The Music of Kingston

As I try and unpack my daily life here in Jamaica, I can’t help but immediately think about the new sounds I’m hearing. I need to write about them before they start to blend into the background. Next to the layer upon layer of heat, sounds have dominated my experience thus far. I am sensitive to noise and observe it actively (especially at night when I’m trying to sleep) so adjusting to the bustling array and selection of sounds here has been somewhat of a challenge.

Jamaica is loud. Kingston is louder!

In the morning I awake to birds flying around my window. They squeak an octave higher than most birds I’ve heard. I am made conscious by this display of life at 5 am every day. The birds are soon joined by the notes of the song, “Observer, Observer“, sung by the woman on my street corner who sells this daily Jamaican newspaper to commuters.

The traffic starts. I live at the corner of an extremely busy intersection. The honking, acceleration and backfiring of trucks, buses and cars is constant. Here, honking doesn’t occur in the rare instance that you need to lay on the horn because someone is about to hit you. Here, honking is frequent and can mean a variety of different things. Honking is a language. Honk translations:

  • Move! Go faster!
  • The light is green!
  • Do you need a ride?
  • Get in!
  • I’m running the red so look out!
  • Hey whitey! Where ya headed?
  • I’m not letting you in! Don’t even think about it!

Music blares from most vehicles. It’s so loud I could tell you the song title or the name of the radio station from my apartment balcony. There is even loud music on public buses. The bus driver chooses which station we get to listen to while we ride. On a bus, or in a route taxi with it’s own unique musical flavour, is how I get to work everyday.

Once I get to work things haven’t quieted down much as of late. My manager has brought her child into work this past week and he is 4. He’s a cute little guy but has a boisterous set of lungs. Here’s the little rugrat in my office just before he attempted to brush my tangled hair.

On the way home I encounter much chatter. Usually shouts from men as they ride their undersized bikes or from walking passer-byers. I seem to get a lot of attention here. It’s a bit overwhelming but I’m starting to learn how to best react. Most of the time the men are complimentary and say I’m a princess, queen, doll, or a pretty girl. They aren’t shy. To be honest, most of the time I can’t make out what they are saying because of their thick accents and quick tongues. I smile, wave and nod and carry on my way.

I typically walk home from work. It’s about a 4 km jaunt. I know I’m getting close when I hear the high-pitched whistling of the steaming peanut roasting machines. These small portable cookers on wheels contain coals which roast the peanuts underneath a colourfully painted lid, steam escaping in a flurry. You’ll find these parked on meridians while the men selling these peanuts wander up and down the road through traffic.

The skies might also add to this beautiful melody. The thunder booms so loud you feel it in your chest. The rain pounds. It’s most definitely the rainy season as storms blow through here most afternoons.

Off I go on another musical adventure! Time for me to step outside once again.

3 thoughts on “The Music of Kingston

  1. I’d have a tough time adjusting to all the new sounds, too!

    I love your writing style, Breezy; you write so succicntly yet you vibrantly paint a picture that makes me feel as though I am also experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells.

    Cheers,
    Lady Bec

  2. Love it! Very descriptive writing – I can hear it too! Love your translation of possible honk meanings, esp ‘hey whitey’! lol I get it about the loud music in the public taxi/buses – reminds me of Barbados! And they certainly don’t have this culture of sharing rides here in Toronto!!

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