A History of Reggae

history of reggae

 

Reggae

Reggae developed as a genre in the Jamaican ghettos during the late 1960s. It is characterized by a strong bass line, one-drop rhythm with accents on the third beat of each bar, and simple repetitive chord structures. Lyrics feature harmony, often in Jamaican dialect, sometimes with social or political themes.

History

During the late ’50s and early ’60s Jamaican folk music called “mento” mixed and combined with imported jazz and R&B to create”ska.” Most Jamaicans could not afford their own radios, so large lawn dances were organized in open areas with music broadcast from sound systems, like large mobile discotheques. To this day Jamaican music is produced primarily for these direct venues.

CHECK OUT THE HISTORY OF PIANOS

During the later ’60s there was a gradual slowdown of ska, which led to a new genre called “rock steady.” The slowdown has been attributed to everything from a particularly hot summer forcing dancers to slow down to growth of the “rude boys” youth movement, whose members preferred a slower dance speed, as well as to a simple need for something new and different.

reggae bandWhile ska was a cheerful. optimistic genre, rock steady focused more on the trials and tribulations of life in the Jamaican ghettos. Electric instruments were dominant in rock steady and the bass guitar was promoted to lead instrument.

Rock steady adopted a one-drop rhythm and guitar parts began to double up, leading to a new genre. How exactly that genre became known as reggae is a source of controversy. Frederick “Toots” Hibbert’s 1968 track “Do the Reggay” is often sited as the first source of the name being associated with the genre. However, some say that the word “reggae” was first used around 1960 to describe ragged dance style. Others say it comes from “streggae” a Jamaican term for poorly dressed women.

As a genre, reggae is often associated with the Rastafarian religion, which grew in popularity following Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1962. Although not all reggae musicians are Rastafarian, the god Jah and the sacramental use of ganga or marijuana are sometimes subjects of reggae music.

Most historians agree that Bob Marley was one of the first musicians to bring reggae to a worldwide audience. Although he died in 1981, at age 36, his music lives on through his children.

Instruments

To this day, reggae continues to evolve as a genre. Characterized by a laid back style, the key to playing reggae is knowing where each instrument drops in relation to the beat.

Typically the bass guitar is the lead instrument in reggae, acting as the rhythmic and melodic hook (or riddim) that defines a song. A guitar plays chords on beats two and four, known as skank. Sometimes another guitar plays the bass line, only one octave higher, and occasionally may add a rock or blues-style solo to a song.

A range of percussion instruments are typical in reggae bands. Usually there’s a standard drum kit, with the snare drum tuned very high. Bongos are sometimes played in improvised patterns and solos, especially African0style cross-rhythms, and cowbells, claves, and shakers provide additional patterns.

Traditionally reggae bands included a piano, although today they are more likely to us an organ, keyboard, or synthesizer. A horn section-saxophone, trombone, and/or trumpet- are part of a traditional reggae band, but the horn line is sometimes covered by synthesizer.

Resources to Play

ListenReggae Bass: The Complete Guide to Reggae and Jamaican Bass Linesing to the music of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Third World, and Toots Hibbert will give you a great overall introduction to reggae and its classic “riddims” which tend to be repeated in songs. The website www.reggaetrain.com has links to reggae music, artist, and festival information.

Reggae Bass: The Complete Guide to Reggae and Jamaican Bass How to Play Reggae Keyboard: A complete Method for Mastering the Many Styles of Reggae Piano and OrganLines (1998) by Ed Friedland offers performance tips, authentic grooves, and riddims with standard notation and tab, plus a CD with 47 demo tracks.

How to Play Reggae Keyboard: A Complete Method for Mastering the Many Styles of Reggae Piano and Organ (1999) by Jimmy Peart is a step How to Play Reggae Guitar: A complete Guide to Tablature and Standard Notationby step guide to reggae rhythmic and melodic techniques.

How to Play Reggae Guitar: A Complete Guide in Tablature and Standard Notation (1994) by Ray Hitchins teaches authentic reggae guitar.

Ultimate Reggae: 42 of the Best for Piano, Vocal, and GuitarUltimate Reggae: 42 of the Best for Piano, Vocal, and Guitar (2005) can get you started playing and singing reggae. All of these books are available from Hal Leonard Corporation.

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Instead of being dedicated to one instrument, young musicians, or professionals, MakingMusicMag.com is a lifestyle resource for all music makers, regardless of age, instrument, or ability. We focus on providing educational articles teaching people how to play an instrument, but we also favor travel pieces, music related health articles, interesting news stories, and plenty more.

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