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Forty years ago this month in Jamaica, the first Reggae Sunsplash took place in Jarrett Park, Montego Bay. The festival was once billed as the largest to take place on the island, and introduced the culture of reggae music to a wider audience.

The festival was the result of a collaboration between Jamaicans Tony Johnson, Don Green, Ronnie Burke, John Wakeling, and Ed Barclay. With the assistance from members of Jamaica’s tourism board, Reggae Sunsplash secured the media exposure it needed and was promoted as the “biggest reggae festival in the world.”

By 1981, the festivals were taped and packaged to be sold. The first of these releases, “Reggae Sunsplash ’81: A Tribute to Bob Marley” was put out a month after Marley, who was reggae music’s biggest star by far, succumbed to cancer in May of that year.

Steel Pulse, Gregory Isaacs, Eek-A-Mouse and many other veteran reggae music bands all honored Marley, who paved a way for the music’s global commercial success.

The festival ran from 1978 to 1996, before reviving for a final time in the 20th Century in 1998. It was revived once more in 2006 but was billed as an international touring showcase.

Today, the renamed Reggae Sumfest festival stands as Jamaica’s largest festival of its kind. It takes place this year in Montego Bay from July 15-22. 

 

PHOTO: Reggae Sunsplash doc screenshot

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