Jamaican funeral traditions include a Nine Night celebration, also called the “Dead Yard,” which occurs on the ninth night after someone dies. It’s a raucous celebration filled with songs, dancing, and food. 

The following day consists of a funeral and a burial—making the two events very distinct.

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With more than one genre to choose from, you’re sure to find plenty of suitable music no matter how you plan on celebrating your loved one’s life. 

Look below for a mix of gospel, reggae, ska, and dancehall music suitable for either a somber funeral and burial or a lively Dead Yard celebration. 

Traditional Jamaican Funeral Songs

Many of the following traditional Jamaican funeral songs have their roots in gospel and are adapted for Jamaican people, culture, and funeral traditions.

1. “Back to the Dust” by The Angelic Gospel Singers

“Back to the Dust” is a familiar and lively funeral song that invokes the passage from Ecclesiastes 3:20 about returning to the dust from which ‘man’ came. 

2. “Bye and Bye When the Morning Comes” by Hank Jones and Thad Jones

The Hank and Thad Jones version of “Bye and Bye” is purely instrumental, complete with a trumpet muter, piano, and drum brushes. 

3. “Some Sweet Day” by Zap Pow

Hailing from Jamaica, Zap Pow offers authentic listening for Jamaican funeral music. 

Pay attention, and you’ll note that “Some Sweet Day” has a familiar 70s root in traditional reggae accompanied by a phenomenal horn section. 

4. “Meet Me by the River” by Robert Ffrench

In “Meet Me by the River,” Ffrench is singing about precisely that—meeting a friend or loved one by the river to travel to Zion together.

5. “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” by George Banton

Benton’s rendition of the song “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” is far more upbeat than the ones you’ll find from traditional southern gospel singers. 

Banton’s version is also meant to bring home the joy one feels when returning home with a kind of bright tone to it, too.

6. “How Great Thou Art” by George Nooks

“How Great Thou Art” makes an excellent choice for music to be played at the Jamaican funeral not only for its historical value in Christian hymnals but because the George Nooks version is upbeat and lively. 

7. “When He Calls Me” by Gloria Bailey

Gloria Bailey is a beloved household name in Jamaica who did not make music for money—she said she did it for God. 

8. “Blessed Assurance” by Owen Gray

Gray’s “Blessed Assurance” rendition is more suitable for somber or mournful events, such as formal church services and burials than a Nine Night celebration.

Include it in your funeral slideshow as the lyrics will guide any mix of photos with praise for Jesus.

9. “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” by Dorothy Norwood

Dorothy Norwood might be one of the world’s foremost American gospel singers, but her song, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” also works well for funeral services in Jamaica.  

10. “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Erica Lumsden

2021’s Gospel Star Competition awarded Erica Lumsden first prize for her performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

11. “Gerrehbenta” by National Dance Theater Company of Jamaica

The “Gerrehbenta” was choreographed as an homage to ancient funerary rites in Jamaica, invoking ancestral spirits through song and dance. 

12. “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” by The Jonny Island Reggae Group

This song fits into both traditional and contemporary music, depending on how it’s sung or played. 

13. “Amazing Grace” by Ras Michael (aka Dadawah) and the Sons of Negus

Born from a sermon on New Year's Day in 1773, "Amazing Grace" has become one of the most globally well-known songs.

14. “Can’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born in 1915, musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe crossed the lines of club and gospel singing. Her guitar playing would become a significant influencer of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and many more.

15. “Lest I Forget (Lead Me to Calvary)” by The Grace Thrillers

The Grace Thrillers have been performing since the early 70s and are well-known throughout Jamaica, the US, UK, and Canada. 

Although “Lest I Forget” is one of their more famous funeral songs, check out “Shady Green Pastures” for an additional option. 

Contemporary Jamaican Funeral Songs

Contemporary Jamaican funeral songs have a broader genre than traditional ones. Many of the artists listed below have been honored by the Jamaican government for outstanding distinction in their art.

16. “Thank You Jesus” by Kukudoo

Along with fellow collaborator Omari, Kukudoo’s mission is to make you think of all the strange things in which one can find gratitude—some may make you laugh.

17. “One Love” by Bob Marley

“One Love’s” theme of unity and inclusion for all Jamaicans and Rastafarians works as a modern funeral song because it brings all people together. 

Regardless of their histories, everyone can come together for the same purpose of praising God.

18. “Done Dead Already” by Scion Sashay Success

New Yorker and singer George Narcisse was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and is now professionally known as Scion Sashay Success. 

Sashay’s music, including “Done Dead Already,” is driven by his reggae and dancehall roots, particularly with his use of Jamaican Patois.

19. “Peace Treaty” by Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh was one of the original members of the Wailers from Bob Marley & the Wailers. 

Although his life was tragically cut short, Tosh’s discography spans nearly three decades and still influences many current reggae artists today. 

20. “Burial” by Peter Tosh

Although some believe Tosh’s “Burial” was meant for Bob Marley, Tosh wrote this song while the Wailers were all still friends. The song later appeared on his ’76 album, “Legalize It.”

21. “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces 

“Israelites” is one of Desmond Dekker & The Aces’ more famous songs and one of reggae’s first global hits. 

If you’re planning a memorial service for a follower of Rastafarian practices, don’t forget to include this classic. 

22. “Behold” by Culture

Culture is a “roots reggae” group that sings about everyday life, including such things as heeding the words and advice from God about living a good life. 

23. “Love from a Distance” by Beres Hammond

Reggae artist Beres Hammond’s style of music is generally considered to be “lovers rock” music, which makes “Love from a Distance” more appropriate for a Nine Night celebration than a burial service.

24. “Natural Mystic” by Bob Marley & The Wailers

Bob Marley’s classic “Natural Mystic” is an ideal addition to any Nine Night celebration because of its themes of Judgment Day and the mystical powers believed to surround people everywhere.

25. “Sweet Hour of Prayer” by Buju Banton ft. Gramps Morgan

“Sweet Hour of Prayer” isn’t your typical funeral song. However, the version performed by Buju Banton and Gramps Morgan offers new styling and a medley that works well for funeral services.

26. “Satta Masaganna” by The Abyssinians

Recorded in 1968, "Satta Masaganna" was The Absyssinians' first song to combine a Rastafarian hymn with the Ethiopian Amharic language.  

27. “King of Kings” by Jimmy Cliff

For a timeless and noteworthy classic that everyone will know the words to—choose “King of Kings” from the globally famous Jimmy Cliff.

Not only does it make one of the best funeral songs, but one of Jamaica’s most beloved artists performs it. 

28. “Psalm 24” by Luciano ft. Mutabaruka

Although “Psalm 24” is taken from the Bible, the Luciano and Mutabaruka collaboration is contemporary and suitable for any Nine Night celebration. 

29. “Roll Call” by Michael Reid

Nine Night Celebrations often include Michael Reid’s music, including this one about making sure your name is on the list to get into heaven.

30. “Mi Nah Go Down De” by Michael Reid

“Me Nah Go Down De” is another of Reid’s more vibrant songs that’ll get everyone up and dancing.

31. “Chase the Devil” by Max Romeo

Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil” slows down the celebration a little with a more laid-back reggae/roots reggae song about putting on an iron shirt to chase the devil away.

32. “King David” by Kukudoo

Kukudoo is one of the more well-known Nine Night artists in Jamaica and the UK. His music is considered secular, revivalist, and more spiritual than traditional.

Funeral Songs for Nine Night Celebrations and More

Jamaican funerals are a unique experience, blending lively upbeat music on the ninth night after someone dies, followed by a more toned-down, traditional approach the very next day. 

Both ceremonies intend to bring happiness to those grieving. First by celebrating their life here on Earth, and second by praising the life they’ll enjoy afterward with God—according to their beliefs.


Sources:
  1. Cooke, Mel. “Music on the Funeral Road.” Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica Gleaner, 7 September 2014. jamaica-gleaner.com
  2. Elim Church Croyden. “Jamaican Praise & Worship 2014.” YouTube, YouTube, 29 June 2014. youtube.com
  3. Goldade, Jenny. “Cultural Spotlight: Jamaican Funeral Traditions.” Frazer Consultants, Frazer Consultants, 20 January 2017. frazerconsultants.com
  4. Perry, Kediesha. “Erica Lumsden is the Gospel Star.” Jamaica Observer, Jamaica Observer, 3 August 2021. jamaicaobserver.com
  5. PBC Jamaica. “Jamaica Gospel Song Competition 2020 - Live Performance.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 July 2020. youtube.com
  6. “Reggae Music for a Funeral.” Urban 75, Urban 75, 6 December 2005. urban75.net
  7. Richards, Albertha. “10 Jamaican Funeral Songs.” YouTube, YouTube, 23 August 2014. youtube.com

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