THE BIG MUSIC FROM THE SMALL ISLAND
The birth of a new music genre
The story goes that the 1960s Ska music of Jamaica was too fast to dance to as one summer of 1966 was really hot. The music was slowed down and an extra beat was added to the ska rhythm. A new music style called Rock Steady became the reality. This lasted a few years and the tempo of the music was slowed even more and an altogether off beat more rude sound developed into the birth of Reggae music in the late 60s and early 70s.
The word Reggae
As for the etymology (origin and historical development of a word) of the term Reggae is to a large extent diffuse to say the least.
Here are some different theories:
1) It can possibly come from the Jamaican English term ‘rege-rege’ with different possible meanings: quarrel or row, (or ragged clothing not so sure about this last one)
2) It could also be a derivation of the Jamaican patois word ‘streggae’ meaning rudeness
The one thing that we know for sure is that it was first used to describe a style of music (at that time still not clearly developed and distinguished from the music style Rocksteady) in 1968 when the group Toots and the Maytals released their song “Do the Reggay” – (yes! they spelled it ending with “ey” when it first came out, but later the spelling was changed).
Even though the start of reggae came in 1968 it was not until the early seventies that it took its classical form as we know it. Today the term Reggae is used to
1) describe the typical form of reggae music that came from Jamaica in the seventies, also known as Roots Reggae (with subdivision into One drop and Rockers and later stepper describing different accentuation of beat focus by especially the drummer)
2) Reggae is also an umbrella term encompassing all music styles that devloped from or in connection to and including Roots reggae such as:
Rocksteady, Dub, Toasting , Deejaying, Lovers Rock, Ragga or Raggamuffin, Dancehall and more. But I’d say you have moved away from the reggae genre an into your own when we are talking of styles such as Dubstep or Reggaeton
This form of music style and genre developed in the late 60’s and took its real form in the early 70’s. The music was greatly influenced by the Rastafari Philosophy and much of its lyrics is about Jah (God), respect and unity between both people and nature, love for humanity, Babylon (The system that is the egoistical world we live in which inevitably will destroy itself), Zion and Ethiopia – the promised land, also about the natural herb marijuana, One love and peace.
Much of the lyrics are political as well as religious and there is a constant criticism of the system of the world as it is not focused on love and unity but on selfishness and greed.
In the beginning there were a lot of vocalist groups and singers that did not have their own bands. They gathered in Kingston and the music studios and sound engineers had their own bands which accompanied the vocalists. it wasn’t until much later on that complete band with more or less fixed band members bacame the norm.
I can strongly recommend some films which illustrates Roots Reggae:
Beats of the Heart -Roots Rock Reggae – The Documentary (1977)
Rockers from 1978 – Trailer:
Or jump into almost two hours of different roots reggae live from Jamaica 1979 and some info on Rastafari
For full length reggae documentaries and movies go here
- 1 an instance of dubbing sound effects or music.
- 2 a style of popular music originating from the remixing of recorded music (especially reggae).
- Verb- to alter a taped soundtrack by altering or removing some parts and exaggerating others.
“Osbourne Ruddock (aka King Tubby) was a Jamaican sound recording engineer who created vocal-less rhythm backing tracks that were used by DJs doing “toasting” by creating one-off vinyl discs (also known as dub plates) of songs without the vocals and adding echo and sound effects” (Source – Wikip)
Raed more in the post The first dub album
This style owed it name to the dance halls where sound systems played reggae music. One should not fail to mention that even though dancehall these days refer to more contemporary music this name existed even at the end of the 70s. Sometimes it is also referred to as rub-a-dub. Some of the best know artists being Eek-A-Mouse, Barrington Levy, Don Carlos, Triston Palmer and Yellowman.
Yellowman is also an exampel of toasting
is a style of reggae music especially focused on a romantic sound and content. It took a lot of inspiration from soul music. The style was given a greater focus and a name in England in the mid 1970s. There were of course reggae songs about love before this genre and lovers rock had representatives before the 70s, one example is Ken Boothe. Contrary to Roots reggae the Lovers Rock Reggae lyrics was neither political nor religious.
The ragga style reggae went under that name from 1985-1990 more or less (although the music emerged a few years earlier). It was a result of new electronic instruments and possibilities such as synthesizers, drum machines and digital sampling. After a few years people got tired of this synth-music which at the late 80s and early 90s had been swallowed up by a style of music (dancehall) which utilized the new technology but without letting it sound too artificial.
Here is the song crowned to be the first Ragga tune (using the Casio MT-40 synthesizer)
Ragga = A style of reggae that uses digital rhythms exclusively. A term sometimes used interchangably with dancehall, since the latter music has become heavily digitized as well. (46) Rasta patois dictionary
In the late 80s a more dance oriented up beat style of reggae emerged. The message was not so much about love and respect, politics or religion as earlier types of reggae and soon gangster inspired and overt sexual lyrics came into the genre. That is not to say there are no conscious dancehall artists who still advocates peace and love. This could be compared to hip hop in the sense that many of the artist talk more than they actually sing (or talk much better when they sing, as many attempt without great musical success – tone wise). Dancehall is in itself a wide term encompassing a variety of artists with very different styles and will probably if it is not already divide into several new genres.Dancehall
Riddim is the instrumental part of a tune and is accompanied by a vocal part. it can be used by various artists and …. read more here
if you watch the whole video you will see that the music stays the same but different artists/singers use the music to make their vocals on it. some riddims have hundreds of vocal versions.
Lately even more sexual oriented and hardcore-street party-dancall-deeyaing has emerged called Passa Passa.
Of course there still are some dancehall artist that have political and religious overtones such as Sizzla (active for some 20 odd years, this video is from 2011) and Capleton (also an active veteran) among others, like my own favorite Jah Mason.
That is reggae in my humble opinion. And I let Bob Marley finish this one:
Now that this is done I can focus on putting up good music that I know and hopefully show that reggae has spread to all corners of the earth with your help suggesting me local bands in any of theese genres of reggae.
Bradley, Lloyd (2001) This is Reggae Music. The Story of Jamaican Music. London: BBC
Concise Oxford English Dictionary © Oxford University Press and WordReference.com
and my own 30 years reggae listening experience 😉