Skip to main content

The Beauty of Jamaican Folk Songs

Jamaican Sunset


The History of Jamaican Folk Music - Old Time Jamaica

Jamaican folk music has for years been a source of pride, joy, comfort and entertainment to Jamaicans both at home and aboard. Hearing the melodies of songs such as "Evening Time" just seems to bring this peace and quite to the soul as you allow the melodies to roll over you. The rich rhythmic music most often just pulsates through the veins to the point of you getting on your feet and moving or simply swaying to the beat.

Lively Images

The images that are conjured up in the mind are also very relaxing and peaceful. It's as if the songs immediately summons you to a time of rest and relaxation or sometimes a source of strength to get you through the day.

Old Story Time

Back in the old days, a typical day in the family would maybe end with folk songs along with duppy stories, Anansi stories, and a multitude of jokes. These were especially wonderful nights if there was a bright moonshine where the kids would play moonshine games with the parents joining in if they felt like it. These were also family times when the children would do their own little performances such as reciting poems, singing songs or whatever their talent was. Making jokes and laughing at ourselves despite the hardships, is something that is ingrained in the Jamaican culture.

Moods and Attitudes

There are many different Jamaican folk songs, and all with different or sometimes similar tempo . They evoke different moods and feelings within the listener. Some of the songs call for people to engage in a session of fun and games. One such song is "Guh Dung Emmanuel Road Gal an Bwoiy" (Go Down Emmaneul Road Girls and Boys) which sees players in a ring trying to move the stones placed before them before it piles up. Moving the stones is all about timing or else, "Finga mash nuh cry gal an bwoiy. Memba a play wi deh play gal an bwoiy" (If your finger gets smashed don't cry. Remember we that we are playing)

Similar to reggae music, there are certain Jamaican folk music that is known throughout the world. One that comes to mind quite readily is "Day-O" ( the Banna Boat Song) that was made famous by the legendary Harry Belafonte.

Harry Belafonte - Day O

History of Jamaican Folk Music

Long before there was reggae music, there was folk music. It is the oldest form of music that the records bear for the nation, and this dates back to the 17th century.

This music is what the forefathers of the nation would use to communicate with each other, to pass on messages, as well as to ease and cope with the pain and suffering endured during the years of slavery. Coming from the continent of Africa, music and rhythm was already ingrained in our forefathers. It was their source of comfort in a strange land, and the means by which they passed on the message of hope to their children.

Due to the fact that they were used as a form of communication, and in a language (Jamaican creole or patios) not understood by the masters, Jamaican folk music was never accepted until the nation gained independence in 1962. A folk piece was developed to create a rhythm the people could move to while they worked, for socializing and dancing during gatherings, to send messages of plans of rebellion, and also to send an alert that "Massa" was coming.

Fear of Rebellion and Freedom

A fear that the slaves could be using their songs and dances to fuel a spirit of freedom and rebellion led the British to place a ban on all such activities. This was done in 1696, but our forefathers still found a way to pass on their music and traditions from one generation to the next.

A notable time in history for Jamaican music before we gained independence was in 1907, when Walter Jekyll's book entitled "Jamaican Song and Story" was published. There was a strong level of discomfort with the songs because they spoke of enslavement and hard labor. Once the nation gained control over its own affairs, this level of discomfort gave way to widespread acceptance.

Scroll to Continue

Evening Time

Evening Time

This is just one of the most relaxing folk songs you will ever listen to. The nice calm, sweet melodious sound of the song helps the mind to relax and unwind.

Evening time, work is over now its evening time.

We deh walk pon mountain, deh walk pon mountain, deh walk pon mountain side.

Mek wi cook di bikkle pon di way,

Mek wi sing and shout dance and play ring ding pon di mountain side.

This song tells of a group of people coming in from a hard days work in the mountains. As they walk home, they sing that its evening time and they can feel the evening breeze. You can literally close your eyes and envision the scene as you feel and smell the clean crisp mountain breeze.

The beautiful and lively colors of the national costumes are always a highlight of any good performance.

The Carifolk Singers

Go Down Emmanuel Road Gal an Bwoiy

Here are two videos of the song Go Down Emmanuel Road (Guh Dung Emmanuel Road Gal an Bwoiy). The first clip shows children using letters of the alphabet instead of stones. The second shows a nice animation of the song being used to teach counting.

You can hear the teacher telling the children to keep the rhythm. In the real game, falling behind on the rhythm meant that unfortunate player now has stones piling up in front of them. That player would have to move as quickly and cautiously as possible to clear the pile of stones without getting their fingers smashed. The game tempo never changes to help you out, and it's every man for himself.

Animation of Go Down Emmanuel Road Being Used to Teach Counting

Children Playing Go Down Emmanuel Road with Number Blocks

Dis Long Time Gal Mi Neva See You

This is a song that tells of two people who have not seen each other for a long time. The singer invites the other party to allow him to hold her (gal/gyal) hand in a greeting as they wheel and turn and dance and jig.

The first video is of the legendary Jamaican icon, Mrs Louise Bennett Coverly, singing the song. She was very instrumental in breaking cultural barriers that saw the local language (patois) being frowned upon by the "most affluent" in the Jamaican society who would have preferred to have everyone speaking the adopted "Queens language" or proper English. Miss Lou (as she is fondly called, got people to accept the fact that our language is our language no matter whatever other language we may adopt. She also played a very instrumental role in the Jamaican folk songs rising to prominence.

The second video is of a group of British male students singing the song.

Miss Lou Singing Dis Long Time Gal

The Jamaican Flag


My Island in the Sun

At this time, I find it quite fitting to end this hub about Jamaican folk music with none other than the song "Oh My Island in the Sun", sang by none other than Mr Belafonte himself. Such a great voice for a song of pure love and reverence for one's home land.

The Jamaican Motto: Out of many, one people.

The National Pledge of Allegiance:

Before God and All mankind.

I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart

The wisdom and courage of my mind,

The strength and vigour of my body

in the service of my fellow citizens.

I promise to stand up for justice,

Brotherhood and Peace,

To work diligently and creatively,

To think generously and honestly,

So that Jamaica may, under God,

increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity,

and play her part in advancing the welfare

of the whole human race.

The Meaning of the Colours in the Jamaican Flag

Black: The people are strong and creative.

Green: The land is green.

Gold: The sun shineth.

Love you Jamaica.

Harry Belafonte - Island in the Sun


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 25, 2015:

Such a rich musical heritage. Engaging hub.

Althea Reader (author) from Jamaica on July 02, 2014:

:)... Happy you enjoyed it Rasta1.

Marvin Parke from Jamaica on July 02, 2014:

Well, this is fun. The folk songs bring back a lot of memories for me.

Althea Reader (author) from Jamaica on July 24, 2013:

:) Thank you for stopping by Rusticliving. I am happy you found the article and videos interesting and appreciate the share.

Thanks :)

Liz Rayen from California on July 24, 2013:

What a great hub! I really enjoyed watching and listening the videos! Very informative and very well laid out! Thank you so much for sharing!

Voted Up+Across and shared!



Related Articles