Summertime and the living’s easy – reggae is the genre of the month and we are glad to celebrate the reggae and Rastafarian subcultures of Malta. Here’s the lowdown on that Kingston town sound.
A little background
For Jamaicans, reggae has always been the bedrock for the expression of freedom. This was preceded by ska, a more upbeat strand of the genre that was already popular at street parties in downtown Kingston during and after the British rule in Jamaica in the early 1960s. Ska was blasted out of massive towers of speakers called sound systems and disc jockeys would fight tooth and nail to play the freshest records in town to attract the largest crowd.
Enter the Rastafarians. It was through their ancestral rhythms that they found their place in the Jamaican music scene. Ska producers were looking for the next big tune and ended up introducing the Rasta drum section into their melodies. From that point onwards, modern reggae as we know it was born.
In 1962 the British officially left Jamaica to rule its own land and reggae music became representative of a free Jamaica. It was only until reggae was exported to England that it truly took off as a genre that witnessed enormous international attention, notably with the help of its most well known artist, Bob Marley.
Johnny Was – One of Marley’s more soulful songs
Reggae in Malta
Malta and Jamaica have a lot in common. Both are small islands that were under the rule of the English. They both happen to be some of the sunniest places on the planet, mega popular tourist destinations and are both toying with the idea of total legalization of marijuana (weed is decriminalized in Jamaica).
Vague similarities aside, there are few reggae bands that are true to form in Malta (although Pon di Corner and ManaTapu are both heavily reggae-inspired Maltese groups) there are plenty of places where you can feel a Rasta vibe or catch someone playing Marley.
Malta may have seen its finest moment for the reggae community when Ziggy Marley played on the beach of Golden Bay in 1993. For those with a love for Bob Marley’s lasting influence, be sure to check out The Wailer’s play at Pretty Bay on August 25th (more info below). They formed an essential part of the original band members of Bob Marley & the Wailers.
The last call – a special shout out to Juuls. This will be the St. Julians reggae bar’s last summer in Malta as the owner Nicki Sultana is permanently moving shop to Jamaica. Nicki understands the island vibes of Jamaica and does a good job of communicating that to the reggae community here. With summer parties on both land and sea, he embodies what this island is all about. The last Babylon by Boat was a bombastic evening exodus to Comino – be sure to catch the last one, or consider seeing them in Jamaica.
Located in Buggiba in the building next to Café del Mar, the crowd at Ta Fra Ben could not be any more different from their neighbors. Consisting of an open-air bar with a small kitchen, people come for a beer and a smoke, preceded or succeeded by a dip in the sea down the road. Reggae and dub events are regular occurrences here.
A true reggae playground. Zion Reggae bar is located in Marsaskala in what appears to be the end of the world, especially coming from the North. However do not be opposed to the journey! Zion offers a large backyard with enough room for everyone to chill, have a drink and dance to that sweet reggae music.
Zion Reggae Bar’s chillin’ backyard
What was originally (and still technically is) a bocce ball club on Manuel Island in Gzira has become a hub for reggae and its subgenres. What is simply a backyard with green jungle netting thrown over it has served as a central location to hear reggae and reggae-inspired music in Malta for close to the cost of nothing.
Upcoming Reggae events in Malta:
August 20: IRation Reggae Gathering, Ta Fra Ben, Qawra
August 25: Rock ‘N Malta present: The Wailers, Pretty Bay, Birzebbugia
August 27: Babylon by Boat Sunset Edition, departing from Buggiba
Listen: Stephen Marley – Rock Stone ft. Capleton, Sizzla
All photo credit of Zion Reggae Bar goes to Zion themselves and Brain Strobes photography. If you have an issue with the photos posted in this article please contact me directly.