High Time For a World-Class Reggae Museum


The Jamaica Music Museum on Water Lane is housed in a former storeroom at the Institute of Jamaica.  The exhibition gallery is approximately 1000 square feet.  It sounds even smaller in square metres: 92.9. The size of the museum tells you all you need to know about the lack of foresight of its founders.  Instead of starting with a clear plan for the museum and finding a space in which to bring the vision to reality, the founders worked back to front.


It seems as if a decision was taken that the museum had to be on the site of the Institute of Jamaica on East Street. All that was available was a storeroom and the museum was forced into it. How in God’s name could a small room in a backwater of downtown Kingston be seen as an appropriate place for the Jamaica Music Museum?   It makes absolutely no sense. 

The museum was launched in 2000 and it took all of nine years to appoint a director/curator, Mr Herbie Miller.  He’s a man of many talents:  musicologist, artiste manager, social analyst, songwriter, music producer and cultural historian.  Unfortunately, he is not a magician.  Over the last decade or so, he has tried valiantly to transform the storeroom into a museum. He has negotiated the acquisition of approximately 500 artefacts but there is no place to display the majority of them.  These valuable cultural objects remain in the safekeeping of their owners, awaiting a proper museum.



We may think that a storeroom is suitable for the Jamaica Music Museum.  Foreigners know better.  A huge breakthrough for the museum came in 2016. The director/curator was invited to collaborate with the Museum of Music at the Paris Philharmonic to mount an exhibition, “Jamaica, Jamaica: From Bob Marley to the deejays.”  Conceived by French music journalist Sebastien Carayol, the exhibition ran for four months in 2017.  It was a spectacular success. It went to Brazil in 2018 and came to Jamaica in 2020.


Of course, there was no place for the exhibition in the storeroom at the Institute of Jamaica.  It was mounted at the National Gallery and covered over 7000 square feet. There was a grand opening on February 5.  The brilliant exhibition clearly demonstrated the viability of the Jamaica Music Museum. Because of the pandemic, the exhibition closed on March 14.  It is now up again until February 28.  Opening hours are 10-12 and 1-3 from Tuesday to Saturday. As a ‘brawta,’ the exhibition will also be open on the last Sunday and Monday of the month.  It is a must-see for everyone interested in the development of Jamaican music.

In a recent interview, Herbie Miller confirmed that plans are much advanced to build a fit-for-purpose museum that will be 30 times larger than the storeroom.  The business plan has been approved.  The next stage is the selection of both the architect and the designer of the interior of the museum.  The Government’s procurement process is painfully slow.  Hopefully, it will not take twenty more years for this state- of-the-art museum to become a reality.


Yet another exhibition on Jamaican music has been mounted abroad.  On February 2, the “Bob Marley One Love Experience” opened at the Saatchi Gallery in London, just in time for the 77th birthday of the reggae icon. This is how the exhibition is described on the gallery’s website: “This unique experience will showcase unseen Marley photographs and memorabilia whilst immersing audiences on a journey through his lifestyle, passions, influences, and enduring legacy. Fans will venture through the exhibition, greeted by different elements of Bob Marley’s multi-faceted life.”

Viewers move from the “One Love Music Room” to the “One Love Forest.” They visit the “Soul Shakedown Studio” and then there’s “The Beautiful Life” space, which “will allow fans to delve deeper into Marley’s other personal joys, from football to family.”  The “Concrete Jungle and Fan Art Exhibition” features works by Thierry Guetta, aka ‘Mr. Brainwash’, a street artist who was born in France and now lives in the U.S. Finally, “The Next Gen Room” focuses on “Bob’s family and legacy through the next generation.”


Music journalist David Katz concludes his review of the exhibition for the UK Guardian in this somewhat equivocal way:  “As implied by the name, the Bob Marley One Love Experience is not especially nuanced, nor trying to be deep; this is very much a commercial enterprise celebrating Marley as an industry success story as much as a creative force. Nevertheless, the family-friendly format is inclusive (if not hugely instructive), and whether diehard devotee or casual listener, there is plenty to savour for an hour or two if approached with an open mind.”

The ‘One Love Experience’ is definitely not cheap. The price ranges from £18 for a standard ticket on Monday through Thursday, to £90 for the Live DJ Night.  In between, there’s the Friday, Saturday, Sunday standard ticket for £24.  Access to the VIP room costs £50 and the ‘Expert Guided Group Tour’ is £70. Bob Marley would probably not have approved of the high cost of one love:  “We nuh know how we an dem a go work dis out.”

All the same, the projected commercial success of the exhibition, which will run for ten weeks and then go on a multi-city tour, confirms the wide appeal of Jamaican culture.  But we are still not taking the cultural/creative industries seriously, as evidenced in the present state of the Jamaica Music Museum.  On a BBC world service programme about the ‘One Love Experience,’ the question of bringing the exhibition to Jamaica was raised.  The obvious answer is another question:  where would we put it? 

One thought on “High Time For a World-Class Reggae Museum

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  1. The visionary approach of those who are exclusively involved with the Reggae Museum needs revisiting. The place is to small to accommodate such vast information pool. I love my country and I don’t want anybody to look down on my country as ordinary and no good.

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