Reggae is Jamaica
's most famous genre, emerging in The Sixties
and Rocksteady. You probably know it because it was popularised outside Jamaica by Bob Marley
. Despite that, he wasn't the first reggae musician, not even the first to have some level of international popularity.
Reggae evolved out of Ska
and rocksteady near the end of the 1960s. One of the first notable reggae songs was "Israelites" by Desmond Dekker, which became an international hit in 1969. At the start of the 1970s the first popular reggae artist to score hits outside of Jamaica was Jimmy Cliff, best known for "Wonderful World, Beautiful People", "You Can Get It If You Really Want", "Many Rivers To Cross" and "The Harder They Come", all made famous by Jamaica's first feature film The Harder They Come
, in which Cliff himself played the starring role. The feature became a Cult Classic
in Jamaica and in the midnight movie circuit in the USA, also thanks to its soundtrack which was bought even by people who never saw the movie in their entire life. In the wake of its popularity Bob Marley
& The Wailers, who were already well known in the Caribbean at this point became the first reggae artists to record an entire album, Catch A Fire
(1972) in the same conditions as a Western rock band. His next albums provided huge mainstream hit singles like "I Shot The Sherrif", "Get Up, Stand Up" (from Burnin'
), "No Woman, No Cry" (from Natty Dread
, but more popular in the live version found on Live! (Bob Marley Album)
(1976)), "Roots, Rock Reggae" (Rastaman Vibration
(1976), "Exodus", "Jammin'", "One Love" (Exodus
(1977)), "Redemption Song", "Could You Be Loved?" (Uprising
(1980)) and "Buffalo Soldier" (Confrontation
(1981)), which further solidified his international superstardom. Marley made reggae so popular that countless Jamaican artists now got their own change to record albums. By the end of the 1970s several new wave and punk bands and ska groups in Western countries started playing their own reggae music, including Madness
, The Police
, The Specials
, The Clash
, the tremendously popular Dutch band Doe Maar
Its main distinctive trait, asides from being played slower than Ska
, is the use of the "one drop" rhythm, whereby the first beat of a bar is completely empty and the emphasis is on the third instead. To this you can add other traits, such as: harmonic simplicity
, use of guitars purely as a rhythm instrument, mostly as "skank" (short, dampened, choppy sound) on the two and four beats, and occasional use of horns and other instruments.
The genre itself developed since and gave rise to several other subgenres, such as:
- Dub music, probably the most famous offshoot. "Dub" basically means instrumental remixes of songs, emphasising the drum and bass (you'll find this basic track referred to as "riddim"), adding short snatches of vocals and soaking everything in lots of reverb and other studio effects. Got started as a distinct subgenre in The Seventies thanks to guys like Errol Thompson, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Herman Chin Loy. Insanely influential on electronic music (especially drum and bass and Dubstep), Punk Rock, Post-Punk, Hip Hop, possibly more so than reggae itself.
- Roots reggae, like normal reggae except the lyrics are largely concerned with spiritual matters and social critiques. Exponents of this include: Burning Spear, Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy (yes, the guy who works with Massive Attack), Big Youth, Culture, The Meditations, and others.
- Rockers, a more aggressive way of playing reggae created by Sly and Robbie in the mid-1970s.
- Lovers rock, which emerged in The Seventies out of South London and is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: reggae love songs. Examples of this include: Gregory Isaacs, Freddy McGregor, Dennis Brown, Maxi Priest and Beres Hammond.
- Dancehall, probably the most divisive genre on the list. This genre uses electronic instrumentation and Sampling a lot, and involves a deejay singing and rapping or toasting over raw and fast rhythms, so it's probably closer to Hip Hop than reggae itself. Examples of this would be: Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Yellowman, King Jammy, Shabba Ranks, Elephant Man, Buju Banton and others. The genre's sadly infamous for aggressive, violently homophobic lyrics - for example, Buju Banton's 1993 hit "Boom Bye Bye" is about executing gay men. Probably the main source of protests and controversy due to the severe Values Dissonance between Jamaica and the rest of the Western countries over LGBT rights.
Tropes associated with the genre.
- Epic Rocking: Some tracks can go on for quite a few minutes.
- God-Is-Love Songs: Expect the name Jah and/or Marcus Garvey to be praised at least once on an album.
- Lead Bassist: Reggae is known for being a very bass heavy genre and often having the bass play lead while guitar supplies supporting off-beats.
- Lead Drummer: Due to alternating drum types, most notably steel-drums and bongos, have made drums, like the bass, a very key feature. Not to mention it's unusual style of often not ending fills with climatic cymbals.
- Neo Classical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Modern day reggae artists like Rebelution, The Expendables(not the movie), Slightly Stoopid have been known to mix the genre with others. Most commonly funk and hip hop.
- The genre's also been mixed with Progressive Rock as a lot of bands like Tribal Seeds, SOJA, and Rebelution have
- The Stoner: There's a reason why it got this reputation... No really it's completely justified giving that marijuana is a huge part of Rastafarian/Jamaican culture. In addition to that, there is a slue of songs about getting high.
- Sweet Dreams Fuel: The genres known for being uplifting and dreamy whether or not you choose to listen to it stoned.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Guitar tracks on reggae are known for being simple "Skank" or ska-stroke which is typically played on the off beat.
- Though, this style of playing is typically only done with guitars. Bass-lines in reggae are far more complex than just three chords.
- The Unintelligible: The patois accent and stoned mumbling often making it difficult to understand what the singers are saying, especially when you're not familiar with some of the local expressions.
- Watch It Stoned: Well... listen to it stoned. Though, it's generally agreed by the fanbase that you don't need it to enjoy it, but rather need it to enjoy it to its full experience. Not to mention, you'd probably feel a lot less left out considering the lyrical content of getting stoned.