views updated Jun 27 2018



Reggae is a complex Afro-Jamaican twentieth-century musical phenomenon that has profoundly influenced global popular musical culture. As a genre of modern black cultural production, reggae music dates from the 1970s, when it emerged from the musical confluence of ska and rock steady, two forms born in early postcolonial Jamaica. As a cultural practice in Jamaican postcolonial society, reggae was closely tied to subaltern representations of slavery, colonialism, history, and Africa. As a consequence in many instances reggae became a counter-hegemonic practice critiquing the formal Jamaican Creole nationalist project of political independence.

Ska was a 1960s musical synthesis that ruptured the Jamaican musical form known as mento, which emerged from the encounter between European colonialism, racial plantation slavery, and the slave African population. Mento adapted and morphed the harmonic structures, instrumentation, and melodies of European musical styles into indigenous sounds. It added other instruments, in particular rhumba scrapers and drums, and wove melodic structures within the sound of the rhumba scraper to produce a unique rhythm to which many rural Jamaicans enjoyed dancing.

Profoundly influenced by African American jazz and big band swing music, ska broke with mento in two ways. It used different instrumentation, and it became an urban-based rather than a rural-based musical form. Ska was driven in part by two migratory patterns: the external migration to the American Eastern Seaboard and the internal migration between the islands rural areas and the capital city Kingston, where impoverished young men and women not only wanted to carve out a future but also brought with them the culture of the rural folk. Particularly in Kingstons western sectionsJones Town, Trench Town, and Denham Townpostcolonial popular Jamaican music found its moorings. This rural-to-urban shift in Jamaican society is visually captured by the opening moments of the film The Harder They Come and Jimmy Cliffs driving lyrics of the song: You can get it if you really want.

In addition to ska, the cauldron of west Kingston gave birth to the sound system, the early recording industry, rock steady, and eventually to reggae. The Folkes Brothers 1961 record Oh Carolina marks a watershed in Jamaican recorded music. With the Rastafarian nyabinghi-style drumming of Count Ossie forming the spine of the track, the song is now a classic of Jamaican music. Although ska incorporated big band horn-blowing elements, it differed from jazz and swing in the way Jamaican musicians sped up the second beat while slowing down the fourth, so that the music seemed offbeat with loose skips. One of the most important ska instrumentalists was the trombonist Don Drummond, who played with the Skatalites, perhaps Jamaicas most accomplished musicians at the time. This group produced such titles as Freedom Sounds, Far East, Addis Ababa, and Man in the Street, indicating the tight relationship between urban poor communities in Jamaica and Africa and certainly the cultural importance of Rastafari. The music of the Skatalites remains a rich archive of early Jamaican music.

Jamaican music is organically tied to dance and the body. There is no popular music without dance steps. In the history of Jamaican music, with its reliance on the local sound system as the conduit of its popularity, the participation of both audience and dancers in giving the music its form is critical. When the audience comprises primarily urban dwellers alienated from official society, then the relationship among the music, musicians, form, and audience becomes especially intimate and can become a practice of counter-signification. This practice is clearly illustrated by the morphing of ska into the musical form of rock steady. If ska began as the music of hope, it quickly came to express a growing alienation and despair, as Simmer Down, the single most important ska hit of the Wailers, illustrates. In the song the Wailers ask the rude bwoy to simmer down. The rude bwoy was the iconic young black male of the city, a figure of rebellion who began to confront notions of Jamaican citizenship and respectability. Prince Buster, the Nation of Islam producer and singer, also sang in Judge Dread of the confrontation between the Jamaican justice system and the rude bwoy. These songs were not reflective of but rather an integral part of Jamaican social and political discourse of the period.

In rock steady, the transitional music between ska and reggae, the music slowed down, lost its skip, became languid. The dance movements were transformed, with the shoulders and hands operating in different time from the motions of the pelvis. Singing groups were central to this style; the Wailers, Heptones, Ethiopians, Paragons, Melodians, and Mighty Diamonds were popular. Singers like Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, and Ken Boothe also emerged, and along with the centrality of the sound systems of Sir Coxsone and Duke Reid and Prince Buster, Jamaican popular music consolidated itself locally. The singers and instrumental creativity of ska and rock steady combined with the creative musical drives of the urban dispossessed population to lay the ground for reggae.

In reggae the drum and bass became pronounced and the individual singer was given more scope; the horns surround the bridge segments of the music, and the dancer skips and moves with feet free from the thralldom of postcolonial oppression, while the body retraces the memory of the Middle Passage. Reggae music relies heavily on the message it deliversfrom Marleys Trench Town Rock to Junior Byless Fade Away and perhaps that most reproduced of all reggae riddims, the rhythm of the Abyssinians, Satta Massagana. Reggae music operates in the languages of black struggle and redemption and is shaped by the languagewhat Velma Pollard calls dread talkand religious and political doctrines of Rastafari. Dread talk undertakes the lexical reorganization of Jamaican language in an effort to linguistically reorder society. The themes of reggae music are history, slavery, Africa, and exile alongside the machinations of record producers. These themes are lyrically enunciated in the idioms of proverbs, rereadings of biblical passages, Jamaican folksongs, and childrens songs. The lyrical rhetorical strategies of many reggae songs are embedded within the social and linguistic complexities of Afro-Jamaican life. One only has to listen to the vast musical archives of the Black Ark studio of Lee Scratch Perry, of Channel One Studio operated by the Hoo-Kim brothers, and of Gussie Clarke to understand how reggae presented alternative narratives of Jamaicas history and postcolonial society. As the reggae producer Rupie Edwards put it, The music was a way of life, the whole thing is not just a music being made its a people a culture its an attitude, its a way of life coming out of the people (Bradley 2000, p. 1). Marley put this well another way in the song Trench Town:

Whoa my head
In desolate places well find our bread
And everyone see whats taking place 
We come from Trench Town
Lord, we free the people with music. Sweet

For many reggae musicians, Jamaican postcolonial society was, in the words of the Rastafari and reggae singer Johnny Clark, a Babylon system that the Jamaican people had to move out of. History was a stench that consisted of old pirates, and freedom was possible only through some sort of revolution or redemption. Reggae music became the voice of black prophetic criticism in postcolonial Jamaican society. At the international level reggae has produced many iconic figures, with Marley being the most popular. Many factors shaped both Marleys Jamaican and international appeal: the rise in Jamaican radical nationalist politics driven by conceptions of black power, the anticolonial struggles in Africa, the civil rights movement in the United States, and the failures of the immediate Caribbean postcolonial state to deliver on the hopes and aspirations of political independence. In the last stage of Marleys life, his concert for the guerrillas of the Zimbabwean anticolonial struggle illustrated the deep connections between reggae as a popular antihegemonic musical form and aspects of international black struggles. This dimension of reggae is now being practiced by reggae poets like Mutabaruka.

Reggae continues to develop in the twenty-first century. One genre, roots reggae, popularized by the singer Luciano, distinguishes itself by its message of openness, its rebellious quality, its firm affirmation of Rastafari, and a central preoccupation with social and political issues. Other genres are dub and dance hall. In the 1970s many children of Jamaican immigrants to the United Kingdom, often called black British, deployed reggae as a cultural form not only of identity but of protest. Bands such as Steel Pulse and Aswad played a role in the black cultural politics of the United Kingdom. Thematically these bands reflected on the concerns of the black British experience as part of an international black experience. It was from this experience that one of the most important reggae poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, emerged. Johnsons poetry, as Fred DAguiar put it, is an epicure of this familiar metre and rhyme served up into a reggae rhythm (Johnson 2002, p.xi). Reggae has come to constitute an aesthetic form for many Caribbean poets.

Reggae still shapes black popular music around the globe, with reggae bands in Africa, Europe, and Latin America. In addition the philosophy of Rastafari, which traveled with reggae, remains an important cultural and social movement in many parts of the world. Perhaps the best summary of the importance of the historic achievement of reggae is that given by Count Ossie, the drummer and Rastafarian personality, who remarked that both reggae and rasta were fighting colonialism and oppression but not with guns and bayonet, but wordically, culturally (Bogues 2003, p. 192). Reggae as a black cultural achievement is an integral element of late-twentieth-century efforts of former colonized people to achieve full decolonization.

SEE ALSO Black Power; Blackness; Caribbean, The; Culture, Low and High; Migration, Rural to Urban; Music; Music, Psychology of; Pan-Africanism; Popular Culture; Protest; Rastafari; Slavery; Social Movements; Urbanization; World Music


Bogues, Anthony. 2003. Black Heretic, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals. New York: Routledge.

Bordowitz, Hank, ed. 2004. Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright: The Bob Marley Reader. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo.

Bradley, Lloyd. 2000. Bass Culture. London: Viking.

Johnson, Linton Kwesi. 2002. Mi Revolutionary Fren: Selected Poems. London: Penguin.

Katz, David. 2003. Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae. New York: Bloomsbury.

Manuel, Peter. 2006. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Pollard Velma. 1994. Dread Talk: The Language of Rastafari. Kinsgton, Jamaica: Canoe.

Potash, Chris. 1997. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution. New York: Schirmer Books.

Prahlad, Sw. Anand. 2001. Reggae Wisdom. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Special Issue on Reggae Studies. 1998. Social and Economic Studies 47 (1). Kingston: Arthur Lewis Institutue of Social and Economic Studies.

Veal, Michael E. 2007. Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Anthony Bogues


views updated May 23 2018


Reggae is a late twentieth-century black musical phenomenon that draws deeply from Afro-Jamaican religious, dance, and musical practices while positing a distinctive series of meanings and representations about slavery, colonialism, history, and Africa. These meanings have been largely influenced by the theology, cultural practices, and language of Rastafari. In the late 1960s Larry Marshall's Nanny Goat with its organ shuffle was one of the signals of the birth of a new musical sound. This sound was crafted in the studios of producers such as Coxsone Dodd and Arthur "Duke" Reid. The musicians who comprised the various studio bands along with the singers who experimented with musical forms lived in districts of Jones Town, Trench Town, or Denham Town, located in the western end of Jamaica's capital city and populated by thousands of migrants bringing religious and other cultural traditions from rural Jamaica. These musicians were inspired by two musical currents: indigenous ska and African-American rhythm and blues.

Ska was an early 1960s urban musical synthesis that transformed twentieth-century Jamaican popular musical culture. It replaced mento, a musical form that was born of the cultural encounter between African musical traditions and the melodies of European instruments. This encounter produced instruments such as the rhumba scraper. Many claim that the first popular indigenous Jamaican music record was the Folkes Brothers' Oh Carolina. With the nyabinghi -style repeater drumming of Count Ossie holding the entire spine of the track together, the song became an exemplar of the different ingredients that eventually merged to create reggae. When Derrick Morgan sang "Forward March" in honor of Jamaican independence, he did so to the hard driving, horn blowing, and rhythm section of the studio band. Ska was big band music influenced by jazz and swing. But ska sped up the second

beat while slowing down the fourth, so that the music seemed off beat with loose skips to it that would then be reconciled in the male dances of the "legs" and "splits." The ska musical pantheon of horn, drum, bass, and piano players includes Tommy Cook, Roland Alphonso, Dizzy Moore, Rico Rodriguez, Lloyd Knibbs, Lloyd Brevett, Jackie Mitoo, and perhaps the most accomplished of them all, Don Drummond. This group eventually came together as the Skatalites, and their musical skills remain a rich archive of Jamaican music.

There is no popular Jamaican music without the dance steps. For Jamaican popular music the dance steps were often created in the dances in which the ubiquitous sound system provided thousands of watts. With names in the 1970s such as Black Harmony, Black Scorpio, Black Roots, Gemini, Jack Ruby, and perhaps the most dynamic of them all, King Tubby's Hi Fi, the sound system dances became sites in which audience, dancers, and music were integrated into a tight fit. When the audience members are primarily urban dwellers alienated from official society, then the relationship between the music, musicians, and audience often becomes a practice of countersignification. This is clearly illustrated by the morphing of ska into the musical form of rock steady. In the transition the music slowed down, the loose skip was transformed into a tighter bass, and the fast-paced ska dance movements became languid movements of the shoulders and hands operating in different time to the pelvic motions. The combined effect of the dance and music was a sense of dread, of bodies about to explode: The figure that best represented this was the "rude bwoy." The rude bwoy was unemployed, had lost faith in the dream of political independence, and chafed under the postcolonial dispensation of class and color. Their behavior was a direct confrontation with the conceptions of working-class black respectability and official ideas about how the new Jamaican citizen should comport himself. The era of the rude bwoys produced singers and groups such as The Wailers, Heptones, Ethiopians, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, and Ken Boothe, as well as producer Prince Buster. Two songs were exemplars of this period: Prince Buster's "Judge Dread" and The Wailers' appeal to the rude bwoys to "Simmer Down." The immediate roots of reggae are therefore to be found in the urban popular Jamaican culture of the dispossessed that developed in the island's postindependence period.

In reggae the drum and bass become pronounced. The singer is given scope, the horns surround the bridge segments of the music, and the dancer skips and moves with feet that are now free from the chains of racial slavery while the body moves in memory of the Middle Passage. There are many streams of reggae, but one of the most popular streams is sometimes called roots rock reggae. This music relies heavily upon the message it delivers. From Marley's Trench Town Rock to the Abyssinians' classic Satta Massagana to Gregory Isaacs's Roughneck, reggae music operates in the languages of black struggle and redemption. This is the music of groups and singers with names such as Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, and Culture. The emergence of reggae also saw the development of creative producers who were musical techno-innovators creating new sounds within the general "riddim" structure of the music. Here Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio was the most important site. Roots reggae's musical vocabulary explores the New World black experience through the themes of exile, redemption, and imagery of Africa and slavery. These themes are shaped by Rastafari and therefore are often expressed in the language of black prophecy. As reggae became internationally popular, it carried with it the freight of Rastafari. In the contemporary period, reggae has remained the preferred musical idiom of what is sometimes called "conscious" or "culture" music as distinct from dance hall.

If the internal Jamaican migration eventually led to reggae as a musical and cultural practice, then external migration allowed the music to develop another distinct genre. Here the story is about the passage from Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop" to the drum and bass (sometimes called jungle music) of artists like LTJ Bukem. Jamaican music arrived in the United Kingdom on board the Empire Windrush in 1948 as part of the cultural makeup of the newly arrived West Indians. Initially it was the cloak of home comfort, something in which the new arrivals could wrap themselves in the strange gray land of the former colonial power.

However, as these new communities put down roots and second-generation West Indians began searching for an identity that located them in the United Kingdomwhile retaining the connections to the Caribbeanthe music changed, and black British identity became a locus for a radical transformation and representation of the self. The first wave of this change occurred in the 1970s with the development of "lovers rock," ostensibly as the antithesis to the more bass-heavy Rasta-influenced roots and culture forms that dominated the reggae scene in the 1970s. In lovers rock the baselines were unmistakably reggae but with an added emphasis on melodic composition and lyrics that dealt almost exclusively with matters of the heart. This reflected a mainstream pop music influence as well as that of soul music. Powered by labels such as Lovers Rock, Arawak, Santic, and Hawkeye and featuring artists such as Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson, lovers rock enjoyed some mainstream success before petering out in the 1980s when the fun pop sensibilities that it embraced were rejected for a harder, bass heavy sound.

This is not to say that Rastafari and roots reggae became lost in translation. More traditional forms were being produced by the likes of Steel Pulse and the dub poet Linton Kewsi Johnson, bubbling under the more commercially accessible lovers rock and satisfying the desire for musical content that directly expressed the problems faced by young blacks. Police brutality, employment difficulties, and other social inequalities were all covered, maintaining the social commentary/criticism that had long been part of reggae, as well as keeping open and vibrant the direct link to Jamaica. In the 1980s, when the conservative political ideology of Thatcherism took hold and young black men in particular found it increasingly difficult to obtain jobs, lovers rock began to lose its appeal and was eventually replaced by "drum and bass." This musical form developed out of the network of sound systems modeled on the sound systems of Jamaica, complete with selectors and box boys. The best known of these was Soul II Soul. Drum and bass practitioners like Goldie, LTJ, and Roni Size started life as mixers on sound systems across the country in such places as Bristol before branching out into music production. With its elongated basslines and irregular, fast-paced drum patterns voiced by the MCs, drum and bass quickly became the voice of disaffected young blacks.

Though its style was more reminiscent of the dance-hall style that dominates sound systems in twenty-first-century Jamaica, the influences did not stop there. Hiphop shares some similarities in production techniques. More recently, jazz sensibilities that allowed improvisation have shaped a new musical style dubbed "intelligent drum and bass." A key individual in this move is LTJ Bukem and his Good Looking/Looking Good record label. A good example of this new form is the title track of Bukem's 2000

release, "Journey Inwards," in which the shimmering sounds of a keyboard caress and envelop the rhythm created by an upright bass.

But reggae has not only followed a Jamaican diaspora. It has become one of the most popular international musical forms, with artists deploying its rhythmical syntax in Africa, Europe, and beyond. The CD Reggae Over Africa (2000), with tracks of Japanese reggae and major tracks by the South African artist Lucky Dube, illustrates this.

In the end reggae remains a form of black cultural production in which its practitioners speak to conditions of oppression and experiences of Africa and peoples of African descent. Its lyrical and musical power resides in its messages and sounds of redemption.

See also Dancehall; Marley, Bob; Rastafarianism; Reggae Aesthetics


Bradley Lloyd. Bass Culture. London: Viking, 2000.

Bradley, Lloyd, Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music. London: BBC, 2002.

Hebdige Dick. Cut 'n' Mix. London: Methuen, 1987.

Thompson Dave. Reggae and Caribbean Music. San Francisco: Backbeat, 2002.

anthony bogues (2005)

machel bogues (2005)


views updated May 18 2018


Reggae is a broad term encompassing a related variety of musical styles that emerged from the island nation of Jamaica after 1960. These styles include ska, rock steady, reggae, and dancehall, all of which swept Jamaican music in distinct stylistic waves, one after the other, during the 1960s and 1970s. Musically, these styles share a common loping rhythm that accents the subsidiary beat. Reggae, however, is many things to many people. It can be seen as merely another great Caribbean dance rhythm, but at the same time many of its songs have highly political overtones. It is also often associated with the Rastafarian religion, an ascetic, millenarian sect that originated in part in the back-to-Africa teachings of Marcus Garvey in the 1920s and 1930s. Since its arrival on the world scene after 1960, reggae and its associated musical styles have become immensely popular around the world. It is one of the world's first truly international musical forms, both in its origins and in its worldwide appeal.

Reggae's origins come from a unique blend of Caribbean musical styles and American rhythm and blues from the 1950s. Prior to World War II, the most popular musical style in Jamaica was mento, which drew from Caribbean forms such as calypso, merengue, and rumba, as well as older African-derived folk styles. After World War II, Jamaicans began to hear R&B music being broadcast from the United States, particularly from New Orleans. In comparison to the BBC-style official radio programming coming from within Jamaica, these R&B sounds were a breath of fresh air. Early American R&B pioneers such as Louis Jordan, Roscoe Gordon, and Fats Domino were immensely popular in Jamaica during the 1950s. These records were also promoted in Jamaica by sound-system operators who carried portable speakers and record players in their trucks, playing at parties and selling records. As the classic phase of R&B music dried up in the late 1950s, Jamaicans turned to producing R&B-inspired music themselves. The first result of these efforts was "ska," a hybrid of R&B and mento musical forms that featured shuffling rhythms, accented on the second and fourth beats, a chopped guitar or piano sound, and a loose horn section. Ska became the dominant musical style in Jamaica after 1960, propelled by such groups as the Skatalites, the Ska Kings, the Soul Vendors, the Maytals, and Millie Small, whose song "My Boy Lollipop" was an international hit. Much of this music was produced by new Jamaican-run studios, notably those of Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, and Prince Buster, all of whom were veterans of the sound-system circuit. Jamaica's political independence from Great Britain in 1962 further strengthened the desire to produce all-Jamaican musical forms, and the dance rhythms of ska provided a soundtrack to the celebrations that accompanied independence. The era of ska's dominance lasted until about 1966, although the style continues to have adherents and practitioners, especially in the United States and Great Britain, where it was revived in the late 1970s.

By 1966, following American R&B's evolution into gospel-inspired soul music, the ska style gave way to slower rhythms called "rock steady," after the Alton Ellis hit "Get Ready to Rock Steady." Other musicians, such as Hopeton Lewis with "Take It Easy" and the Heptones with "Ting a Ling," contributed to the new rock-steady style. The music slowed down, and the horns largely disappeared, replaced in dominance by a more melodic bass line. While rock steady was certainly dance music, it was not without its social commentary aspects: Desmond Dekker's "Shanty Town" commented on life in the ghetto communities around Kingston; the Ethiopians sang about the wave of strikes afflicting Jamaica in 1968 with their song "Everything Crash." As innovative as rock steady was in Jamaican music, combining sweeter melodies, lyrics worth listening to, and new rhythmic combinations, the rock steady era lasted only until about 1969.

Replacing rock steady was a new sound, reggae, a name that eventually would be applied to all of Jamaican music. The exact meaning of the term is unclear, some claiming it means ragged or street rough. Others defined reggae as a general term referring to poor people who were suffering. For others it was simply a beat. Musically, reggae slowed the rock steady beat down even further with a stronger bass driving the beat, a loping, chopping guitar sound, and more rhythmic freedom for the drummer to play around the beat of the bass. Early reggae records, such as Toots and the Maytals' "Do the Reggay" blended elements of rock steady and reggae. Much of this new sound came from new producers such as Lee Perry, Clancy Eccles, and Bunny Lee, who established their own studios in the late 1960s. Unable to hire established studio musicians, they turned to younger talents such as Aston and Carlton Barrett and Leroy Wallace. These producers and musicians established the new reggae beat that soon became the most popular style in Jamaica, eclipsing both ska and rock steady.

Of all the various groups to emerge from the reggae sound, none had a greater impact than Bob Marley & the Wailers. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Marley became the greatest reggae star ever, with an enduring international appeal. Born in 1945, Marley grew up in Trench Town, a rough slum in Kingston. He formed the Wailers with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone in 1960, and they made their first recordings in 1962. In the later 1960s, Marley became an adherent of Rastafarianism. In 1970, they signed a recording contract with Chris Blackwell's Island Records. Blackwell gave Marley the money and artistic freedom to do largely as he pleased. What followed was a string of some of the most influential reggae recordings in the genre's history. On albums such as Catch a Fire and early singles, Marley and the Wailers took on political, religious, and social topics, from ghetto conditions in "Trench Town Rock" and "Con-crete Jungle" to "Natty Dread" on Rastafarianism. Tosh and Livingstone left the group in the early 1970s, but Marley continued on, releasing such reggae classics as "No Woman No Cry," "Get Up Stand Up," "Exodus," and "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)." His 1975 album, Live, was a bestselling record that encapsulated the live power of Bob Marley & the Wailers' sound. Marley died of cancer in 1981 at 36 years of age.

Along with the success of such reggae ambassadors as Marley and the Wailers during the 1970s, another event that made reggae an international cultural force was the release of the 1973 film The Harder They Come. This film, by white Jamaican filmmaker Perry Henzell, starred reggae singer Jimmy Cliff as a young street tough (or "rude boy" in Jamaican slang terms) who comes to Kingston, records a hit record, and then gets in trouble with the law. Although fictional, The Harder They Come was based on several years of research by Henzell on the culture that surrounded reggae music. The story of success, oppression, and rebellion hit a literal and figurative chord with young people around the world, awakening an interest in Jamaican music and culture that has never completely subsided. The soundtrack album that accompanied it, which included such stars as Jimmy Cliff, the Melodians, the Maytals, and Desmond Dekker, introduced reggae music to millions around the world.

By the early 1980s, reggae was evolving once again. DJs had always been important in Jamaican popular music, bringing music to the masses and sometimes acting as producers of reggae artists. DJs began to dominate Jamaican music in the late 1970s and early 1980s in a style that came to be known as "dancehall." DJs such as Ranking Trevor, U Brown, and Trinity began to revive an earlier style from the 1960s, called "toasting," that had DJs adding vocal effects or talking over instrumental tracks. With toasting, this was an ad-hoc musical form. In the late 1970s, these younger DJs began to record their own songs in the toasting style, which was dubbed "dancehall." The dancehall style became the dominant musical form in reggae with such performers as Yellowman, Sugar Minott, and U Roy, and had direct connections to the emerging rap or hip-hop style among African-American performers in the United States in the early 1980s. The dancehall style continued to be the dominant form of reggae in the late 1990s.

Although the dancehall style now predominates, the earlier Jamaican musical forms continued through the 1980s and 1990s. The reggae style was by no means dead, and groups such as Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Third World, and a host of other stars carried the reggae tradition forward. Ska enjoyed a revival in Britain in the late 1970s as young English musicians discovered the music through the many Jamaicans and West Indians living in London. Such groups as the Selector, Madness, the Specials, the Beat, and hundreds of other groups revived the ska sound, using its musical forms while often combining them with socially conscious lyrics that commented on life in Margaret Thatcher's Great Britain. The ska revival also infected the United States, and the style continued to draw a large cult following both in the United States and in Britain during the 1990s.

—Timothy Berg

Further Reading:

Chang, Kevin O'Brien, and Wayne Chen. Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1998.

Manuel, Peter, et al. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1995.

Tougher than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music. Mango Records, 1993.

Ward, Ed. "Reggae." The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Edited by Jim Miller. New York, Rolling Stone Press, 1980.

White, Timothy. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. New York, Owl Books, 1998.


views updated May 23 2018

REGGAE [Probably from JAMAICAN CREOLE rege(-rege) rags, ragged clothes, perhaps with echoes of AmE ragtime]. Music with a heavy four-beat rhythm, with accents on one and three rather than two and four as in rock music. Reggae began in Kingston, Jamaica, and has cultural, social, and political implications in the Caribbean, UK, US, and elsewhere. The lyrics propose solutions to black problems ranging from social revolution to redemptionist prophecy, and are often a vehicle for Rastafarianism, as in:Babylon system is the vampire
Sucking the children day by day.
( Bob Marley , ‘Babylon System’, 1979)
I hear the words of the Rasta man say
Babylon your throne gone down, gone down.
( Bob Marley and the Wailers , ‘Rasta Man Chint’)

Lyrics are sung in Jamaican Creole, Jamaican English, or a mixture of both, ‘often expressing rejection of established “whiteman” culture’ ( F. G. Cassidy & Robert Le Page, Dictionary of Jamaican English, 1980). See DUB, RAP, RASTA TALK.


views updated May 21 2018

reg·gae / ˈregā; ˈrāgā/ • n. a style of popular music with a strongly accented subsidiary beat, originating in Jamaica. Reggae evolved in the late 1960s from ska and other local variations on calypso and rhythm and blues, and became widely known in the 1970s through the work of Bob Marley; its lyrics are much influenced by Rastafarian ideas.


views updated Jun 08 2018

reggae. Rhythmic mus. indigenous to black culture of Jamaica and originating in mid-1960s; extremely eclectic, being drawn from African religious mus. and cult drum mus., Christian black revival songs, and liturgical mus. of Rastafarian sect. Words usually relate news, social gossip, and political comment. Reggae spread into commercialized jazz field, being known first as ‘Rudie Blues’, then ‘Ska’, later ‘Blue Beat’, and ‘Rock Steady’.


views updated May 29 2018

reggae Form of West Indian popular music. It first achieved prominence in the mid-1960s, growing out of rock-steady and ska. It is characterized by a hypnotically repetitive back beat. Modern variations on the form include ragga and lover's rock. Bob Marley was largely responsible for bringing reggae to a worldwide audience.