Exploring the lingering energy of Lost in Time and Jamaica’s captivating spirit… 

I’m not sure which hits you first, the sun or the music. You won’t just see or hear Jamaica, you’ll feel it, and a piece of it will stay with you long after you leave. When you land, it’s like shedding a second layer of skin. The first “good morning” I got from a stranger was nothing short of a jolt; London manners definitely don’t make the cut here. It made me wonder if the music we love culturally is a subconscious echo of the physical experiences of our environment – London’s grit sounds out of place next to Jamaica’s rhythmic bass.

At the invitation of the JTB, I explored the island in preparation for the notorious Lost In Time festival, during Reggae Month no less. For those who are unfamiliar, Lost In Time is a Kingston festival curated by beloved reggae artist Protoje, celebrating reggae’s next generation alongside established Jamaican favourites for a fervent audience.

Jik Reuben (@jikreuben) on behalf of Lost InTime Festival.

Having never been to Kingston before, I was ecstatic at the first part of our immersion: a walking tour of their expanding Art District courtesy of Kingston Creative to see vibrant murals explode along intersecting roads. The strongest themes were music and an all-encompassing adoration of Jamaican culture. Towering sound systems, musical figures, and dancehalls were punctuated by scenes of education and unity. The avid painter in me was enthralled by the ever-evolving space and augmented reality murals. In these, I found a deeper connection to my Jamaican heritage, seeing threads of the stories my grandmother would weave.

Kingston’s dazzling street art was the perfect prelude to Pretty Close 876. Though it garnered fame on TikTok, where hype can often disappoint, this place lived up to its reputation. We hiked through the emerald leaves of overhanging greenery, climbing across stones and streams to reach hidden waterfalls, and swimming in sun-kissed water as the falls massaged our backs. The rich scent of cooking drifted from an open-air kitchen perched on an outcrop of rock. Meandering back, we settled beside it to savour an Ital meal served in coconut husks. I always liked ackee, but what the chef did… I need to know because it was addictive.

The spaces we reside in carry the power of our presence and the stories lived out in them – nowhere is this more apparent than the Bob Marley Museum. His music is partially responsible for the lack of hearing in my left ear; Kaya was one of three albums I used to have on my iPod and I was regularly reprimanded for playing it too loud through my headphones. Our tour guide’s anecdotes brought a different intimacy – showing us Bob Marley’s favourite hammock overlooking the mountains, the home studio where his children still gather in his memory… there was a sacredness to the space. That reverence for musical legacy ushered me into the Lost In Time Festival the next day and resonates in Protoje’s mastery – his recent release, ‘Legend Legend’ is a beautiful homage to Marley’s influence.

This year, the second instalment of the festival teemed with photo opportunities. A sold-out crowd of 7500 descended on Hope Gardens as proceedings kicked off with Jah Lil, Khalia, and Ras-I on the New Wave Stage. The rainy skies did little to dampen the energy as Romain Virgo’s charismatic performance captured hearts on the Main Stage by spiritedly harmonising with the audience and hinting at his upcoming concert. As the rain eased, excitement built for the headlining trio. Stepping out, Protoje’s brushed purple Canadian tuxedo and fresh Clarks were a bold contrast to Jesse Royal’s white and Lila Iké’s vivid custom suit – between them, they dripped musical royalty.

The crowd erupted when Naomi Cowan, Jaz Elise, and Sevana joined Iké for a live rendition of their famous Rock & Groove 2020 BBC session. This all-female powerhouse stole the show for me; their range and energy were captivating. Surprise guests kept the stage on fire: Mortimer, Jahshii, Stonebwoy, Yohan Marley, Agent Sasco, Govana, Chi Ching Ching, Popcaan… but Valiant and Masicka ignited the audience like nothing else. Popcaan’s quick set right before the abrupt end was the cherry on top, as Protoje wrapped the show with a mic drop: “Yow Jamaica, dem say no more. Make sure the government know say we need reggae music fi play inna Kingston.”

Over the past few years, the UK has seen a spate of artists performing over their tracks live. What would have been unacceptable thirty years ago has nearly become an industry standard. One thing I’ve noticed is that in Jamaica, and especially in reggae, this cannot run. Live bands and full performances bring such a playful, one-time energy to shows that I wish more performers would follow in their footsteps. Protoje, Lila Iké, and Jesse Royal are embarking on a UK tour at the end of March so there’s still a chance to catch the magic for yourself.

Jik Reuben (@jikreuben) on behalf of Lost InTime Festival.

The festival was a euphoric pinnacle, even when ziplining over rivers at the Chukka White River Valley Outpost and savouring the flavours of the impeccable Miss T’s (which will be seeing me again). We scrambled into a raft for our final leg, floating down the crystal-clear waters of the White River. I tried my hand at pushing the raft, and it’s not light work! As I struggled, I couldn’t help but consider a career change; I much prefer pushing a raft in the sun than being packed like sardines on the London Underground.

Often, especially when we have family based in places, we shy away from experiences oriented towards tourists. But they exist for a reason. They show parts of our cultures that make our worlds uniquely vibrant. Living in Jamaica has always been a dream of mine, and my experience with Lost in Time only deepened that desire. Be warned: only visit if you’re willing to say a hard goodbye. They had to peel my claws out of the tarmac to get me on the plane back.