It was Bob Marley who made reggae into an international phenomenon.
In the wake of his success in the 1970s came a host of other names, and it
wasn't long before reggae became an established genre of music. But reggae
was simply the growth, the development, of what had been happening in Jamaican
music. Beginning with ska, and then rock steady, the loudest island in the
world had declared its real musical independence, and had already made an
imprint on the world, albeit a small one. |
If you want to take it back to the beginning, you have to blame it on jazz.
One of America's great contributions to musical culture, it swept around the
world. Through radio broadcasts and records, Jamaica, then still and British
colony, got the fever in the 1940s. Bands sprang up to entertain tourists,
like Eric Dean's Orchestraand future giants like trombonist Don
Drummond and sax man Tommy McCook learned the licks and honed their
chops on the music.|
With the advent of the 1950s, American popular music began to fragment. |
jazz, be-bop became the new movement. Rhythm and blues, the black style formerly
called race music, started coming on strong. The era of the jazz orchestra
was slowly fading as music grew harder, stronger, more youthful. That spread
to Jamaica, just as it did to other parts of the globe.
And Jamaica itself was beginning to change.
It had been a mostly rural economy,
but now people were flooding into the capital, Kingston, in search of their
own piece of postwar prosperity. On the weekends Kingstonians old and new
would gather for dances in the open spaces called ?lawns' all over the city,
where sound systems (essentially loud, primitive mobile discos) would throb
with the latest sounds from the States. If you didn't have a radio - and in
the poor economy, many didn't - this was how you heard the new records. |
R&B was the diet of the sound systems. Fast, raw, and with a thick beat,
it played well to both young and old. Sound system owners would travel to
the U.S. to buy new records, or have agents ship them over. It was a constant
war to have the newest, freshest sounds.
A popular disc might be played 15
or 20 times during the course of a dance. |
The kick start to homegrown Jamaican music came with rock'n'roll. As it became
the dominant form in America during the latter half of the ?50s, the number
of R&B releases dwindled to a trickle - not enough to satisfy the insatiable
appetites of the sound systems. Something had to be done.
The first person to act was Edward Seaga,
who would go on to become
Prime Minister of Jamaica. In 1958 he found WIRL - West Indian Records Limited
- and began releasing records by local artists. They were blatant copies of
American music, but that barely mattered; they were new and playable on the
The same year, Chris Blackwell (a well-to-do white Jamaican,
related to the Blackwells of Cross & Blackwell fame) got his own start as
a record magnate, putting out a disc by the then-unknown singer Laurel
Aitken, and within twelve months both Reid and Dodd, seeing the possibility
of having records available exclusively on their systems, had jumped on the
bandwagon with the Treasure Isle and Studio One labels, respectively.
once a pressing plant, Caribbean Records, had been established on the island
(meaning the masters no longer had to be shipped to America for pressing),
the Jamaican recording industry was well and truly born.