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The Most Popular Jamaican Funeral Songs

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jamaican_dress_for_funeralsThe Most Popular Jamaican Funeral Songs

by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer

A short while ago, I shared with you, the funeral traditions here in Jamaica. I mentioned a few of the more popular songs sung at funerals in Jamaica. That got me thinking, why not share some more about these songs too?

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Whether we like them or not, certain songs become synonymous with funerals, offering comfort and a sense of continuity. So letโ€™s take a closer look at some of our popular funeral songs in Jamaica.

Among numerous songs associated with funerals in Jamaica, one hymn you will probably hear at every funeral service or burial sight is "How Great Thou Artโ€.

Its powerful chorus, "then sings my soul, my saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art," in my opinion usually hits home for most mourners as this is the time in the service that you will most likely hear the cries and see the tears of those who loved and knew the person who passed.

Its lyrics may not specifically address the final journey, but the hymnโ€™s majestic praise and profound reverence make it a funeral standard worldwide.

Even the great George Nooks created his reggae rendition of the song. His version infuses the song with a lively rhythm that makes it both uplifting and deeply moving. This aligns perfectly with our tradition of not only mourning but also celebrating life even in moments of loss. Nooks' style is easy to sing along to, making it a fitting tribute during a funeral service, where communal singing is a cherished practice.

While "How Great Thou Art," is the one that probably stands out the most, many other songs have become integral to Jamaican funeral ceremonies, to a point where we may now consider them as traditional funeral songs. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. "Back to the Dust" by The Angelic Gospel Singers**:
    - This song, rooted in the biblical passage from Ecclesiastes 3:20, is a lively reminder of life's cyclical nature, making it a fitting choice for funerals.

  2. "Bye and Bye When the Morning Comes" by Hank Jones and Thad Jones:
    - A purely instrumental version that brings a soothing yet poignant touch to funeral services with its muted trumpet, piano, and drum brushes.

  3. "Some Sweet Day" by Zap Pow:
    - With its 70s reggae roots and phenomenal horn section, this song offers an authentic Jamaican sound for commemorating loved ones.

  4. "Meet Me by the River" by Robert Ffrench:
    - This song speaks of meeting loved ones in the afterlife, a comforting notion for those mourning a loss.

  5. "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder" by George Banton:
    - Banton's upbeat rendition of this gospel classic brings joy and a sense of homecoming to funeral services. Mourners look forward to meeting their loved one on judgement day and hopefully both their names are on the "roll" for those admitted into heaven.

  6. "People Like You" by Gramps Morgan:
    - Definitely a newer addition to the list, but since it's release Gramps "People Like You" has resonated deeply with us and helping us come to turns with the loss of our loved ones. We find comfort in the lyrics which give us the hope that as long as they were good people at their core, then there is always hope to seem them in the place the "streets are made of gold."

Jamaican funerals have moved away from what used to be very Christian conservative. Interestingly, today, funeral songs in Jamaica are not confined to gospel and traditional hymns.

With reggae and dancehall being such a large part of our culture and identity as a people it has also found its place in our burial services as well. Songs like Bob Marley's "One Love" and "Natural Mystic," and Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" are often heard, bringing a sense of unity and spiritual upliftment.

While those bring positivity and spiritual upliftment, you will still hear more lewd and current dancehall tracks being played at funerals, especially once the body has been buried.

Music at Jamaican funerals serves as a bridge between the past and the present, the living and the departed. In a way, music brings it all together.

Both our traditional and popular songs, help to create a funeral experience that is uniquely Jamaican, where the sorrow of loss is beautifully balanced with the joy of remembering a life well lived.

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Return to Jamaican Funeral Traditions from Popular Jamaican Funeral Songs
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References & Sources For Popular Jamaican Funeral Songs

  1. Cake and Amy Wolkenhauer, B. in E.W. (2024) 32 popular Jamaican funeral songs: Cake blog, Cake. Available at: https://www.joincake.com/blog/jamaican-funeral-songs/#h_3108776077691633194974564 (Accessed: 13 June 2024).
  2. Music on the Funeral Road (2014) Entertainment | Jamaica Gleaner. Available at: https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/entertainment/20140907/music-funeral-road (Accessed: 13 June 2024).
  3. Sharing the uniqueness of Jamaica with the rest of the world (no date) My Island Jamaica. Available at: https://www.my-island-jamaica.com/ (Accessed: 10 June 2024).
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