The musical genre of Reggae started in the late 1960’s in Jamaica. Reggae was built on the foundation of the rhythmic styles which was accented with off beats and this was called the “Skank”. A little faster than the Rocksteady and a much slower tempo than the Ska music that precedes it. Reggae can be differentiated from the Rocksteady by its speed, the rhythmic guitar which emphasizes the third beat or by the complex bass lines that is used.
Generally, you hear persons talk about Jamaican music; they just said reggae to refer to most types of the music. But this is generalization is not correct, reggae is only the term used to signify a particular style of music and was originated based on the Ska and the Rocksteady developments.
The name reggae was already in use in Kingston Jamaica during the Rocksteady era, as it was said that many persons in the Jamaican music industry did not like the Rocksteady name and style and was looking for something different. They played around with the sound with the rhythm guitar and organ; this sound emerged that changed the Rocksteady beat. One of the producers at that time Bunny Lee liked it very much, they said it sounded like “reggae reggae” and this name was well received, they started using it and before you know it, all the Jamaican musicians started saying “reggae reggae”.
In 1968, a Rocksteady hit was released by The Maytals with name “Do the Reggay” and the name started its use in print. However, the origin of the name reggae is even now still debatable.
The lyrical content for reggae covered numerous subjects, no topic was too controversial for them to write about, they wrote lyrics on subjects such as love, religion, peace, sexuality, poverty, relationships, injustice, politics and many other social issues that influences their lives.
Similar to the other genres before the development of reggae, the American rhythm and blues was a strong influence. The Caribbean and African traditions also influenced this genre, but it owed its roots to the Ska and Rocksteady that developed in Jamaica in the 1960’s
In 1959 and 1961 in Jamaica, the people graved for some music on record that was theirs, as they could only listened to American R&B on sound systems at this time. The mento music were being played by bands mostly in the tourist areas, it was not very popular on the international music scene. Then the Ska music emerged with its walking bass line and gained huge popularity Britain, but the tempo was fast and the dancers wanted a much slower pace to dance to.
This brought another change and most musicians started playing the Ska songs at slow pace, this slower rhythm was called Rocksteady. But this did not lasted long, they started adding more effects and the music changed again, this time it was the creation of reggae. Reggae was now here, with its new rhythm sound and the producers were releasing songs which were demonstrating the organ shuffle that can be heard in songs such as “Say What You’re Saying” and “People Funny Boy”.
In 1968, hits such as “No more Heartaches and “Nanny Goat” were the first records to be released which were genuine reggae. Reggae was even gaining recognition in America as the artist named Johnny Nash, released a song in 1968 named “Hold me Tight” and was given credit for putting the music on the American charts. Reggae also appeared as rock music and The Beatles did a song that featured the rhythm of reggae in 1968.
Characteristics On Jamaican Music
Reggae was on the Jamaican music scene from the late 1960’s up to present time, it is of a little faster beat than the Rocksteady genre that it succeeded. The pianos use to feature predominantly in the reggae and this could be heard in those records from the 60’s to the early 80’s. They were used alongside the guitars and influence the sporadic beats that would be needed to add style to the body of the songs.
Sometime during the 80’s, pianos started to fade away, technology was advancing and new instruments were coming on the music scene. An instrument called the synthesizer, was now been used frequently to create these harmonious sounds. The persons playing the keyboards now, especially on large bands had to be working sometimes on more than one instrument in order to cover some of the lines that would be found on the piano.
Another instrument that was used widely in the reggae is a horn; this mostly plays the contradicting tunes or the introductions in songs. The horn can be in the form of the trombone, trumpet and saxophone. In Jamaica today one of the great Saxophonists is Dean Fraser; he can be seen accompanying various artists on stage. With the increase in technology, sometimes the bands do not use the actual horn as they can create the same sound from recorded sections.
Reggae has some good vocals and this can be expressed in more than one styles, one that is distinctive to reggae is “toasting”, derives from the DJ’s, when you go to the dances with sound systems they spontaneously talk on the tracks. Instruments and rhythm are more significant to reggae than the vocals itself. The very popular group the I Threes used to add their vocals to Bob Marley & The Wailers, this style is a contrast to the focal lines of the song. This style is not unique to reggae as it used in most genres of Jamaica and music from around the world.
In the history of the Jamaican music, it can be shown that toasting used to be in numerous African ethnicities, for example, the chanting from the beats of drum. Toasting is not necessarily written beforehand, the lyrics are mostly just spur-of-the-moment. Toasting is sometimes called deejaying or chatting, this is done extensively in Jamaica music, and it is way of expressing yourself through intonation of melodies. Toasting is also featured heavily in the Jamaica music genres of Reggae, Dub, Dancehall, Ska and Lovers Rock.
When you combine toasting to singing another style develops, this is called “Singjaying”, this a very popular style that most Jamaicans utilize to record their songs. This new style was well received in Jamaica, in those days you have a lot of youths wanting to get a “buss” and was not able to do a whole song. Now they get to singjay and they were able to creatively toast and sing melodies of their own. This style was said to have even influenced the American hip hop style in some ways.
Reggae evolves into many sub-genres; the earliest was called “Early Reggae or Skinhead Reggae”. The Reggae had such a heavy influence in the UK in 1960’s, that the working class youth (mods) started imitating the Jamaican Rude boys. The significant element that characterized rock steady from early reggae was the organ, referred to as “bubbling organ”, this was style that brought out a subdivision note inside the groove.
Some of the reggae artist, who was popular for the early reggae, was The Pioneers, John Holts and Toots and the Maytals. The mods also did cover of American souls songs and this was also reflected in early reggae.
This roots reggae was considered a religious type of music, as the lyrics were primarily praising Jah (God). The high point of the roots genre was in the late 70’s. The lyrical content was of a recurring inclusion of struggles that they had in fighting against government dictatorship, Rastafarian, repatriation and poverty. This style was different from the rhythms in the Rocksteady, Ska, Skank, Reggae, Rockers and various other styles that would follow. Bob Marley had a song called “Roots, Rock, Reggae” and he formulated a style that was of “off beat”, he was skanking different beats on the guitar, this was a distinctive beat that seems to be working for him and other artists started adapting to it.
Producers Lee “Scratch” Perry, Joseph Hoo Kim, Coxsone Dodd and Bunny Lee, teamed up with the roots singers at this time to expand this genre. These were solo acts such as Peter Tosh, Lincoln Thompson, Bob Marley, Max Romeo, Burning Spear and Horace Andy and they worked with groups like Culture, Steel Pulse and Black Uhuru. While these musicians were experimenting with the roots another take shaped and a new genre was born, this one was called Dub.
Roots were also drawn to the European people and it grows to be very popular in the 1970’s. A lot of mixed, black and white started reggae bands in Europe, but at this time Jamaica had turned to another style called dancehall. This genre was well received that it started developing in the America, because at this time persons were immigrating to there and taking a part of the Jamaican culture with them.
The Dub music was developed from the experimenting of the roots rhythm by producers King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry in the 60’s and 70’s. Some classified this as the birth of remix, with drum and bass being the focal point of emphasis. What they did was use existing records and revises it by remixing instruments and adding special effects. Other producers quickly catch on to this style and started maneuvering the music tracks and coming up with some real creative mixes.
This dub style moved on to other levels, it was said that 1968 Ruddy Redwood who was operating a sound system at the, went to cut what was called a “dub plate”, accidentally the vocal was left out and he did not change it. When played the track at a dance, the DJ just toast over the rhythm, this style is still very much popular today. The musicians quickly recognized that this dub style was here to stay; they started recording albums that were a hundred percent dub music.
Dub was also a strong influence worldwide and could be recognized in the different techniques, especially in the American music. Most persons even today do not know that dub started out of Jamaica from the genres of Rocksteady and Reggae.
Bob Marley And The Wailers
A reggae band started in Jamaica in 1963 called “The Wailers” was started by artists Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. They were arguably the best and most recognizable band worldwide, they are considered true pioneers as they made their musical transition through the stages of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae.
There was a changed in this group and Bob Marley, then started another group named Bob Marley & the Wailers and the Wailers band was now the backing band along with I Threes as backup singers. The Wailers Band now had members namely, Carlton Barrett the drummer and Aston Barrett the bassist, brothers who used to play in Lee “Scratch” Perry studio band.
This band played with Bob Marley and The Wailers up until Marley’s death in 1981
Producers in Jamaica were very influential in the development of the music through Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. One of the earlier producers who was very successful and who took the music internationally, was Chris Blackwell. He established the label called Island Records in 1960, but he later relocated to England where he never stopped producing the Jamaican music.
In fact he was determined for it to excel, so he then partnered with another label called Trojan Records and they released the recordings for the Jamaican reggae artists.
Vincent Chin is another Jamaican producer that worked hard for the exposure of the music; he first used to maintain the jukeboxes that used to play in the bars. He was so fascinated by the music that he started selling the records that he found while repairing these boxes.
This entrepreneurs business was now growing so swiftly he later opened a retail store downtown Kingston in 1958. He was not stopping there and by 1969, he joined forces with his wife and they opened a studio that was named Randy’s Studio 17. This was to be the beginning of something big for Vincent Chin, the famous album Catch A Fire by Bob Marley & The Wailers and Peter Tosh first two solo albums namely Legalize It and Equal Rights, were recorded in his studio.
Reggae music was entering the mainstream and doing extremely well, there were some developments that also helped to push this genre further. Some of these developments were a film named “The Harder They come” staring the Jamaican artist Jimmy Cliff and Eric Clapton did a cover of one of Bob Marley’s song “I shot the Sheriff”, this catapult the music and generated a lot of popularity and interest.
Reggae started getting a lot of radio play in the middle of the 70’s. There was this radio program in the UK that played a vast amount of this music, some called this time for reggae music the “Golden Age of Reggae”. However, in the late 70’s the scene changed and a punk rock was forming and reggae was being played by the DJs during the punk sets and even integrated the reggae into their music.
Reggae continued on this strong part and was constantly creating a stir in the UK that continued through to the 80’s. At this time the Grammy Awards even included a category specifically for the reggae music, this was called the Best Reggae Album category.
Harmony In Reggae
The harmonies of the Reggae are pretty simple, the repetitive chord structure adds to the hypnotic effect and these songs sometimes include a variety of musical notes. When you explore the roles of the Drum and bass in the reggae, one can understand how they contributed to the music quality.
The drums used in reggae are the traditional kits with the snare drums that are tuned so you get that high timbale –type sound. The Jamaican people are known to add their own creativity to anything they are doing, so they add sounds that are very unique to the reggae music. One characteristic that is considered unique and unusual in the reggae drumming is that a wide range of percussion instruments is used and the drum fills does not end with that climactic cymbal.
It is said that the reggae drum beats can be categorized into groups, normally three and they are the Steppers, Rockers and One Drop beats.
The steppers beats has a persistent drive, four solid beats to the bar is played from the bass drum. There is a common name that was also given to steppers; it was the “four on the floor”. A song released by Burning Spears in 1975 was an example of this. The popular “Exodus” by Bob Marley & Wailers also reflects this steppers beats.
Rockers drum beats was invented by famous Lowell “Sly” Dunbar and Robert Shakespeare, they also went on to make another beat sound which was used greatly in the dancehall. This beat emphasizes the one, which is usually on the bass drum, but the rockers beat cannot be classified as clear-cut because there are a lot of different variations that are included. This unpredictable style can be found in the song called “Sponji Reggae” sang by Black Uhuru.
For the one drop drum beat it is kind of unusual style, beat one is totally empty. This beats is only emphasized by the third beat, this is generally a rim shot combined with the bass drum or on the snare drum. This beat also created some controversy between the studio drummers as how it should be done and who really invented the beat. The drummer in the Wailers Band created an example that is in Bob Marley & the Wailers song that was named from this beat.
When you talk about the reggae rhythm, the rhythm actually is the referring to the drum and bass, bass has the prevailing role in the reggae. When you are listening to reggae, the very heavy and thick sound that you will here is a bass beat, when it equalizes, more emphasis is placed on the lower frequencies and the superior frequencies are detached. The important role of bass in the music is predominantly in the dub. The rhythm is considered very versatile as numerous artists can record songs over the same rhythm.
The guitar, specifically the rhythm type, plays the “skank” or the “bang”, which is the chord on beats of two and then four. This sounds almost like a type percussion instrument, as the sound you get from this is short, dampened and inharmonious chop. A good example of this is heard in the introduction of the song “Stir It Up”.