Jamaica is known for many great people and things, chief among them are brands like Bolt, Bob and Reggae. Another world-renown personality that was conceived in Jamaica and continues to be part of the island’s heritage is Bond, James Bond. For moviemakers and fans alike, Jamaica is the crem de la creme of locations with the spirited stories of Bond splashed all over the island’s resorts, beaches and attractions.
Ian Flemmings set three of his novels in Jamaica (Dr. No, To Live And Let Die, and The Man With The Golden Gun) but the latest in the series of James Bond movies, “No Time To Die” almost didn’t make it back to its Jamaican roots. If it were not for a serendipitous encounter with the talent scouts and Steve Beaver, co-owner Geejam Hotel in Portland, the film would have shot its opening exotic scenes in either the Dominican Republic or Cuba.
The cultural ties between the British Empire and Jamaica are best reflected through James Bond as he aims to save the world with his first-world technology but finding the time to sip shaken martinis in exotic locations. No Time To Die producer Barbara Broccoli tells the story of why she chose Jamaica as the location for the latest in the series.
“Jamaica is important to the Bond series because…the people and the culture you really understand that when he (Ian Flemming) was writing about Bond saving the world that was the word he was wanting to save because it is an astoundingly beautiful place”. She said on the No Time To Die Official James Bond Podcast.
Jon Baker, the other owner of Geejam and former record label executive chronicled a second hand story of coincidence on his Instagram account as he details how Jamaica became the backdrop for the lates Bond flick. “Steve in his ‘host with the most’ fashion organized with local location scouts..to take them on a full tour of the environs, villas and local area…Portland ticked all the boxes they were looking for and we made sure they saw it”.
Barbara concluded, “That was where the first film was made and it felt right for the 25th and for this particular story to go back there and we have always said it is James Bond’s spiritual home”
If Jamaica is Bond’s spiritual home then Jamaican music is the fictional spy character’s source of inspiration. Along with the culture, Jamaican music is intricately linked to the creative inspiration, lushness and beauty expressed in the film.
Dr. No’s soundtrack was written by Monty Norman but was heavily influenced by calypso and other Jamaican rhythms released by United Artists Records in 1963.
Composer Norman worked with Byron Lee to create the first hit song for a James Bond film and to prepare himself he was taken to popular nightclubs in Ocho Rios.
“When we went to one or two of the big clubs, these wonderful open air clubs when everybody was going wild and dancing, they were doing this thing called the ‘Jump Up’,” Monty Norman recalled.
“Jamaica Jump Up” became a hit song off the Dr. No soundtrack and gave Byron Lee And The Dragonaires one of their biggest Jamaican hits. The band would go on to make similar cultural hits like “Dancehall Soca” and the descriptive “Soca Butterfly”. The Butterfly Dance has been done by superstars like Beyonce to Rihanna on stage.
In addition to their appearance in Dr. No a spruced-up version of “Three Blind Mice” titled “Kingston Calypso” became the backdrop for one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie. The Three Blind Mice were the three assassins hired by Dr. No. Their involvement in the movie extended the shelf life of Byron Lee & the Dragonaires according to Chris Blackwell.
Long before discovering and sending Bob Marley to the world, Blackwell played many roles in fostering the relationship between Jamaican Music and James Bond films. He introduced Byron Lee along with other musicians who appeared on the soundtrack by Monty Norman. He also played talent scout for the movie as he managed his young record label, Island Records.
Blackwell commented in an interview that “Byron Lee at the time when Dr. No was being filmed was the biggest band in Jamaica and today in 1999 Byron Lee is the biggest band in Jamaica”.
Keith Lyn, lead singer of Byron Lee and Dragonaires proudly recalled in a Cleveland Ohio radio interview, “We did the opening number, Three Blind Men, ‘three blind mice’, that was my vocal”.
Other Jamaican Ska bands also recorded their versions of James Bond-inspired theme music. The Skatellites recorded a reggae-inspired “James Bond Theme” instrumental which is the first song on their Ball Of Fire album, released by Blackwell’s Island Records.
The Selector’s 1980 album “Too Much Pressure” had a track titled “James Bond” which sampled the original James Bond music pattern. “Di Killa James Bond” is ad libbed all throughout the Ska infused interpretation
Cimarons released a song in 1999 titled the James Bond girl.
Perhaps no other Jamaican James Bond-styled song evokes the pallet and has been more popular than 007 (Shanty Town) by Rocksteady group Desmond Decker and the Aces.
Originally released as a lead single from their debut album of the same name in the era of “Rude Boys”, 007 (Shanty Town) captured the essence of Jamaica’s rough social and political shifts while paralleling the smooth James Bond movie images.
Decker compared the live-action on the streets of Jamaica to what was seen in 007 and Oceans 11 movies. He wrote the song after demonstrations erupted in Jamaica against government plans to build an industrial complex close to the beach. The song’s lyrics also highlight the unrepentant “rude boys” who continue to heap havoc on the society and this gave Decker much-needed street credibility.
It was also his first international hit after reaching number 1 in Jamaica. Decker also became the first Jamaican to hit the top 20 in the UK after 007 (Shanty Town) peaked at number 14 on the UK Singles Chart. The song has been included in the Grand Theft Auto soundtrack, The Harder They Come Soundtrack starring Jimmy Cliff. It has also been sampled by American rapper Special Ed for “I’m The Magnificent ” and Shaggy for “Bonafide Girl”.
In the 1985 installment of the James Bond movie franchise A View To A Kill, Jamaican singer, actress and model Grace Jones played the henchman May Day. With her enigmatic physique Jones portrayed the super power bodyguard, lover and assassin employed by billionaire industrialist, Max Zorin.
She also appeared in video-game adaptions of the film, as well as the games The Duel (1993), GoldenEye 007 (1997) and Nightfire (2002)
In 1998, Jones was chosen by the USA network to do promotional spots for a Bond marathon. During the commercial breaks Jones would be seen playing a laughing stewardess.
With James Bond now back home, No Time To Die already made 21 million pounds in what is reported to be the highest-grossing weekend for any James Bond Film in the UK.