Reggae Sunsplash: A Historical Record of Live Reggae

Authored by Christopher Anderson

Watermarked image.

Reggae Sunsplash video collection. Photograph courtesy of Christopher Anderson.

From 1978 through 1998, Reggae Sunsplash was a major reggae festival which originated in Jamaica and subsequently reached international heights. Reggae Sunsplash became a celebrated event in Jamaica and “established the model for reggae concerts locally and internationally.”[1] The festival “attracted a global audience by showcasing all the legendary acts of the golden period of the music for an entire week.”[2] In addition to its local impact “Reggae Sunsplash received worldwide acclaim from the international media and this undoubtedly served to formalise reggae as an established musical artform.”[3] The festival reached beyond Jamaica with additional concerts held in numerous locations throughout the United States in the 1980’s and 1990’s. An attempt was made to revive Reggae Sunsplash with a festival taking place in 2006, however, no subsequent events have been held.[4]

Reggae Sunsplash lives on through the video collection of Don Green, one of the original founders of the festival. The collection currently exists in VHS and BETA videotape format. Mr. Green, an adjunct professor at St. John’s University, has made the collection available to St. John’s for digitization and academic service-learning. The Division of Library and Information Science at St. John’s has submitted grant proposals seeking the funds necessary to digitize the collection in order to preserve the contents for future generations. In preparation for the digitization process the collection has been organized chronologically to allow for easy access and retrieval.

The current format of the collection threatens the historical record. Recordings on magnetic tape have a life expectancy of approximately ten to thirty years.[5] Many of the tapes in the Reggae Sunsplash collection have already exceeded the high end of this timeframe. Not only are the tapes in danger of deterioration, but there is also the risk of damage when playing tapes on outdated or obsolete equipment.[6] These factors have led the push for digitization.

St. John’s is a Vincentian university and prides itself on “awareness and esteem for all individuals” combined with a community where “diversity is embraced in shared learning.”[7] Reggae Sunsplash is an important cultural event in the history of Jamaica and reggae music. The Reggae Sunsplash collection represents a historical record of the cultural and social impact that reggae music and Jamaican artists have forged throughout the world. This impact has been felt internationally by musicians, artists, and culture as a whole. As part of its Vincentian mission, St. John’s is committed to “utilize available resources and turn them towards humanity’s good.”[8] This commitment is manifested in the efforts of the Division of Library and Information Science to preserve the important cultural and historical record of Reggae Sunsplash.


[1] Keith Nurse, “Bringing Culture into Tourism: Festival Tourism and Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica,” Social and Economic Studies 51 (2002): 133.

[2] Basil Walters, “Book on Reggae Sunsplash to be launched,” Jamaica Observer, June 7, 2010, accessed May 8, 2017,

[3] Nurse, “Bringing Culture into Tourism,” 138.

[4] Howard Campbell, “Remembering Good-Old Reggae Sunsplash Days,” Jamiaca Gleaner, June 13, 2010, accessed March 3, 2017,

[5] John W.C. Van Bogart, Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling: A Guide for Libraries and Archives (Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 1995), accessed March 3, 2017,

[6] “Video Guidance: Playback and Digitization of Materials,” National Archives, last reviewed September 27, 2016,

[7] “Our Mission,” St. John’s University, last modified October 2015,

[8] Ibid.


Campbell, Howard. “Remembering Good-Old Reggae Sunsplash Days.” Jamaica Gleaner, June 13, 2010. Accessed March 3, 2017.

National Archives. “Video Guidance: Playback and Digitization of Materials.” Last reviewed September 27, 2016.

Nurse, Keith. “Bringing Culture into Tourism: Festival Tourism and Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica.” Social and Economic Studies 51 (2002): 127-143.

St. John’s University. “Our Mission.” Last modified October 2015.

Van Bogart, John W.C. Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling: A Guide for Libraries and Archives. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 1995. Accessed March 3, 2017.

Walters, Basil. “Book on Reggae Sunsplash to be launched.” Jamaica Observer, June 7, 2010. Accessed May 8, 2017.

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