Want to know the real Reggae background history?

Want to know the real Reggae background history?

When Christopher Columbus goes ashore after a long journey across the ocean in 1492 he initially is not in America but in Jamaica. The Spaniards first kill all the aborigines and then try to defend it against the British with their slaves brought from Ghana. But it doesn’t work. The Ghanaian slaves decide to hide in the woods and the island falls into the hands of the British. In the centuries that follow, they fill Jamaica with Angolan and Indian slaves. Therefore, Jamaica has traditionally hosted many different cultures, all of which brought their own folk music, as well as their faith and the accompanying sacred music. This has resulted in a music culture with a unique mixture of styles.

Dance Styles

One is the danceable Mento, which is very popular until 1950. When the small radio sets become affordable in the fifties, however, Jamaica turns into an island of Rhythm and Blues that is emitted from nearby New Orleans. Music fans regularly travel back and forth to this American city to buy single LPs of the popular Rhythm and Blues bands and artists. Back in Jamaica they then play those LPs during parties and celebrations. This leads to the very first sound systems: a music installation that is anchored on a sound truck, which provides feasts of music. After a while, more and more of these party trucks where created, which resulted in a lot of competition between these moving discotheques. The popularity with the public must continually be earned over and over again. Staying ahead of the competition was mostly a matter of always having the latest and greatest music. That music was at that time manufactured by the people themselves, recorded and produced entirely in self-owned recording studios.

Most of the music of these Jamaican musicians that played and recorded in the late fifties and early sixties strongly resembled the American rhythm & blues. To please the crowd that always wanted to dance, they play it pretty fast and they omit the quieter and more tranquil passages. After several years of experiencing and adapting, this results in Jamaica’s own music genre: Ska. This is characterized by a dominant after (or off-) beat rhythm, in which the guitar accentuates the second and fourth beat in quadruple time. Ska is initially instrumental, so without any vocals, simply because it was initially intended as dance music. However, some sound system DJs try to sing to it, or since the fast pace of the music, they try to speak to it in a high pace.

Freedom

While the freedom is widely embraced and celebrated in the beginning, the quality of life starts declining for the majority of the population. As a result, DJs and musicians begin to express their dissatisfaction through an, on purpose, somewhat slower variant of Ska, named Rocksteady. The languid music allows for loads of emotion to be put in the vocals and even to the adding of beautiful choral harmonies.

In the late sixties, the Ska and Rocksteady genres slowy become exhausted and producers, their bands and their sound systems start looking for something new. This leads to the coupling of the Rocksteady music to the typical rhythm of the twenty years earlier so popular mento. And so: the reggae genre was born.
Some believe that the ‘real’ establishment of the term reggae is in 1968, when Toots and the Maytals used it for the first time in their Rocksteady hit: “Do the Reggay:

 

 

As we now all know, the reggae music genre has truly conquered the world. Nowadays you can find reggae almost everywhere; from Europe to the Caribbean and from Latin America to Australia.

On the one hand, this is thanks to the charismatic personality of Bob Marley, who put the genre on the map in the seventies. But the immense success of reggae is also due to the clear political and social identity of the reggae artists to which especially huge amounts of people in many third world countries can relate.

More specifically, the lyrics of many reggae songs link directly to Africa. The artists often use stories about the years of colonization and enslavement of many countries in Africa as inspiration. The rebelling against the government and the movement that strongly criticized the authorities are the inspiration of many famous artists. This ensures recognition by people from many parts of Africa and that’s why the music has been and still is so widely embraced there.

Reggae is of course not the end destination of the musical evolution; out of Reggae multiple sub genres have arisen:

The Reggae Movement!

In the 1970s, the Roots Reggae movement comes into existence. Roots Reggae artists try to return to the core of reggae, where it all began: the ghettos of Kingston. This subgenre is also often associated with people glorifying the Rastafari faith.

Famous names are Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, The Wailers and The Wailing Souls.

Around the same time, the reggae music gets new influences from black soul music. Close harmony singers like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye become the example for reggae artists and thus for a new version of reggae. Reggae artists then start to create polyphonic vocals and even covers of soul songs. Sometimes the soul reggae artists simply sing soul on top of a reggae song.

Known representatives of this style are Heptones, The Wailing Souls, The Maytones and Horace Andy.

Even before the 70s, the dub genre is formed out of the rocksteady and reggae music. The early dub music songs are usually instrumental versions of existing songs. These dub versions were made to be played at the earlier described sound systems on which the DJs would try to speak. Dub soon became very popular. King Tubby was the first to add a variety of sound effects to existing records. With the much later invented mixers and samplers, dub artists started adding increasingly weird effects and slow hypnotic bass lines. A common effect in dub music is the echo.

Known names in the dub his King Tubby, Joe Gibbs, Lee Perry and Mad Professor.

In the mid-1980s, the computer and the digital recording technique become more and more popular. In the studio many instruments can be digitally simulated. In Jamaica, this leads to the birth of the Ragga genre: dance music (often with vocals) combined with electronic instruments.

Famous names are Shaggy, Chaka Demus, Shabba Ranks and Buju Banton. Ragga has a faster variant in the dancehall music.

As talked about before, reggae also becomes incredibly popular in Africa, which leads to artists and bands mixing reggae with African music and thus to an African subgenre of reggae.

Known African reggae artists are Alpha Blondy (Ivory Coast) and Lucky Dube.

Reggae and Salsa. Getting Personal: My Amsterdam Salsa trip

Getting personal


Apart from being an amateur reggae singer and guitar player and of course one of the biggest fans of Toots and the Maytals, I like to dance. And not only to reggae, but also to salsa music. Now, I just got back from a holiday full of salsa dancing in Amsterdam. And while I don’t think I have to explain the link between Amsterdam and reggae, I think the link between salsa and reggae can use some explanation.

In the last article, I wrote about the unique feel or swing of reggae music, and why that makes you want to dance. It goes without saying that the feel of salsa music, although it also wants to make you dance, is completely different to the one of reggae. I can’t take all the credit I learned a lot from my teacher at my personal best Salsa Amsterdam dancing school. However, there are some interesting familiarities between the two music styles that I would like to discuss.

 

Blending genres

First of all, both genres have their roots in the Caribbean islands, only a few hundred kilometers away from each other: Jamaica for reggae and Cuba for salsa. Both genres were born out of a mixture of two other genres, one being indigenous, and the other one being non-native.

 

For reggae, this was Mento and the foreign rhythm and blues. In the case of salsa, Spanish folk music was mixed with the music from the slaves that were kidnapped from Africa. The music of the latter was characterized by rousing rhythms and the question and answer style of singing (the lead singer sings something, which is repeated or answered by the other band members). Hence, the accompanying melodies and chord constructions in this root version of salsa that is called ‘Son’ have a European character; wile the rhythm and the singing have an African character. Mostly former slaves from the Ivory Coast and Angola have had much influence on the Son. It is striking how cheerful and upbeat the music sounds, despite the difficult times that the slaves must have had in Cuba.

The song “Chan, Chan” by the Bueno Vista Social Club is one of favorite examples of the Son music genre:

Percussion

In addition, percussion plays an important role in both musical styles, as they are the propelling force of the rhythm and thus the feel of the song. Guiros, toms, shakers and especially timbales are vital in a lot of reggae songs. A lot of reggae songs even start with a Timbales fill. For example, check out the beginning of this awesome Bob Marley song (or just the entire song of course):

Here’s a lot of overlap with salsa music percussion: Timbales, guiros, and shakers are, next to congas and bongos, more than regular features in salsa songs.

Amsterdam Salsa

Picture from an Amsterdam Salsa dance show setup. Exactly the same as a Reggae Show

Dance

But what I like most about salsa that I kind of miss in the contemporary reggae scene, is the dance community. During my two and a half weeks in Amsterdam I danced a lot. And what I keep noticing is that in the salsa community, parties are organized specifically as dance events, and where actually everyone dances. In my opinion, that is different to the contemporary reggae communities. The reggae parties are absolutely awesome, but there is not such a strong emphasis on dancing. And that’s why, sometimes, I wish the current-day reggae scene would resemble the old-style sound system trucks reggae parties a little bit more! But then again, there is no place where the atmosphere is better than at the modern reggae parties even though the Salsa Amsterdam scene is incredible!! Hope to see you there!

 

One love!

 

Welcome to the Toots And The Maytals Site!

Welcome to the Toots And The Maytals Site!


Finally! the Toots and the Maytals fan site is back! I hope you have a wicked stay and learn much more about my personals heroes and icons from the Toots and The Maytals Band. Want to know more about me? I’m Isaac Barrington the author of this website. Read my store here! Got any requests or suggestion please do contact me.

I will leave you for now with the Rototom Sunsplash epic 2011 performance by Toots!

 

Blessings!

Isaac