A History of Reggae Music

Reggae is a genre that grew out of several other musical styles, including both traditional Jamaican music, including ska and mento, and American R&B. In the early days of radio, stations were super-high-powered, and several stations from Florida and New Orleans were powerful enough to reach Jamaica. Reggae only came about as a distinct genre in the 1960s.

History :

Reggae has its roots in the poor ghettos of Jamaica. During the 1950s, touring DJs took their sound systems around the island playing mento: a blend of African and European folk. The DJs would 'toast' (chant or speak) over the records. As well as mento, the DJs would play rhythm'n'blues from New Orleans. Local artists blended these influences and brought the bass to the forefront. This sound evolved into ska-a genre made famous by artists such as Millie Small and Desmond Dekker. By slowing down the rhythmic beat of ska and blending it with influences from American jazz and rhythm and blues, a new genre called reggae emerged.

Stars :

Reggae's biggest and best-known star is Bob Marley. His 1973 album "Catch A Fire" brought the reggae sound to the rest of the world and he was treated as hero in his native Jamaica. The album "Legend" released posthumously in 1981 stands as the best-selling reggae album. 

Other notable figures in the Jamaican reggae movement include producer and songwriter Lee Scratch Perry. He was one of the first artists to record the reggae beat with the 1968 track "People Funny Boy" and he produced many artists, including Bob Marley and The Wailers. Toots and the Maytals was the first band to coin the phrase reggae with their 1968 track "Do The Reggay" [sic]. Chris Blackwell's record company Island was influential in the growth in popularity of reggae both inside and outside of Jamaica during the 1970s. Formed in 1959 in Jamaica, the label helped propel artists such as The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker to stardom.

Marijuana and Reggae:

In Rastafarian practices, marijuana is used as a sacrament; the belief is that it pulls a person closer to God. Therefore, cannabis (referred to as "Ganja" in Jamaican slang) often features prominently in reggae lyrics. Unfortunately, a few decades of American teenagers have misinterpreted this sacred ritual and use it as an excuse to partake. Not all reggae lyrics contain references to Ganja, just as not all reggae musicians are Rastafarians.

Identification :

Reggae is characterized by a heavy backbeated rhythm, meaning the emphasis of the beat is on, for example, beats 2 and 4, when in 4/4 time. This backbeat is characteristic of all African-based musics and is not found in traditional European or Asian music. Reggae drummers also emphasize the third beat when in 4/4 time with a kick to the bass drum.

Reggae's Influence:

Reggae was a precursor not just to the modern Jamaican style of Dub, but to American Ska (think No Doubt, Sublime, Reel Big Fish), Jambands (Donna the Buffalo, The String Cheese Incident) and British reggae-based bands (UB40). Also often ignored is that reggae is the predecessor to Hip-Hop and Rap music, and a very clear line can be drawn between the two.


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