Reggae is a music genre developed in Jamaica. Reggae may be used in a broad sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, including ska, rocksteady, dub, dancehall and ragga. The term may also be used to distinguish a particular style that originated in the late 1960s. Reggae is founded upon a rhythm style which is characterized by regular chops on the back beat, known as the "bang", played by a rhythm guitarist, and a bass drum hitting on the third beat of each measure, known as "one drop." Characteristically, this beat is slower than in reggae's precursors, ska and rocksteady. Reggae is often associated with the Rastafari movement, which influenced many prominent reggae musicians in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the subject matter of reggae songs deals with many subjects other than Rastafari, with love songs, sexual themes and broad social commentary being particularly well-represented.
Its origins can be found in traditional African Caribbean music as well as US R&B. Ska and rocksteady are 1960s precursors of reggae. In 1963, Jackie Mittoo, pianist with the ska band The Skatalites was asked to run sessions and compose original music by record producer Coxsone Dodd at his Studio One record studio. Mittoo, with the help of drummer Lloyd Knibbs, turned the traditional ska beat into reggae, slowing the rhythm down in the process. Bob Marley, who popularized reggae worldwide, also recorded rocksteady records early in his career. By the late 1960s reggae was already getting radio play in the UK on John Peel's radio show.
It is thought that the word "Reggae" was first used by the Ska group Toots and the Maytals, who coined the phrase in the title of their hit Do the Reggay in the early sixties.
In Jamaica however, new styles are nowadays becoming more popular, among them, dancehall and ragga (also known as raggamuffin). Mixing techniques employed in dub, an instrumental sub-style of reggae, influenced hip hop, drum and bass and other styles. The toasting or dee jaying first used by artists such as U-Roy and Dillinger had a world-wide impact because Jamaican DJ Kool Herc used them as he pioneered a new style that subsequently became hip hop or rap music. In the Jamaican sense of the word, a "DJ" is an "MC" or rapper, whereas the term "DJ" describes the music selector in the US. Therefore what is called dee jaying, toasting or chatting in Jamaica is called rapping in most other parts of the world.
Roots is the name given to specifically Rastafarian reggae music. It is a spiritual type of music, whose lyrics are predominantly in praise of Jah (God).
Recurrent lyrical themes include poverty and resistance to government oppression. The creative pinnacle of roots reggae is arguably in the late 1970s, with singers such as Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy, Barrington Levy, and Lincoln Thompson teaming up with studio producers including Lee 'Scratch' Perry, King Tubby, and Coxsone Dodd. The experimental pioneering of such producers within often restricted technological parameters gave birth to dub music, and is seen by some music historians as one of the earliest (albeit analogue) contributions to the development of techno.
Roots reggae was an important part of Jamaican culture, and whilst other forms of reggae have replaced it in terms of popularity in Jamaica (Dancehall for instance), roots reggae has found a small, but growing, niche globally.
One of the main themes of reggae music has been social liberation. This has both political and religious aspects. The music attempts to raise the political consciousness of the audience:
The American dream
Is not what it seem.
Why do you slumber?
(Jimmy Cliff, "American Dream" 1983)
Most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
So stand up for your right.
(Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, "Get Up, Stand Up")
Repression of many kinds, and especially repression linked with the prohibition of ganja (marijuana), which is considered a sacrament by Rastafarians, is another recurring theme in the music.
References to cannabis have always been controversial, as have homophobic and misogynistic lyrics.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
The example below shows a simple one measure reggae pattern. The guitar is played will an upstroke on each "&."
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
up up up up
Try playing this pattern with the chord progression to Bob Marley's Stir It Up shown below.
| C / / / | C / / / | F / / / | G / / / |