city slicker Kingston

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The Independent Culture
After an absence of more than 20 years, Island Records is returning to Kingston, its birthplace, to set up Island Jamaica. Swing into JA and avoid Montego Bay. Head straight for the heat of the street. If it's happening, it's Kingston

Ethnicity: There are 850,000 people living in Kingston, and they cover almost every ethnic permutation. Race is almost definitely an issue, with subtle gradations of caste, class and colour operating in Kingston.

Topography: Downtown are Yardie shoot-outs, poverty, violence and the stuff of Bob Marley's "government house in Trenchtown". New Kingston is for the "uptown brownies". Rich, slick and stylish, new Kingston is populated by a light-skinned, mixed-race cognoscenti, who would probably call the police if you offered them a joint.

Names: Bit of a problem of cultural misunderstanding here. Trevor for example is considered rather groovy and fashionable, as names go. Other big faves are Delroy and Errol. Middle names are very common, and almost without exception taken from the Old Testament: Ezekiel, Zacharia, Samuel, Judith, Hannah.

Drinking: Red Stripe and Rum. Kingston serves any brand of rum you'd care to name, but Wray and Nephew is the cool local choice. Captain Morgan is a Jamaican original, named after the eponymous captain who, 250 years ago, smuggled his illegal barrels into Port Royal, which were later destroyed by a hurricane.

Eating: The national dish is ackee and salt fish, eaten for breakfast. This is important to remember, as asking for it at any other time will show you up as a hopeless, know-nothing tourist. Local restaurants serve food by the day; Sunday is chicken, rice and peas, and soup. Kingston is big on exotic fruit juices: mango, guava, paw-paw - they are fresh and taste wonderful.

Drugs: Everything you've heard is true. Marijuana and cocaine are everywhere. To make matters worse, they are top quality and very cheap. Cannabis is grown in Kingston backyards, and is regarded as an essential component of decent living. Locals will happily spend hours discussing its finer points in much the same way as others discuss a promising Beaujolais.

Out on the town: Most Jamaicans have at least two jobs, so socialising in the week is a bit of a no-no. If you have the cash, you can visit Cafe Central on a Wednesday night, but otherwise the weekend opens early with Thursday's salsa night at Carlos Cafe. Friday has the Chinese-owned Mirage Club, and by Saturday it's serious downtown dancehall.

Wheels: Highly important and tons of flash. Mercs, BMWs, Lexus and Range Rovers. Purple neon and tinted windscreens are an absolute must have. The car stereo has to have the decibel power of your average sound system. It is an offence to drive in Kingston when not wearing drop-dead shades - especially at night, when, combined with the popular tinted windscreens, they sometimes have a literally drop-dead effect.

Music: Reggae, of course; lots of it, and impressive quality. Ska, dancehall, ragga and soul. You can find them all, either on the radio or in the clubs.

Celebs: Kingston heaves with famous faces. Buju Banton, Shaggy, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Patra and Shabba, all jet between New York and Kingston. The city is stuffed with state-of-the-art recording facilities, and even with de rigueur shades and your eyes shut, you will manage to bump into someone over to cut their latest album track. Kingston also has its own royal family: the Marleys, and Rita and the kids are seriously venerated.

When to go: If you like Notting Hill Carnival you will love national holidays, the biggest being Heroes Day on the third Monday in October. Best time for celeb-spotting is between November and February, as the rich flee from the cold in Europe and North America.

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