Reggae music has changed the face of music, the face of Jamaica and the face of the world. From a small island of less than three million people, thousands of songs have traveled the whole world, influencing billions.
Reggae music started in Kingston Jamaica in the 50s. Jamaicans were inspired by the Jazz and R&B records that would reach Jamaica through American radio and by American records which were used by Jamaican sound systems.
Reggae evolved from Ska, a faster version of American Jazz and Rocksteady, a Jamaican form of R&B. In the 50s and early 60s, Reggae songs would mostly follow the same subject matter of R&B with love songs and songs of social progress inspired by the Civil Rights movement.
The first reggae hit was a pop song by the name of “My Boy Lolliop” by Millie, Still it wasn’t till the movie “The Harder They Come” came out in 1972, that reggae exploded onto the international scene. The movie not only gave a realistic portrait of Jamaica but also exposed the music of Jimmy Cliff, Toots And The Maytals and others. The soundtrack represented the struggle and suffering that was going on in Jamaica with songs like “Many Rivers To Cross,” “Pressure Drop” and the title song “The Harder They Come”
Bob Marley, a biracial Jamaican who had moved from the country to the ghetto of Kingston, would carry on the music made popular by the Harder they Come. Marley would form the Wailers along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. A white Jamaican by the name of Chris Blackwell would give the Wailers international acclaim through his record label Island Records.
Marley’s songs like “Concrete Jungle,” “Get Up Stand Up” represented not only the underclass and their struggle in Jamaica, but the struggle of “sufferahs” worldwide.
Marley would become an ambassador for reggae and Jamaica. Arists such as Eric Clapton would cover his songs and other artists like the Beatles, Paul Simon and The Rolling Stones would all make reggae songs, incorporating reggae into mainstream rock and pop music.
Marley would also inspire scores of Jamaican artists, such as Dennis Brown, Aswad, Third World and Steel Pulse, who would all incorporate pro-black, anti colonialist, anti establishment music that encouraged Black pride. In England reggae would strongly influence the punk rock movement and artists like The Clash and The Police.
When Marley died in 1981, a new music was being born, a music that still represented the ghettoes of Jamaica. Dancehall reggae was born in the Dancehalls of Jamaica. More rhythmic and less melodic than the music Marley would make and with messages often about sex and violence, rather than love and peace, Dancehall became the music of fun and excitement. Pioneering artists like Yelloman, and Big Youth would help establish the rhythmic singing and risqué subject matter of Dancehall. Dancehall and the sound systems from Jamaica would also migrate to the Bornx where it would help start Hip-Hop music in the 70s.
Today, both Culture and Dancehall are alive and well. Culture artists like Tarrus Riley, Richie Spice and Morgan Heritage keep Marley’s rebel music alive, while Beenie Man, Serani and Vybez Cartel carry on the tradition of risqué lyrics over “riddims” that will make you dance. Marley’s own son, Damian has mixed both forms of music to create a music that inspires people to move both their bodies and their minds.