Jamaica is well-known for its music, which is central to Jamaican life and has had a world-wide impact. Church services feature gospel choirs, and singers of the genre have risen to fame. Ska music developed in the early 1960s. Rock Steady, a slower, more soulful rhythm with a heavy bass beat, was next on the music scene, but it was quickly eclipsed by reggae. Originating in the Kingston ghetto in the early 1970s, reggae rose to dominate the international music scene under the leadership of Bob Marley, its undisputed king. Reggae style blends Afro-American rhythms with modern instruments and often caustic political and social commentary. Jamaican music is still producing new innovations and is a major influence in dance clubs around the world. Other famous musicians include Jimmy Cliff, Monty Alexander and Shaggy.
Jamaican literature includes poetry, folklore, novels, short stories and essays. Much of the island's literary flowering occurred after independence in 1962. An annual literary festival includes competitions in writing poetry, short stories and essays. Numerous Jamaican writers, including Velma Pollard, author of Karl and Other Stories (1993), and the poet Kwame Dawes, author of Progeny of Air (1994), have garnered international awards. The 1970s saw the arrival of dub poetry, a new genre in which poems are often set to heavy reggae bass and drums.
Jamaican visual art has a long and powerful tradition. The most common themes are slavery, nationalism, spirituality and the family. Jamaica has internationally known sculptors and painters, as well as a tradition of wood carvers who sell their folk art along Jamaica's highways. Edna Manley is a well-known sculptor. Barrington Watson has received wide acclaim.
Jamaican theatrical artists put on performances throughout the country. The best known of these stage productions are the Little Theatre Movement's pantomimes, which are often based on the character of Anancy. The National Dance Theatre Company, a company of creative dancers, musicians and singers, has won wide acclaim in Jamaica and internationally for decades. The female troupe Sistern has won international acclaim performing plays and skits on women's issues.