The majority of the millions who flock to “Jamrock” arrive at the island paradise through Montego Bay’s airport or the docks of Ocho Rios. Tourism is centered at resorts in these areas along with others in Negril and Port Antonio. Picture-perfect and precisely plotted, one can experience the “One Love” Jamaica is famous for in these locales but the vibrant pulse of dancehall and dub is in the heart of Kingston.
With so many postcard-provoking spots and tempting tourist attractions such as Dunn’s River Falls, the island’s political and cultural capital is often an overlooked diamond amongst Jamaica’s many jewels. As a tropical metropolis, Kingston and its surrounding areas are more serenely scenic than your average city. The abundant roots and culture that is one of Jamaica’s primary exports overflows in the city’s streets and markets. But navigating this sun-kissed Gotham isn’t as easy as grabbing a Red Stripe in the well-mapped resorts.
Fortunately, we tapped six of the Caribbean city’s coolest girls to be your inside guides to Kingston’s vibes. Describing its best destinations is no easy task. As Buju Banton would say, it “could go on and on, the full has never been told.” But our locals with the vocals boil it to the basics with this “Jamdown” rundown.
Since rising in 2015 with the “Reggae Revival Movement,” this singer-songwriter, producer, poet and certified yogi has served the world with “Yoga on Dub;” an experience incorporating African-inspired Kemetic yoga into live music performances. While you can catch her wellness retreat in Kenya early next year, JAH9’s brand of soul and jazz infused reggae can be savored right now on her current single; “Heaven.”
See: Fleet Street.
“I first started working this inner-city community nearly a decade ago and witnessed its transformation through the power of art and youth activism… It is very inspiring.”
Eat: The Cheffingdon.
“…Animal-free and delicious. His business has now expanded, and he has his own vegan restaurant for sit-down dining. Fortunately, his new location is close to my house!”
Shop: Earth Elements.
“It’s like a self-care spot for lovers of all things natural.”
“The food is fresh and organic from their own farms and the views are incredible. It’s so serene up there.”
Experience: Coronation Market
“Fresh produce coming into town from all over the island. Real Jamaican working people bargaining, cussing and laughing. It is an undeniably authentic experience.”
Fete/Dub (Party): Kingston Dub Club
“The Kingston Dub Club on a Sunday night. Roots and culture are my thing.”
LILA IKÉ (@LilaikeJA)
With only has four singles to date, Lila Iké has blended the four musical elements of hip hop, soul, culture and dancehall into musical magic. The allure of her creative chemistry is capturing mass attention like her contemporary Koffee, to whom she has been compared. A rising star out of Grammy-nominated artist Proteje’s In.Digg.Nation Collective, her latest anthem, “Where I’m Coming From,” is truly a breath of fresh air and warm rays of sunshine.
See: Skyline Drive
“I like going up into the hills to observe the city from an elevated space.”
“I love their Hawaiian tuna salad!”
Shop: Parade Street
“It’s cost effective and has a good variety of things to buy.”
Stay: Strawberry Hill Hotel
“I love the ambience there and the views are next-level!”
Experience: Jamnesia Surf Camp in Bull Bay
“I love that I can learn to surf and play music all in one place. This is also one of the first places I would go to perform open mic when I moved to Kingston.”
Fete/Dub (Party): Kingston Dub Club
“The location is great – up on Skyline Drive with a great view of the city, and the music is mostly old dub music. I love dub riddims!”
Raised in the hills of Jamaica’s St. Andrew parish and seasoned in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana, this Rasta “Dawta” of original Reggae Band Chakula’s lead vocalists has trailblazed with fellow “Reggae Revival Movement” artists such as Chronixx and Jesse Royal. She has graced the pages of Vogue and Vice and has helped set the tone for a new generation of roots and culture artists. Her latest project, Anbessa World Mixtape, is expected to arrive this fall. Check the latest track “Lioness Order“.
See: Wickie Wackie Beach
“Wickie Wackie Beach has some of the most beautiful sunsets. Going for a run on the black sand beach with the sunset as my backdrop is how I love to decompress from a busy day.”
“My go-to spot as a plant-0based creative. Delicious and healthy food options and it stays open late!”
Shop: Itopia Life Dispensary
“Itopia Life Dispensary has a great selection of locally grown cannabis. It also houses herb rooms, where you can enjoy a serene escape in the heart of the city!”
“A park located in the beautiful Blue Mountains is great for camping, or to get cozy in the rustic cabins for a night or two.”
Fete/Dub (Party): Skyline Levels
“It is the only live music venue in Kingston. I’ve made some very special memories here as a performer and music lover.”
Another protégé of Protoje and member of his In.Digg.Nation Collective, singer, actress and model Sevana has the octaves and pipes that gives singers like Beyoncé their stripes. The vibrant buoyancy of her latest track, “Nobody Man,” contrasts but compliments the defiant stance of her vocals nicely and continues the challenge of relationship narratives she established with her single “Sometime Love” in 2018.
See: Devon House
“It’s the first place I ran away to when things got hectic when I moved to Kingston back in 2009. I’ve had an attachment ever since.”
“Hands down, the best Indian food in all of Kingston.”
“I love getting my smoothie ingredients here, the layout of the space is really good.”
Stay: The Spanish Court Hotel.
“It’s very central.”
Experience: The Piano House
“Deceptively small from the outside. Once you go in though, it’s filled with vintage books! It even has a yard!”
Fete/Dub (Party): Weddy Weddy
“If I had to recommend one place to visit in Kingston though for nightlife, it would be Weddy Weddy – a local street dance. I like it because it’s unfiltered Jamaican culture.”
ZIA BENJAMIN (@ziabenjamin)
An industry vet with writing credits with the likes of international megastars such as Sean Paul and Major Lazer, Zia and her “rum shop blues” vibe have been on display on singles such as “Mr. NeverMan” and the recently released “Rudie.” The singer with the “soulful bohemian island gyal sound” is currently working on her debut EP Love In A Plastic Cup.
See: Beat Street
“Beat Street is where some of Jamaica’s musical greats, including Lee Scratch Perry, got their start in the music industry. Also, Tuff Gong Studios because Bob Marley recorded there and it’s got a very cool nostalgic feel.”
“Celine’s has the best coconut curried fish! She also gets special points because she prepares lionfish, which is an invasive species in Jamaica, so eating it is good for the environment!”
Shop: Keneea Linton Boutique
“Jamaica is truly an undiscovered gem when it comes to shopping. We have extremely talented local designers.”
Stay: Strawberry Hill Hotel
“It was founded by Island Records’ Chris Blackwell, so it has a ton of history and is a home away from home for a lot of amazing musicians and artists who come to Kingston for music.”
Experience: Boom Sundays
“Boom Sundays is where all the artists and dancers hang out. You can catch Jamaican celebrities and learn the newest moves in the dancehall.”
Fete/Dub (Party): Sankofa
“Sankofa is a Tuesday night thing where you can dance to dancehall, afrobeat and jazz mixed in one eclectic, amazing vibe. You can buss a wine and burn some palo santo same time!”
NAOMI COWAN (@naomicowan)
Naomi Cowan has been rising through the ranks with the “cool runnings” of her mixtape Paradise Plum–the single is featured on VP Records Reggae Gold 2019. Similar to Kelissa, Naomi Cowan is a second-generation Jamaican musical artist, her parents are renowned Reggae turned prominent gospel singers, Carlene Davis and Tommy Cowan. Naomi Cowan is set to drop her new single, “Climbing” and has engaged in the treasured tradition of reggae covers by recently recording a version of Ariana Grande’s “Thank U Next.”
See: The Blue Mountains
“My friends and I try to take any opportunity to drive into the Blue Mountains. Sometimes it’s just for a cup of coffee at Cafe Blue or we go to EITS Cafe for dinner.”
“I love Screechies the most because there’s lots of spots to sit, it has a cute pagoda where you can take in a beautiful view of the ocean and Kingston, and they always have music playing on a big sound system.”
“I find that Jamaican store owners know how to select unique pieces; especially for stage and performing.”
“I often drive into Trenchtown with my dad and he goes to where Bob Marley used to live, now known as ‘Culture Yard,’ just to reason with the guys down there.”
Fete/Dub (Party): Wet Sundaze
“On a Sunday night, like every other roots baby, I start with ‘Dub Club’ in the mountains and then switch things up and head down to Half-Way Tree to feed my dancehall side at ‘Wet Sundaze.’”