Reggae Español: Jamaican Music in Spanish-speaking Countries

Reggae Español: Jamaican Music in Spanish-speaking Countries

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Reggae Español: 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 of Jamaica, the Spaniards were supposedly the first to arrive on the island, and settle it shortly thereafter. Christopher Columbus veered off his path and came upon the small island in the Caribbean on his second voyage in may of 1494. The island was already inhabited by the indigenous people called the Arawaks, who supposedly came from Venezuela and had already named the island Xaymaca. Not 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). Only a few artifacts remain of what was once the Arawak culture, a people that at one point numbered 60,000. (Barrett, p. 20).

15 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 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 salve fled, which 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 battle with the British.

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There are several place names in Jamaica that show the Spanish involvement, such as Ocho Rios and Spanish Town, which was called St. Jago de la Vega in colonial times, but little else remains.

Although the influence of Spanish-speaking countries on Jamaica has not been long lasting, Jamaican influence on other countries has been more significant, and is 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 exists in Panama.

As Jamaican influences grow, so grow the influences of reggae music and Rastafarianism. The number of groups who perform reggae in Spanish are growing at a very rapid pace. The Jamaican and Reggae influence is becoming 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 español groups have formed web sites in order to spread the word of reggae español, 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 comes from Guadalajara, Mexico and they call themselves El Mito, or translated to English, The Myth. They are proud of their music and they posted a paragraph on their web site so that people will understand who they are and who they are not. 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.

Fortunately they posted their lyrics on the web so people are able to read them and explore their meanings. Of the songs they posted, most of them are in Spanish, while some are in Spanish and French, Spanish and English, or a mixture of all three languages. 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
Ensamble commeme

Niimporte le couleur
De la peau
N’importe s’il est
Noire, blamc au jaune

Africa loves reggae
México 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
no, no, don’t treat him down


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


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 has 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 so I will give the lyrics in Spanish and translate them into Spanish, based on my interpretation.

El Mito va a llegar,
no necesita de fuerza militar.
El Mito ya llegó,
Tan solo necesita la fuerza del león.

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 león,
el reggae trae consigo la fuerza del león.
La raza necesita la fuerza del león,
El Mito trae consigo la fuerza del león.

El mundo está dañado,
y el no ha ayudado.
Nagasaki e Hiroshima, Chile y Argentina.

La fuerza del león
es la fuerza del león.

First verse repeated.

Párate y mira a ver si tienes la fuerza del león. (x3)
Si no El Mito la va a dar.

la fuerza del león
es la fuerza del león.
(Third verse repeated)

I am going to translate this to 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 believe that it represents "dominant maleness" of the movement of Rastafarianism. Some think the lion symbolizes strength, dominance, and aggressiveness. (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 military forces of these two governments committed human rights crimes on their citizens, and many were murdered because they opposed the government and the tactics they were using. This is similar to some of the oppression many black people Rastafarians have faced and expressed in their music and philosophy.

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 Rsatafarian religion, which believe all people are equal, and joined together by one God, or Jah. (

Other reggae español artists have come together on a CD entitled "Viva la Rasta." These artists span three continents and nine countries, including Argentina, Spain, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, the United States, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Zimbabwe, a group that is based out of Argentina, posted a web site containing a history of the band and various songs that can be downloaded off the internet. ( Another group that I was able to find on the web was Los Pericos, a band that was also based out of Argentina.

When looking around the area for reggae español, I ran into quite a bit of trouble. I was unable to find much in any of the stores I checked, and the people at Flex Records did not have much to say about reggae español. The person behind the counter rattled off a name, El General, who he thought had been popular in New York in the late 1980’s to early ‘90’s.

Although reggae español 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. I came across a few people who had built web sites with links to reggae español, and these links were able to lead me to some of the information I found on the web.

The reggae I have heard incorporates the same type of beats and rhythms that can be found in Jamaica, but they have also added their own style to the mix. 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,
"Pequeña pero fuerte"
Era un príncipe guerrero.
Unos señores borbones
Lo cegaron con mentira
Y cañones

Tenochtitlan la derrumbaron
Y todo el oro se llevaron,
El penacho de Moctezuma,
Está del otro lado de la laguna.

Kukulkán era su dios,
Kukulkán los engañó

Una cruz de ceniza
En la frente les pintaron
Y otra más de acero
En el vientre las clavaron.

El tapabarros se los quitaron
Diciendo que eran unos depravados.

Kukulkán era su dios,
Kukulkán los engañó.

English Version

Are the people of my town,
"Small but strong"

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.

Kukulkán was their god,
Kukulkán 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.

Kukulkán was their god,
Kukulkán deceived them.

This song says a great deal about how the Aztec Indians living in Mexico were tricked by the Spaniards. Cortés befriended the Indians so they would be easier to conquer and he and his men ambushed them at night, which is what happened to Cuitláhuac 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 feel deceived.

In verse 5, they are singing about how the Spanish baptized them with an ah-gray cross on the forehead, and made them slaves by putting them in shackles. This has many similarities what the Rastafarians and Africans have gone through around the same time period, maybe just a little later. The Indians of the Americas were subjected to a similar history to the people of West Africa, only outsiders invaded the Indians’ land while the Africans were taken from their homeland and brought to a foreign place, only to experience the hellish life that accompanied slavery.

There are many similarities of themes in the songs of Jamaican reggae and reggae español, 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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