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Reggae Music

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2155
  • Category: Music

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Reggae music, through the hard works of its pioneers during the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s was intensely brilliant during its golden age. It has a very rich past and intriguingly unique start and a much awaited progress to a music full of potentials and influences.

Such genre of artistic endeavor was developed or originated in Jamaica, more specifically in the late 1960’s. The word “reggae” was used to classify a “ragged” manner or certain style of music used or incorporated in dances and in a broader sense, is sometimes applied to most types of Jamaican music. Though ironically, this type of music, the reggae, which they say is “the music unique to Jamaica” is not actually Jamaican at all. In fact, its development or groundwork is USA and African based. (Ingram, 1997)

In some references or dictionaries, it is said that the word “reggae” must have been derived from a Jamaican – English word “rege-rege” which means “quarrel” and further states that its origins are unknown. There were also some Speculations that it is a slang originated from the word “streggae” which is a Jamaican slang for prostitute or from the word Regga. Regga is a Bantu-speaking tribe in the Tanganyika lake.

The reggae music specifically points toward a particular music style after the progress of ska and rocksteady and had its roots with regards to rhythm and blues style set apart by usual chops on the off-beat or the skank

After sometime, reggae music further develops into a type of music with a unique lament-like style of chanting with a certain emphasis on the syncopated beat. Furthermore, reggae music uses an “African nyah-bingi drumming style”, a drumming style that copies or imitates the sound of a heartbeat and its tempo is by and large slower as compared to the rocksteady and ska. Lyrics of reggae were explicitly associated with the adepts of a millenary African faith or the so-called ”Rastafarians” or the “Rastafari movement” where faith, injustice, love and other wide-ranging social concerns are often used as subjects. (Scaruffi, 2002)

In 1963,Jackie Mittoo and Coxone Dodd, the pianist of “The Skatalites” and personnel from “Studio One” respectively, had a joint effort to have recording sessions and original music composition together with Lloyd Knibbs, a drummer. They created a certain style where they slowed down the tempo of ska. The band “Toots and the Maytals” have been the one’s who first made use of the word reggae as they named their 1968 hit “Do the Reggay”. Reggae was popularized by Bob Marley worldwide. Bob Marley was even called the “reggae king of the world” and / or “the conquering lion of reggae” when he recorded rocksteady and ska together with the African nyah-bingi drumming style during his early careers (Shuker, 2001).

 Because of the difference of reggae’s symmetrical rhythm pattern to other time signatures, its if often played in 4/4 time signature. Bob Marley’s song “Exodus” which he played together with the Wailers, is more or less composed or created using A-minor chords. Harmonically, a simple song is created using one or two chords only where also simple repetitious chords create or increase the hypnotic effect of reggae. Bob Marley, in some of his songs or compositions, also created complex chord structures. (John, 2006)

In the late 1960’s, reggae started to flood in the radio stations as it was played in the United Kingdom. John Peel who took part in reggae during his career also played reggae and introduced it to his listeners on his show “John Peel’s radio show”. Reggae continued to grow by 1970’s to 1980’s wherein during the second half of 1970’s, even punk DJ’s played reggae records in their DJ sets. As UK punk rock scene began its take off in the mid 1970’s, bands such as “The Clash”, “The Slits” and “The Ruts” created and played music with a certain touch of reggae.  Through its development through time, reggae was able to have several subgenres. Some of these subgenres included “roots reggae”, “dub”, “lover’s rock” and dancehall”.

            Since during reggae was often connected or related to the Rastafari movement or the Rastafarians, several prominent reggae musicians and music were influenced by such movements, organization or group of people in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

            In comparison with other genres of music, reggae music is in the essence inverted the role of bass and guitar. Guitar became the lead while the bass became the beat or gave the typical hiccupping pattern. Furthermore, this popular music of Jamaica, for all interest and purpose, is an experiential music. Though it does not simply mean that people experience music, but in addition, the music is the people’s experiences. True historical experiences may be incorporated in the music of reggae, reflecting a certain stream of consciousness from the musicians. Such experiences would have the ability to let the listeners be incorporated or included in the music and let them feel and sometimes be aware of the musicians’ consciousness or experiences. (Blake, 1999)

            Such experiential music, further creates an experimental opportunity for reggae producers. Thus, such experimental pioneering under such certain limiting technological parameters lead to subgenres and later on, developed into other forms or genre of music. Dub music, one of reggae’s subgenre, is known to be the earliest contributions or influence of reggae to music. Such influence further lead to the development or creation of techno music.

            Furthermore, reggae with a twist of toasting style done in the 1960’s lead to the development or origin of hip hop or commonly known as rap. This style was used by artists such as U-Roy and Dennis Alcapone. These artists were influenced by a Jamaican DJ who played or incorporated reggae in his DJ sets, named DJ Kool Here. DJ or Deejay refers or can be synonymous to the word rapper or may be translated in American hip hop culture as MC. Reggae can also be considered as the fore bearer of hip hop and drum and bass because of the mixing techniques used reggae’s sub genre called dub music.

Around 1980’s, another genre was created and established. This genre was called the “dancehall” where the style is characterized by a certain DJ or deejay who sings and raps. Oftentimes, toasting over raw and fast rhythms is included. Artists such as “Yellowman”, “Super Cat” and “Shabba Ranks” used such styles during their career. Dancehall further develops its own subgenre called the “ragga” or which is also known as “raggamuffin”. The instruments in this subgenre are mainly electronic music and sampling.

Reggaeton is another genre that was created in the early 1990’s, which is a mixture or blending of reggae and dancehall together with Latin American genres like bomba and plena.  It became popular among the youths, more specifically with the Latinos. Reggaeton’s reggae and dancehall can also be spiced up with some hip hop, and other variations of genres or subgenres to create other dance music.

Reggae rock is the combination of reggae and rock music. It is a fusion genre wherein different elements of the two genres are combined. This fusion genre was used, played or incorporated in the music compositions of the bands Sublime and 311. Sublime and 311 later became known for their reggae rock fusion.

There are a lot of fusions, combinations or other influences of reggae to other genre of music. And since reggae subjects include love, injustice, poverty and other social concerns, even Jewish music can be influenced by reggae music. Such combination or blending of reggae music and Jewish music was done by a Hasidic Jew named Matisyahu. Through his innovative thinking or Jewish-reggae music, he was named “Top Reggae Artist” in 2006.

Just like Matisyahu, there are a lot of new emerging reggae artists in the music industry. Not only in Jamaica will you find reggae artists. The top 10 emerging reggae artists today, in decreasing order are Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Desmond Dekker, Black Uruhu, Sly and Robbie, Bunny Wailer and King Tubby.

While the top 20 to 60 reggae artists are Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, Scientist, The Skatalities, Harry Belafonte, Marcia Griffiths, Mad Professor, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jacob Miller, Judge Dread, Aswad, Shabba Ranks, The Heptones, The Ethiopians, Ras Michael, Steel Pulse, Pablo Moses, The Might Diamonds, Yellowman, Beres Hammon, The Itals, Sugar Minott, Prince Far I, Freddie Mc Greggor, Bryon Lee, Beenie Man, Ijahman, Linval Thompson, Gentleman, Delroy Wilson, Judy Mowatt, The Upsetters, Dennis Alcapone, Ken Boothe, Inner Circle, Barrington Levy, Mikey Dread, Mighty Sparrow and Justin Hinds and the Dominoes.

Furthermore, the top 60 to 100 emerging reggae artists of today, again in decreasing order, are UB40, The Abyssinnians, African Head Charge, Christafari, Eek-a-Mouse, Augustus Pablo, Bounty Killer, Horace Andy, I-Threes, Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Nash, Capelton, Junior Reid, Rita Marley, Andrew Tosh, Junios Murvin, Sizzla, Millie Small, The Tamlins, Junior Reid, Jackie Mitoo, Maxi Priest, Spanner Banner, Garnet Silk, Lucky Dube, Christafari, Johnny Osbourne, Mad Cobra, The Gladiators, Israel Vibration, The Chantells, Roots Radics, Chaka Demus and the Pliers, Buju Banton, Don Drummond, The Melodians, Donna the Buffalo, Cocoa Tea, Clancy Ecceles and Lady Shaw. Some of the new artists that are to be looked forward unto are Luciano, Sean Paul, Pam Hall, Tanto Metro and Shaggy as they were given honorable mentions. (“100 Greatest Reggae Artists”, 2007)

Reggae music with all its new emerging artists and pioneers are to be given credit and should be further known. Reggae music does not only have future within the music industry, it also has its edge when it comes to expression of social issues. It is not only known worldwide because of its hypnotic tune but also of the issues that it tackles and introduces to the people. It has a soul on its own, having the power and liberating voice for the poor and oppressed. (King, 2002)

In the last thirty years, songs or reggae music with subjects regarding redemption and universal love are played by a lot of reggae artists. Some of these reggae artists are Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Alpha Blondy. Reggae music in the future might serve as national anthems or theme songs for programs and celebrations on liberation, freedom and human rights.

This is not impossible. In 1979, the reggae music of Bob Marley and the Wailers entitled “Zimbabwe” became the nation anthem for the Pan-American freedom fighters. Furthermore, reggae music can also serve as a means to express protests or of peaceful communications. In the future, it may become the music that we would be able to sing within our hearts and its potentials are limitless. It has already influenced countries, other artists, other genre of music, listeners, individuals and a lot of events in history and it can still influence more in the future.

Reggae in the past has been rich in terms of its origin, culture and the social issues that it contains. It was founded or created by only few individuals or artists but it has already touched millions in the present. During these times, reggae was able to create new other genres of music that just like reggae, influences other people, events or modes of expression. Artists share their experiences, points of view and other thoughts with regards to social concerns or issues in their country, with the other country or global problems with reggae.

Such incorporation of experiences or points of view is crucial for other people to be aware, not just to have fun, sing or dance. Reggae music holds a lot of opportunities and vision for the future that it lets us move in the present upon seeing the past. Reggae, just like us individuals, can be complex or simple. Reggae just like other individuals or living things has the ability to jive in or exist harmoniously with other types of music or genre. Reggae, for me, is not just music or a genre of music, but a way of life, a way to of seeing life through music.


Blake, Andrew. Living through Pop. 1st ed. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1999.

Ingram, K. E. Jamaica. World Bibliographical Series Xiii. Vol. 45. Oxford, England: Clio Press, 1997.

King, Stephen A. Reggae, Rastafari, and the Rhetoric of Social Control. Jackson, MS, USA: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.

Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 2001.

“100 Greatest Reggae Artists”.  2007.  Digital Dream Door. August 10, 2007 2007. <http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_artists-reggae.html>.

John, Ras. “Ras John’s Reggae Road”.  2006. August 10, 2007 2007. <http://www.reggae.com/history/index.htm>.

Scaruffi, Piero. “A Brief Summary of Jamaican Music”.  2002. August 10, 2007 2007. <http://www.scaruffi.com/history/reggae.html>.

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