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Reggae History

Reggae Defined

Reggae, is a style of popular music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s and quickly emerged as the country’s dominant music. By the 1970s it had become an international style that was particularly popular in Britain, the United States, and Africa. It was widely perceived as a voice of the oppressed. According to an early definition in The Dictionary of Jamaican English (1980), reggae is based on ska, an earlier form of Jamaican popular music, and employs a heavy four-beat rhythm driven by drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and the “scraper,” a corrugated stick that is rubbed by a plain stick. (The drum and bass became the foundation of a new instrumental music, dub.) The dictionary further states that the chunking sound of the rhythm guitar that comes at the end of measures acts as an “accompaniment to emotional songs often expressing rejection of established ‘white-man’ culture.” Another term for this distinctive guitar-playing effect, skengay, is identified with the sound of gunshots ricocheting in the streets of Kingston’s ghettos; tellingly, skeng is defined as “gun” or “ratchet knife.” Thus reggae expressed the sounds and pressures of ghetto life. It was the music of the emergent “rude boy” (would-be gangster) culture.

In the mid-1960s, under the direction of producers such as Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, Jamaican musicians dramatically slowed the tempo of ska, whose energetic rhythms reflected the optimism that had heralded Jamaica's independence from Britain in 1962. The musical style that resulted, rock steady, was short-lived but brought fame to such performers as the Heptones and Alton Ellis. 

Reggae evolved from these roots and bore the weight of increasingly politicized lyrics that addressed social and economic injustice. Among those who pioneered the new reggae sound, with its faster beat driven by the bass, were Toots and the Maytals, who had their first major hit with “54-46 (That’s My Number)” (1968), and the Wailers—Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and reggae’s biggest star, Bob Marley —who recorded hits at Dodd’s Studio One and later worked with producer Lee (“Scratch”) Perry.  Continue reading from Encyclopedia Britannica

Watch Reggae History

Roots, Reggae, Rebellion from the BBC

Toots & and the Maytals - Pressure Drop 1975

Bob Marley - Buffalo Soldier

Check Out a Book on Reggae History

Link to The Reggae Songbook in Hoopla
Link to Bob Marley : the untold story by Chris the catalog
Link to Jamaica by Nick Davis in Hoopla
Link to The Reasonings Of Buju Banton, Bounty Killer & Sizzla by Harris Rosen in Hoopla
Link to Bob Marley And The Wailers by Richie Unterberger in the catalog
Link to Catch a Fire by Timothy White (music) in Hoopla
Link to The harder they come [film] in the catalog