Reggae music originated in Jamaica and has grown into a world-wide sensation. It reflects a fusion of different musical periods and types such as ska, rocksteady, mento, and jazz. Reggae can be spiritual, political, militant, hopeful and even romantic. Reggae’s presence can still be felt today, influencing genres such as punk, hip hop and rock through artists such as Eric Clapton, Sean Paul, Rihanna, Protoje and Chronixx.
1. Origin of the Word Reggae
2. Early Influences
4. Jamaican Independence
Jamaica gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. This led to a period of economic turmoil, but also a cultural renaissance, especially when it came to music. Local musicians, producers, and DJs were matching their country’s new-found independence with their own. They founded record labels and developed new styles of music that would be associated with the country forever.
5. Ska to Rocksteady
6. Rocksteady to Reggae
Rocksteady musicians had slowed ska down and directed it to more socio-political themes. They also changed the instrumentation, shifting away from the upbeat horns of ska to the guitar, bass, drums, and organs common to British and American rock bands. As the rocksteady musicians experimented with sound and turned increasingly to the Rastafarian religion, rocksteady evolved into reggae.
7. The Sound
Reggae gets its distinctive sound from placing its rhythmic accent on the off-beat, called “skanking.” Also important is that in reggae, the role of the bass and guitar are essentially reversed, with the bass playing a melodic lead line and the guitar providing rhythm. The lyrics are usually delivered in a Jamaican dialect called patois.
8. The Pioneers
9. Bob Marley
10. The Wailers
In 1962, Marley, and his friends Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh formed the group The Wailing Wailers. By 1964, they had reached the top of the Jamaican national charts with their song “Simmer Down,” which sold 80,000 copies. With time, their music shifted from ska to reggae, from upbeat party lyrics to socially and spiritually conscious lyrics. Though Tosh and Wailer would eventually leave the group, The Wailers remained Marley’s backing band throughout his life.
11. An Interesting Character
Bob Marley and the Wailers introduced Rastafarianism as a major subject and theme reggae music. Rastafarianism grew out of Christianity and the philosophies of black activist Marcus Garvey. In reaction to a quote from Garvey, Rastafarians identify Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia as a messianic figure. They believed his crowning would lead to their release from tyranny and oppression, and bring them closer to their god, Jah.
13. Dance to the Music… No, Not That Music!
14. Reggae in Mainstream
Jimmy Cliff had been a popular singer in Jamaica and was notable for his sunny, peaceful attitude. In 1973, Cliff starred in The Harder They Come, the first feature film ever produced in Jamaica. In it, Cliff plays a young man who dreams of becoming a reggae star, but finds himself at war with corrupt music producers, drug traffickers, and police. While this character was quite different from Cliff’s public persona, the movie became a cult favorite, only feeding reggae-fever.
15. Reggae Sumfest
Every July, Reggae Sumfest is held in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It is the biggest gathering of reggae acts and fans in the world, with an estimated 30,000 people coming to share the vibes. Held since 1993, Sumfest still hosts dozens of reggae acts every year. It has however expanded to include some of the biggest musical acts from around the world.
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Jacqueline is a writer/editor with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.