What is Reggae Music? A Brief History of Reggae Genre

So, you might have heard of reggae music before – it’s a genre that has made its way around the Caribbean, the US, and beyond. But did you know that reggae is actually rooted in Jamaican culture? That’s right – it’s a true-blue Jamaican art form that has taken the world by storm. 

In this article, we’ll dive into what makes reggae music so special and why it has become such a beloved genre across the globe.

What is Reggae Music?

Reggae music is a unique Jamaican genre that emerged in the late 1960s. With its roots in African ancestry, reggae incorporates a diverse range of musical styles such as mento, ska, rocksteady, calypso, soul music, and rhythm and blues. The genre is famous for its infectious percussion, hypnotic bass lines, and rhythmic guitar strums known as the “skank beat,” making it the perfect dance music genre.

Reggae songs often feature lyrics in Jamaican English, Jamaican Patois, or Iyaric dialects. This musical form is closely associated with the Rastafarian religion and social movement that originated in Jamaica in the 1930s. Many reggae musicians practice Rastafarianism and often sing about Rastafari spiritual themes and social justice issues. This makes reggae a socially conscious music genre that aligns with other popular music styles of the late 1960s, such as American folk rock.

Reggae’s socially-conscious lyrics have also inspired other genres, including hip hop. Today, reggae continues to thrive globally, with its messages of love, peace, and social justice resonating with audiences around the world. So if you haven’t already, give reggae music a listen, and experience the Jamaican genre with a message.

A Brief History of Reggae Music

Reggae music is a genre that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and quickly spread across the world, captivating audiences with its laid-back rhythm, infectious beats, and powerful lyrics. It has given birth to many different subgenres and has had a significant influence on many other musical styles. 

The Early Days: Toots and the Maytals and the Birth of Reggae

Back in the 60s, Toots and the Maytals’ single “Do the Reggay” kickstarted the reggae movement in Jamaica. Other Jamaican artists like Larry Marshall, The Beltones, Desmond Dekker, and Lee “Scratch” Perry also released hits that helped establish reggae as a popular music form. This era set the stage for reggae’s global reach and influence.

Bob Marley & The Wailers: The Ultimate Reggae Band

Bob Marley & The Wailers, formed in 1963, initially played ska and dancehall hits. However, as reggae gained popularity, the band fully embraced the genre and produced hits like Burnin’ and Exodus. Bob Marley’s music conveyed powerful messages of peace, love, and social justice, and his influence on the music scene was immense.

The Rise of Reggae Stars: The 70s

Reggae music gained international recognition in the 70s, thanks to the likes of The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, and Johnny Nash. The Wailers gained global recognition when Eric Clapton covered their song “I Shot the Sheriff.” Meanwhile, Jimmy Cliff’s music was featured in the movie “The Harder They Come,” helping to spread the reggae sound to a wider audience.

Reggae Producers and Subgenres

Reggae producers such as King Tubby, Coxsone Dodd, and Lee “Scratch” Perry played a significant role in shaping the sound of reggae music. In addition to classic offshoots such as lovers rock and dancehall, contemporary reggae fusion subgenres like reggaeton, seggae, and reggaestep continue to evolve and grow in popularity. Exploring the many offshoots of reggae music is a great way to deepen your appreciation for this enduring style of music.

3 Principle Reggae Rhythms

Reggae music is a vibrant genre that has captivated audiences around the world. Its unique blend of soul, ska, and mento, combined with its distinct rhythmic patterns, makes it a truly special genre. Whether you’re listening to the steppers beat, the rockers beat, or the one-drop beat, reggae music is sure to get you moving and feeling good. Here’re the three principle reggae rhythms:

1. Steppers Beat

The steppers beat is similar to the “four on the floor” feel that can be heard in American music. It features a steady quarter-note pulse on the bass drum, which is often doubled by the bass guitar. “Red, Gold, and Green” by Burning Spear is a perfect example of the steppers beat. This rhythm provides a solid foundation for the music and encourages listeners to move their feet.

2. Rockers Beat

The rockers beat emphasizes four quarter notes per bar, like the steppers beat, but with more space for syncopation. This rhythm is closely associated with the rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, who helped develop the famous “rub-a-dub” sound. “Sponji Reggae” by Black Uhuru is an excellent example of the rockers beat, thanks to its 4/4 pulse combined with offbeat syncopations. The rockers beat creates an infectious groove that makes it hard to resist moving your body.

3. One Drop Beat

The one-drop beat is perhaps the most recognizable reggae rhythm. It features a steady sixteenth-note pulse (similar to American funk music) with a backbeat accent from the kick drum and snare drum. This rhythm takes its name from the song “One Drop” by Bob Marley & The Wailers. The one-drop beat has a relaxed, laid-back feel that perfectly captures the essence of reggae music.

6 Essential Reggae Instruments

If you’re a fan of reggae music, you might be wondering what instruments make up that iconic sound. Well, wonder no more, because we’ve got you covered. Here are the essential reggae instruments:

  1. Drums – The backbone of any good reggae band, the drums set the rhythm that makes you want to move your feet. You’ll often hear the bass drum hitting on the third beat of the measure, which is a signature of reggae music.
  2. Bass guitar – The bass guitar provides the low-end foundation of the music, anchoring the rhythm section and adding depth to the sound.
  3. Electric guitar – Many reggae bands have both a rhythm guitar and a lead guitar player, with the rhythm guitar often playing a skanking rhythm that drives the music forward.
  4. Keyboard – The keyboard can add a wide range of sounds to a reggae band, from piano and organ to synthesizer effects.
  5. Lead vocals – Of course, the lead vocalist is a crucial part of any band, and in reggae music, they often sing about social and political issues, as well as love and other universal themes.
  6. Horn section (or synth horns) – Finally, the horn section (or sometimes synthesized horns) can add a bright, punchy sound to the music that really brings it to life.

It’s worth noting that some contemporary reggae offshoots like reggaeton, dancehall, and drum and bass often use synthesizers and drum machines to create their sound, but these six instruments are the foundation of classic reggae music.

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