and the English children who grew up with them, finally came of age to make music they had been influenced by the Jamaican music which they had heard growing up from Jamaican immigrants.

by Daragh O’Leary

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