A brief history of reggae

A brief history of reggae
It takes approx. 3 minutes to read this article

Reggae is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s.The first single to use the term was “Do the Reggay” by the band Toots and Maytals. Over time, the term has expanded to mean any popular Jamaican music, and reggae itself has gained popularity around the world.

The origins: how was reggae born?

Reggae originated as a fusion of traditional mento music and Trinidadian/Tobagian calypso with the growing popularity of jazz, blues and R&B. The term “mento” was used to describe the characteristic African songs popular among the poorest inhabitants of Jamaica. As a rule, these songs were passed down to the islanders from their African ancestors.

A fusion called reggae was created when Jamaican musicians tried to recreate the R&B of New Orleans and Memphis that was heard through radio broadcasts. Of course, what they created was quite different from the original. The artists inserted in place of some elements those characteristic of Jamaican mento music. They also added their own individual touches.

Features of the genre

The Rastafari Movement, which spread throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean, also influenced the development of the genre. Therefore, reggae music is the sound of reconciliation, brotherhood, peace, harmony and positivity. The songs have a calm tempo, a pulsating and steady rhythm with a distinctive bass in the background. The whole thing has a very relaxing atmosphere.

Reggae music combines the intensity of R&B music, a light touch of jazz and the spiritual center of Jamaican mento. The music is famous for its rhythmic and symmetrical patterns (4/4 meter) heard in the drum, bass and rhythm guitar parts

Topics of lyrics

Reggae touches on a wide variety of topics and this is often related to a specific subgenre of music. These can include: male-female relationships (lovers rock style); the pastimes and lifestyles of the rudeboys of the time (early reggae); slum life and messages in the Rastafarian spirit (roots reggae); the issue of marijuana legalization (in various styles).

Basic reggae instruments

Reggae bands use the same basic equipment as American R&B bands. Here is a list of common instruments used in the genre:

  • drums and percussion – bongos, djembe, congas;
  • guitars – electric and bass;
  • keyboards;
  • wind instruments – saxophone, trumpet, trombone, rarely flute and clarinet.

Modern offshoots of reggae, such as reggaeton, dancehall and drum & bass, often use synthesizers and drum machines.

Famous reggae musicians

Probably the most famous reggae band, Bob Marley & The Wailers, formed in 1963, were originally known for their ska and dancehall hits inspired by contemporary bands such as The Skatalites. As reggae grew in popularity, the group adopted the genre into their repertoire. They gained international popularity in 1974 when Eric Clapton performed Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” This is how reggae began to conquer the world. Other reggae stars of the 1970s were Jimmy Cliff (known for “The Harder They Come”) and American Johnny Nash (who became a hit with the song “I Now Clear See”).

Reggae roots groups also flourished outside Jamaica. English bands Steel Pulse and UB40 enjoyed considerable fame. Well known reggae producers include King Tubby, Coxsone Dodd and Lee “Scratch” Perry. In Poland, this genre has also gained a lot of popularity, and among the most recognizable artists we should mention Kamil Bednarek and Mesajah.

Main photo: Karsten Winegeart/unsplash.com

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