REGGAE (/ˈrɛɡeɪ/ ) is a music genre that originated in
the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of
Jamaica and its diaspora . A 1968 single by
Toots and the Maytals
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 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
Toots and the Maytals ,
Carlton Barrett from
Bob Marley and the Wailers ,
Lloyd Brevett from
The Skatalites , Paul Douglas from
Toots and the Maytals
Toots and the Maytals , Lloyd
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
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
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 Marley to Zimbabwe in 1980. In Jamaica,
authentic reggae is one of the biggest sources of income.
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Precursors
* 3 History
* 5 Musical characteristics
* 5.1 Drums and other percussion
* 5.2 Bass
* 5.3 Guitars
* 5.4 Keyboards
* 5.5 Horns
* 5.6 Vocals
* 5.6.1 Lyrical themes
* 5.6.2 Criticism of dancehall and ragga lyrics
Reggae 7" Single
* 7.1 Americas
* 7.2 Europe
* 7.3 Africa
* 7.4 Asia and the Pacific
* 7.5 Australia and New Zealand
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 Bibliography
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
The 1967 edition of the Dictionary of
Jamaican English lists reggae
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".
a musical term first appeared in print with the 1968 rocksteady hit
Do the Reggay " by The Maytals which named the genre of
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 and rocksteady 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 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
Ska arose in Jamaican studios in the late 1950s, developing from
American R 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 and rocksteady 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
Jimmy Cliff .
Early 1968 was when the first bona fide reggae 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
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 ,
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,
Jimmy Cliff 's backing group - was
ranked by Billboard as the No. 57 song of 1972.
In 1973, the film
The Harder They Come starring
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
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
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 ,
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
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.
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding made February 2008 the first
Reggae Month in Jamaica. To celebrate, the Recording Industry
Jamaica (RIAJam) held its first
Reggae Academy Awards
on February 24, 2008. In addition,
Reggae Month included a six-day
Reggae conference, a reggae film festival, two radio station
award functions, and a concert tribute to the late Dennis Brown, who
Bob Marley cited as his favorite singer. On the business side, RIAJam
held events focused on reggae's employment opportunities and potential
Skank guitar rhythm often considered "'the' reggae beat" Play
straight (help ·info ) or Play shuffle (help ·info ).
Stylistically, reggae incorporates some of the musical elements of
rhythm and blues (R">4
4 time because the symmetrical rhythmic pattern does not lend itself
to other time signatures such as 3
4. 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, often referred to as the skank .
This rhythmic pattern accents the second and fourth beats in each bar
and combines with the drum's emphasis on beat three to create a unique
sense of phrasing. The reggae offbeat can be counted so that it falls
between each count as an "and" (example: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, etc.) or
counted as a half-time feel at twice the tempo so it falls on beats 2
and 4. This is in contrast to the way most other popular genres focus
on beat one, the "downbeat".
The tempo of reggae is usually slower than ska but faster than
rocksteady . It is this slower tempo, the guitar/piano offbeats, the
emphasis on the third beat, and the use of syncopated , melodic bass
lines that differentiate reggae from other music, although other
musical styles have incorporated some of these innovations.
Harmonically the music is essentially the same as any other modern
popular genre with a tendency to make use of simple chord
Reggae sometimes uses the dominant chord in its minor
form therefore never allowing a perfect cadence to be sounded; this
lack of resolution between the tonic and the dominant imparts a sense
of movement "without rest" and harmonic ambiguity. Extended chords
like the major seventh chord ("
Waiting in Vain " by
Bob Marley ) and
minor seventh chord are used though suspended chords or diminished
chords are rare. Minor keys are commonly used especially with the
minor chord forms of the subdominant and dominant chord (for example
in the key of G minor the progression may be played Gm – Dm – Gm
– Dm – Cm – Dm – Cm – Dm). A simple progression borrowed
from rhythm and blues and soul music is the tonic chord followed by
the minor supertonic chord with the two chords repeated continuously
to form a complete verse ("
Just My Imagination " by
The Temptations C
The concept of "call and response" can be found throughout reggae
music, in the vocals but also in the way parts are composed and
arranged for each instrument. The emphasis on the "third beat" of the
bar also results in a different sense of musical phrasing, with bass
lines and melody lines often emphasizing what might be considered
"pick up notes" in other genres.
DRUMS AND OTHER PERCUSSION
A standard drum kit is generally used in reggae, but the snare drum
is often tuned very high to give it a timbales -type sound. Some
reggae drummers use an additional timbale or high-tuned snare to get
this sound. Cross-stick technique on the snare drum is commonly used,
and tom-tom drums are often incorporated into the drumbeat itself.
Reggae drumbeats fall into three main categories: One drop , Rockers,
and Steppers. With the One drop, the emphasis is entirely on the
backbeat (usually on the snare, or as a rim shot combined with bass
drum). Beat one is empty except for a closed high hat commonly used,
which is unusual in popular music. There is some controversy about
whether reggae should be counted so that this beat falls on two and
four, or whether it should be counted twice as fast, so it falls on
three. An example played by Barrett can be heard in the
Bob Marley and
the Wailers song "One Drop". Barrett often used an unusual triplet
cross-rhythm on the hi-hat , which can be heard on many recordings by
Bob Marley and the Wailers, such as "Running Away" on the Kaya album.
An emphasis on the backbeat is found in all reggae drumbeats, but
with the Rockers beat, the emphasis is on all four beats of the bar
(usually on bass drum). This beat was pioneered by
Sly and Robbie ,
who later helped create the "Rub-a-Dub" sound that greatly influenced
dancehall. Sly has stated he was influenced to create this style by
listening to American drummer Earl Young as well as other disco and
R"> Aston Barret
The bass guitar often plays the dominant role in reggae, and the drum
and bass is often the most important part of what is called, in
Jamaican music, a riddim (rhythm), a (usually simple) piece of music
that's used repeatedly by different artists to write and record songs
with. Literally hundreds of reggae singers have released different
songs recorded over the same rhythm. The central role of the bass can
be particularly heard in dub music — which gives an even bigger role
to the drum and bass line, reducing the vocals and other instruments
to peripheral roles.
The bass sound in reggae is thick and heavy, and equalized so the
upper frequencies are removed and the lower frequencies emphasized.
The bass line is often a repeated two or four bar riff when simple
chord progressions are used. The simplest example of this might be
Robbie Shakespeare's bass line for the
Black Uhuru hit "Shine Eye
Gal". In the case of more complex harmonic structures, such as John
Holt 's version of "Stranger In Love", these simpler patterns are
altered to follow the chord progression either by directly moving the
pattern around or by changing some of the interior notes in the phrase
to better support the chords.
The guitar in reggae usually plays on the off beat of the rhythm. So
if one is counting in 4
4 time and counting 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +, one would play a downstroke on
the "and" part of the beat. A musical figure known as skank or the
'bang" has a very dampened, short and scratchy chop sound, almost like
a percussion instrument. Sometimes a double chop is used when the
guitar still plays the off beats, but also plays the following
eighth-note beats on the up-stroke. An example is the intro to "Stir
It Up " by The Wailers. Artist and producer
Derrick Harriott says,
“What happened was the musical thing was real widespread, but only
among a certain sort of people. It was always a down-town thing, but
more than just hearing the music. The equipment was so powerful and
the vibe so strong that we feel it.”
From the earliest days of
Ska recordings, a piano was used to double
the rhythm guitar's skank, playing the chords in a staccato style to
add body, and playing occasional extra beats, runs and riffs. The
piano part was widely taken over by synthesizers during the 1980s,
although synthesizers have been used in a peripheral role since the
1970s to play incidental melodies and countermelodies . Larger bands
may include either an additional keyboardist, to cover or replace horn
and melody lines, or the main keyboardist filling these roles on two
or more keyboards.
The reggae organ-shuffle is unique to reggae. In the original version
of reggae, the drummer played a reggae groove that was used in the
four bar introduction, allowing the piano to serve as a percussion
instrument. Typically, a
Hammond organ -style sound is used to play
chords with a choppy feel. This is known as the bubble. This may be
the most difficult reggae keyboard rhythm. The organ bubble can be
broken down into 2 basic patterns. In the first, the 8th beats are
played with a space-left-right-left-space-left-right-left pattern,
where the spaces represent downbeats not played—that and the
left-right-left falls on the ee-and-a, or and-2-and if counted at
double time. In the second basic pattern, the left hand plays a double
chop as described in the guitar section while the right hand plays
longer notes on beat 2 (or beat 3 if counted at double time) or a
syncopated pattern between the double chops. Both these patterns can
be expanded on and improvised embellishments are sometimes used.
Horn sections are frequently used in reggae, often playing
introductions and counter-melodies. Instruments included in a typical
reggae horn section include saxophone, trumpet or trombone. In more
recent times, real horns are sometimes replaced in reggae by
synthesizers or recorded samples. The horn section is often arranged
around the first horn, playing a simple melody or counter melody. The
first horn is usually accompanied by the second horn playing the same
melodic phrase in unison, one octave higher. The third horn usually
plays the melody an octave and a fifth higher than the first horn. The
horns are generally played fairly softly, usually resulting in a
soothing sound. However, sometimes punchier, louder phrases are played
for a more up-tempo and aggressive sound.
UB40 's former frontman
Ali Campbell performing in 2009.
The vocals in reggae are less of a defining characteristic of the
genre than the instrumentation and rhythm, as almost any song can be
performed in a reggae style. However, it is very common for reggae to
be sung in
Jamaican Patois ,
Jamaican English , and
Vocal harmony parts are often used, either throughout the melody (as
with vocal groups such as the
Mighty Diamonds ), or as a counterpoint
to the main vocal line (as with the backing vocalists, the
More complex vocal arrangements can be found in the works of groups
The Abyssinians and British reggae band
Steel Pulse .
An unusual aspect of reggae singing is that many singers use tremolo
(volume oscillation) rather than vibrato (pitch oscillation). Notable
exponents of this technique include
Horace Andy and vocal group Israel
Vibration . The toasting vocal style is unique to reggae, originating
when DJs improvised spoken introductions to songs (or "toasts") to the
point where it became a distinct rhythmic vocal style, and is
generally considered to be a precursor to rap . It differs from rap
mainly in that it is generally melodic, while rap is generally more a
spoken form without melodic content.
Reggae is noted for its tradition of social criticism in its lyrics,
although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects,
such as love and socializing. Many early reggae bands covered Motown
or Atlantic soul and funk songs. Some reggae lyrics attempt to raise
the political consciousness of the audience, such as by criticizing
materialism , or by informing the listener about controversial
subjects such as
Apartheid . Many reggae songs promote the use of
cannabis (also known as herb, ganja, or sinsemilla), considered a
sacrament in the
Rastafari movement . There are many artists who
utilize religious themes in their music — whether it be discussing a
specific religious topic, or simply giving praise to God (
Jah ). Other
common socio-political topics in reggae songs include black
nationalism , anti-racism , anti-colonialism , anti-capitalism and
criticism of political systems and "Babylon" . .
In recent years, Jamaican (and non-Jamaican) reggae musicians have
used more positive themes in reggae music. The music is widely
considered a treasured cultural export for Jamaica, so musicians who
still desire progress for their island nation have begun focusing on
themes of hopefulness, faith, and love. For elementary children,
reggae songs such as "Give a Little Love," "One Love," or "Three
Little Birds," all written by Bob Marley, can be sung and enjoyed for
their optimism and cheerful lyrics.
Stop Murder Music
The wide cultural exposure which has enhanced the recognizability of
reggae has been achieved primarily through a corporate
commercialization effected at the expense of both the lyrical and
instrumental essence of the music. This process has involved coerced
or voluntary assimilation of more commercially compatible
characteristics, appropriation by white mainstream artists, and an
overall dispersal of ideological and musical meaning and creative
value.The mainstream Euro-American audience has continually
demonstrated a propensity for adopting reggae-oriented material on the
basis of its aesthetically pleasing surface qualities rather than for
explicitly political or deeper musical content, causing authenticity
problems for reggae fans.
Some dancehall and ragga artists have been criticised for homophobia
, including threats of violence.
Buju Banton 's song "Boom Bye-Bye"
states that gays "haffi dead". Other notable dancehall artists who
have been accused of homophobia include Elephant Man , Bounty Killer
Beenie Man . The controversy surrounding anti-gay lyrics has led
to the cancellation of UK tours by
Beenie Man and Sizzla. Toronto,
Canada has also seen the cancellation of concerts due to artists such
as Elephant Man and
Sizzla refusing to conform to similar censorship
After lobbying from the
Stop Murder Music coalition, the dancehall
music industry agreed in 2005 to stop releasing songs that promote
hatred and violence against gay people. In June 2007, Beenie Man,
Capleton signed up to the
Reggae Compassionate Act, in a
deal brokered with top dancehall promoters and Stop Murder Music
activists. They renounced homophobia and agreed to "not make
statements or perform songs that incite hatred or violence against
anyone from any community". Five artists targeted by the
anti-homophobia campaign did not sign up to the act, including
Elephant Man, TOK , Bounty Killa and
Vybz Kartel .
Buju Banton and
Beenie Man both gained positive press coverage around the world for
publicly renouncing homophobia by signing the
Reggae Compassion Act.
However, both of these artists have since denied any involvement in
anti-homophobia work and both deny having signed any such act.
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