Last month UNESCO added Reggae music to the list of international cultural treasures.
So how did this Jamaican music evolve and why the accolades?
While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, the term Reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that evolved out of the earlier genres of Ska and Rocksteady.
The first Jamaican recording studio opened in 1951 and recorded “Mento” music, a fusion of European and African folk dance music. Ska originated in Jamaica, combining musical element of Mento and Calypso with a bit of American Jazz and also Rhythm and Blues. Ska music was made for dancing, being upbeat, quick and exciting. The first Ska record was cut in 1959. Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” (1964) was the first worldwide ska hit.
Rocksteady originated in Jamaica around 1966 as a successor to Ska and a precursor to Reggae. Dances performed to Rocksteady are less energetic than the earlier Ska dances. The first international Rocksteady hit was “Hold Me Tight” (1968) by the American soul singer Johnny Nash. This hit reached number one in Canada.
The Reggae genre evolved in the 1960’s from the Rocksteady and Ska musical styles. The term Reggae was derived from rege-rege, a Jamaican phrase meaning “rags or ragged clothing,” and was used to denote the raggedy style of music.
Reggae music is recognised by its lament-like chanting and emphasises the syncopated beat. It is distinguishable from other genres in the heavy use of the Jamaican vernacular and the African nyah-bingi drumming style.
Bob Marley is the world’s best known and loved international Reggae ambassador. Marley’s career began in 1963 with Rocksteady band, culminating with the release in 1977 of his internationally acclaim Reggae solo album “Exodus”. Marley was not only a Reggae singer, but a committed Rastafarian and a political activist. Through his music, his words and his actions, he earned forever a place in Reggae fans hearts around the world.
A seminal moment for Reggae was the 1973 release of the movie “The Harder They Come” starring Jimmy Cliff. The movie soundtrack consisted of only reggae hits.
Since the early days in Jamaica, and through to the present day worldwide, Reggae is filled with Social commentary, reflections on life (often by the poor and those marginalised by society), musings on systemic corruption (living in Babylon), a call to love, raising African consciousness, repatriation, teaching self-reliance, and of course rejoicing the blessings of life, and giving praises and exaltations to Jah Rastafari.
Reggae has also been shown to help our canine friends relax.
Reggae is Jamaica’s largest cultural export, and since its humble beginnings from the ghettos of Kingston, reggae has grown to become a worldwide cultural and musical expression. There are reggae bands from every habitable continent of the world.
At its heart and root, Reggae music is still “Rebel Music”, not always easy to pigeon-hole into a neat category or label. Enjoy this Reggae video.