) is a music genre
that originated in Jamaica
in the late 1960s. The term a
lso denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, “Do the Reggay” was the first popular song to use the word “reggae,” effectively naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that was strongly influenced by traditional mento as well as American jazz and rhythm and blues, especially the New Orleans R&B practiced by Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint, and evolved out of the earlier genres ska and rocksteady. Reggae usually relates news, social gossip, and political comment. Reggae spread into a commercialized jazz field, being known first as ‘Rudie Blues’, then ‘Ska’, later ‘Blue Beat’, and ‘Rock Steady’. It is instantly recognizable from the counterpoint between the bass and drum downbeat, and the offbeat rhythm section. The immediate origins of reggae were in ska and rock steady; from the latter, reggae took over the use of the bass as a percussion instrument.
Stylistically, reggae incorporates some of the musical elements of rhythm and blues, jazz, mento (a celebratory, rural folk form that served its largely rural audience as dance music and an alternative to the hymns and adapted chanteys of local church singing),calypso, African music, as well as other genres. One of the most easily recognizable elements is offbeat rhythms; staccato chords played by a guitar or piano (or both) on the offbeats of the measure. The tempo of reggae is usually slower paced than ska but faster than rocksteady. The concept of call and response can be found throughout reggae music.
The genre of reggae music is led by the drum and bass. Some key players in this sound are Jackie Jackson from Toots and the Maytals, Carlton Barrett from Bob Marley and the Wailers, Lloyd Brevett from The Skatalites, Paul Douglas from Toots and the Maytals, Lloyd Knibb from The Skatalites, Winston Grennan, Sly Dunbar, and Anthony “Benbow” Creary from The Upsetters. The bass guitar often plays the dominant role in reggae. The bass sound in reggae is thick and heavy, and equalized so the upper frequencies are removed and the lower frequencies emphasized. The guitar in reggae usually plays on the off beat of the rhythm. It is common for reggae to be sung in Jamaican Patois, Jamaican English, and Iyaric dialects. Reggae is noted for its tradition of social criticism and religion in its lyrics, although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects, such as love and socializing.
Reggae has spread to many countries across the world, often incorporating local instruments and fusing with other genres. Reggae en Español spread from the Spanish speaking Central American country of Panama to the mainland South American countries of Venezuela and Guyana then to the rest of South America. Caribbean music in the United Kingdom, including reggae, has been popular since the late 1960s, and has evolved into several subgenres and fusions. Many reggae artists began their careers in the UK, and there have been a number of European artists and bands drawing their inspiration directly from Jamaica and the Caribbean community in Europe. Reggae in Africa was boosted by the visit of Bob Marleyto Zimbabwe in 1980. In Jamaica, authentic reggae is one of the biggest sources of income.
The 1967 edition of the Dictionary of Jamaican English
as “a recently estab. sp. for rege
“, as in rege-rege
, a word that can mean either “rags, ragged clothing” or “a quarrel, a row”. Reggae
as a musical term first appeared in print with the 1968 rocksteady hit “Do the Reggay
” by The Maytals
which named the genre of Reggae for the world.
Reggae historian Steve Barrow credits Clancy Eccles with altering the Jamaican patois word streggae (loose woman) into reggae.However, Toots Hibbert said:
There’s a word we used to use in Jamaica called ‘streggae’. If a girl is walking and the guys look at her and say ‘Man, she’s streggae’ it means she don’t dress well, she look raggedy. The girls would say that about the men too. This one morning me and my two friends were playing and I said, ‘OK man, let’s do the reggay.’ It was just something that came out of my mouth. So we just start singing ‘Do the reggay, do the reggay’ and created a beat. People tell me later that we had given the sound its name. Before that people had called it blue-beat and all kind of other things. Now it’s in the Guinness World of Records.
Bob Marley is said to have claimed that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for “the king’s music”. The liner notes of To the King, a compilation of Christian gospel reggae, suggest that the word reggae was derived from the Latin regi meaning “to the king”.
Although strongly influenced by traditional mento
and calypso music
, as well as American jazz
and rhythm and blues
, reggae owes its direct origins to the ska
of 1960s Jamaica. The generic title for Jamaican music recorded between 1961 and 1967, ska emerged from Jamaican R&B, which itself was largely based on American R&B and doo-wop.
Rastafari entered some countries primarily through reggae music; thus, the movement in these places is more particularly stamped by its origins in reggae music and social milieu.
The Rastafari movement
was a significant influence on reggae, with Rasta
drummers like Count Ossie
taking part in seminal recordings.
One of the predecessors of reggae drumming is the Nyabinghi rhythm
, a style of ritual drumming performed as a communal meditative practice in the Rastafarian life.
Ska arose in Jamaican studios in the late 1950s, developing from American R&B, mentoand calypso music. Ska is characterized by a quarter note walking bass line, guitar and piano offbeats, and a drum pattern with cross-stick snare and bass drum on the backbeat and open hi-hat on the offbeats (with nothing on beats one and three). It is also notable for its jazz-influenced horn riffs. Jamaica gained its independence in 1962, and ska became the music of choice for Jamaican youths seeking music that was their own. Ska also became popular among mods in Britain.
In the mid-1960s, Rocksteady emerged, a genre slower than ska featuring more romantic lyrics and less prominent horns.The name was later solidified after the release of a single by Alton Ellis. There are many theories as to why Jamaican musicians slowed the ska tempo to create rocksteady; one is that the singer Hopeton Lewis was unable to sing his hit song “Take It Easy” at a ska tempo. Many rocksteady rhythms were later used as the basis of reggae recordings. The “double skank” guitar strokes on the offbeat were also part of the new reggae style.
Reggae developed from ska
in the 1960s. Larry And Alvin’s ‘Nanny Goat’ and the Beltones’ ‘No More Heartaches’ competed for the status of first reggae record. The beat was distinctive from rocksteady in that it dropped any of the pretensions to the smooth, soulful sound that characterized slick American R&B, and instead was closer in kinship to US southern funk, being heavily dependent on the rhythm section to drive it along.Reggae’s great advantage was its almost limitless flexibility: from the early, jerky sound of Lee Perry’s ‘People Funny Boy’, to the uptown sounds of Third World’s ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’, it was an enormous leap through the years and styles, yet both are instantly recognizable as reggae.
The shift from rocksteady to reggae was illustrated by the organ shuffle
pioneered by Jamaican musicians like Jackie Mittoo
and Winston Wright and featured in transitional singles “Say What You’re Saying” (1968) by Eric “Monty” Morris
and “People Funny Boy” (1968) by Lee “Scratch” Perry
. The Pioneers
‘ 1968 track “Long Shot (Bus’ Me Bet)” has been identified as the earliest recorded example of the new rhythm sound that became known as reggae.
Early 1968 was when the first bona fidereggae records were released: “Nanny Goat” by Larry Marshall and “No More Heartaches” by The Beltones. That same year, the newest Jamaican sound began to spawn big-name imitators in other countries. American artist Johnny Nash‘s 1968 hit “Hold Me Tight” has been credited with first putting reggae in the American listener charts. Around the same time, reggae influences were starting to surface in rock and pop music, one example being 1968’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles.
The Wailers, a band started by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1963, is perhaps the most recognized band that made the transition through all three stages of early Jamaican popular music: ska, rocksteady and reggae. Over a dozen Wailers songs are based on or use a line from Jamaican mento songs. In 1951, recordings of mento music began to be released. These recordings showcased two styles of mento: an acoustic, rural style and a jazzy, popular style. Other significant reggae pioneers include Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe.
However, another pioneer was Millie Small(born 6 October 1946), a Jamaican singer-songwriter, best known for her 1964 blue-beat/ska cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” which was a smash hit internationally.
Notable Jamaican producers influential in the development of ska into rocksteady and reggae include: Coxsone Dodd, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Leslie Kong, Duke Reid, Joe Gibbs and King Tubby. Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1960,relocated to England in 1962, where he continued to promote Jamaican music. He formed a partnership with Lee Gopthal’s Trojan Records in 1968, which released reggae in the UK until bought by Saga records in 1974.
Reggae’s influence bubbled to the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts in late 1972. First Three Dog Night hit #1 in September with a cover of the Maytones‘ version of “Black and White“. Then Johnny Nash was at #1 for four weeks in November with “I Can See Clearly Now“. Paul Simon‘s single “Mother And Child Reunion” – a track which he recorded in Kingston, Jamaica with Jimmy Cliff‘s backing group – was ranked by Billboard as the No. 57 song of 1972.
In 1973, the film The Harder They Comestarring Jimmy Cliff was released and introduced Jamaican music to cinema audiences outside Jamaica. Though the film achieved cult status its limited appeal meant that it had a smaller impact than Eric Clapton‘s 1974 cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” which made it onto the playlists of mainstream rock and pop radio stations worldwide. Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” used modern rock production and recording techniques and faithfully retained most of the original reggae elements; it was a breakthrough pastiche devoid of any parody and played an important part in bringing the music of Bob Marley to a wider rock audience. By the mid-1970s, authentic reggae dub plates and specials were getting some exposure in the UK on John Peel‘s radio show, who promoted the genre for the rest of his career. Around the same time, British filmmaker Jeremy Marre documented the Jamaican music scene in Roots Rock Reggae, capturing the heyday of Roots reggae.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the UK punk rock scene flourished, and reggae was a notable influence. The DJ Don Letts would play reggae and punk tracks at clubs such as The Roxy. Punk bands such as The Clash, The Ruts, The Members and The Slits played many reggae-influenced songs. Around the same time, reggae music took a new path in the UK; one that was created by the multiracial makeup of England’s inner cities and exemplified by groups like Steel Pulse, Aswad and UB40, as well as artists such as Smiley Culture and Carroll Thompson. The Jamaican ghetto themes in the lyrics were replaced with UK inner city themes, and Jamaican patois became intermingled with Cockney slang. In South London around this time, a new subgenre of Lovers Rock, was being created. Unlike the Jamaican music of the same name which was mainly dominated by male artists such as Gregory Isaacs, the South London genre was led by female singers like Thompson and Janet Kay. The UK Lovers Rock had a softer and more commercial sound.Other reggae artists who enjoyed international appeal in the early 1980s include Third World, Black Uhuru and Sugar Minott. The Grammy Awards introduced the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album category in 1985.
Females also play a role in the reggae music industry personnel such as Olivia Grange, president of Specs-Shang Musik; Trish Farrell, president of Island/Jamaica; Lisa Cortes, president of Loose Cannon; Jamaican-American Sharon Gordon, who has worked in the independent reggae music industry.