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.


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.