From Jamaica to Antigua, Hotels and Bars With Music History
Music has always been deeply intertwined with Caribbean culture, from the African rhythms brought over by enslaved people to the lively calypso and soca rhythms that drive the region’s Carnival celebrations. The musical legacy of the Caribbean built to a crescendo in the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of reggae as a global phenomenon, and soon some of the top recording artists in the world were coming to the Caribbean to soak up the sun, solitude, and sonic influences of the islands. In many cases, getting in touch with this musical history is as easy as checking into your Caribbean hotel room or sidling up to a bar for a drink to hear locals’ stories and perhaps catch a band writing the next verse of tropical music history.
Most hotels have pools, some have spas; this boutique resort on the northeast coast of Jamaica has a recording studio and a treetop DJ booth. Both a vacation retreat and an incubator for creativity, Geejam was founded by music industry pros and attracts a wide variety of recording artists with its mix of private villas, cabins, and guest rooms, the lively Bushbar, and world-class studios where albums like Drake’s Thank Me Later, Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire, and Gorillaz self-titled debut were laid down.
Perhaps better known as the former home of James Bond author Ian Fleming, Goldeneye took on a less literary and more more musical persona when it was acquired by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell in the 1976. Now a luxury villa resort, Goldeneye not only offers the opportunity to stay where Fleming wrote most of the 007 novels but also the room where Sting wrote the Police’s chart-topping hit, Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.
Beatles producer George Martin attracted some of the world’s top recording artists to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat when he opened an outpost of his AIR Studios in the hills above the town of Plymouth in 1979. Sadly, both the town and the studio where the likes of the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Duran Duran recorded fell victim to a pair of natural disasters — first a hurricane, then a volcanic eruption. However, Martin’s Montserrat home, Olveston House, survived both calamities and welcomes guests as a six-room guesthouse with a restaurant serving a mix of English and Caribbean cuisine; many of the artists who recorded at AIR Studios Montserrat spent time at Martin’s tropical home away from home.
The list of musical legends who own (or owned) homes on Mustique reads like the roster of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Bryan Adams, and others have helped put this small island in the Grenadines on the map as a celebrity hideout since the 1970s. Most of the stars who spend time on Mustique retreat to one of the island’s luxury villas, but visitors can get in touch with its musical history with a visit to Basil’s Bar, the iconic Mustique watering hole where the likes of Jagger, Adams, and Jon Bon Jovi have occasionally taken the stage to perform; the bar also hosts the annual Mustique Blues Festival.
Like George Martin’s AIR Studios, Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios attracted a constellation of top musical performers in the 1970s and 1980s, including Grace Jones, Talking Heads, the B-52s, and others. The studio shut down in the 2010, and the fate of the colorful villas where artists stayed while recording is uncertain. But visitors to Nassau can still get a taste of musical history at the Studio Cafe, a casual dining restaurant with a charming second-story patio occupying the former Compass Point Studios building.
When reggae artist Bankie Banx’s musical career was temporarily derailed, he sought solace in a ramshackle beach bar on Rendezvous Bay where he could play his music and serve up local rum drinks to his friends and visitors. Over the years, the slapped-together beach bar took on a life of its own as a music venue, with Banx (later joined by his son, Omari) hosting an annual music festival called Moonsplash that has attracted performers like Jimmy Buffett, Maxi Priest, John Mayer, and Toots and the Maytals. The festival has been held every March for more than 30 years, and Anguilla visitors can also catch some live music at the Dune Preserve three nights a week.
Jimmy Buffett fell in love with St. Barts the first time he sailed his boat into Gustavia harbor more than 40 years ago, tabbing the Le Select restaurant as the home of the ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ and referencing the island’s nightlife in the song, “Autour du Rocher.” Parrotheads will also be delighted to know that Buffett wrote his first book, “Who is Joe Merchant?,” at St. Bart’s Eden Rock hotel and later recorded parts of his Songs from St. Somewhere album at the hotel’s recording studio.
This elegant West Indies hotel has a long list of celebrity clients that has included rock legends Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, and Paul McCartney; the former Beatle has an extended stay at the hotel in the 1970s with wife Linda and daughter Stella, where he indulged an interest in drawing and painting — with many of his cartoons sketched on Curtain Bluff stationery. The Antigua resort remains one of the most exclusive celebrity destinations in the Caribbean.
Strawberry Hill, Jamaica No story about Caribbean musical history would be complete without name-checking reggae legend Bob Marley. There are many historic sites related to Marley around his native Jamaica, including a museum in his former home in Kingston, the still-vital Tuff Gong Studios, his childhood home in the tough Trench Town neighborhood (now home to a cultural center), and the pioneering musician’s mausoleum in his birthplace in Nine Mile. Marley also spent a lot of time at Strawberry Hill, an estate turned resort in the mountains above Kingston owned by Island Records producer and owner Chris Blackwell, including while recuperating from an assassination attempt in 1976. Hotel guests can enjoy a variety of Marley memorabilia as well as fine dining, charming cottages, and fantastic views of the Blue Mountains