What is Reggae?
Reggae refers to the music genre that existed in the late 1960s in Jamaica and at times, it is used in broader sense of various types of famous dance music in Jamaica. This term represents a certain style of music that has been influenced by the traditional calypso and mento music, including the rhythm and blues and American Jazz.
This music genre integrates musical elements of jazz, mento, and rhythm and blues, African music, calypso and other genres. Offbeat rhythms belongs to the most recognized elements. The reggae tempo has been slower compared to rocksteady and ska. The “call and response” concept is found in the entire reggae music.
This type of music is now widely recognized across the globe and it often incorporates local instruments, while it fuses with other music genres. From Guyana and Venezuela, Reggae en Español has spread through South America. The United Kingdom’s carribean music, including reggae, remains popular since it existed in the late 1960s. At present, they have evolved into various fusions and subgenres. Most reggae artists started their careers in the United Kingdom. As time passes by, the number of European bands and artists who draw inspiration from the Carribean community and Jamaica continuously increases. In Africa, reggae becomes more popular and more recognized as Bob Marley visited in 1980 in Zimbabwe.
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A Short Glimpse to Reggae History
Reggae has been developed in 1960s from rocksteady and SKa. This evolvement has been illustrated by an organ shuffled which was pioneered by some Jamaican musicians. Some of them are Winston Wright and Jackie Mitto. In the early 1968, the first reggae records has been released which are entitled “No More Heartaches” by The Beltones and “Nanny Goat” by Larry Marshall. During the same period, the latest Jamaican sound has spawned great imitators in various parts of the world.
The widely recognized band that time was The Wailers which has been pioneered by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley in 1963. It underwent transition all throughout the 3 stages of Jamaican famous music: reggae, Ska and rocksteady. Such recordings showed the 2 main styles of mento: the jazzy, popular style and the acoustic, rural style. Ken Boothe, Prince Buster, and Desmond Dekker and other great reggae pioneers that existed in the industry.
Furthermore, Millie Small is another pioneer and a Jamaican singer-songwriter became extremely popular internationally for her bluebeat/ska “My Boy Lollipop” cover version. Jamaican producers have been very influential in the ska development into reggae and rocksteady. Some of the popular artists include King Tubby, Joe Gibbs, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Duke Reid, and Coxsone Dodd. The Island Records has been established by Chris Blackwell in 1960 in Jamaica. And after two years, he relocated to England but still continued to introduce Jamaican music to European countries. He established a strong partnership with the Trojan Records of Lee Gopthal in 1968. In 1974, it was released in the United Kingdom by the Saga records.
The influence of Reggae bloomed until it reach the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1972. In September of the same year, Three Dog Night got #1 with the Maytones cover version of the “Black and White”. In November, Johnny Nash hit #1 for 4 weeks with his “I Can See Clearly Now”.
Reggae is like the combination of different musical elements of jazz, calypso, Latin America, African music, mento, R&B (rhythm and blues), and other genres. This has been played in 4/4 time since its symmetrical rhythmic pattern will not lend itself into some time signatures like ¾ time. Such rhythmic pattern is accenting the fourth and second beats in every bar. It blends with the emphasis of the drum on a beat three in order to produce unique phasing sense.
On the other hand, reggae offbeat may be counted so that this will fall between every count as “and” or counted like the half-time feel, twice the tempo to fall on beats two and four. What make reggae different from other music genres are:
- Third beat emphasis;
- Slower tempo;
- Using syncopated and melodic bass lines; and
- Piano/guitar offbeats
Harmonically, this type of music is similar to other famous modern genre with the tendency of using simple chord progressions. At times, reggae makes use of dominant chord in the minor form. Thus, it does not allow prefect cadence to get sounded. It has poor resolution between dominant and tonic which conveys a sense of harmonic ambiguity and movement ‘without rest’.
The simple progression that has been borrowed from the soul and rhythm and blues music is a tonic chord. It is followed by a minor supertonic chord that has 2 chords repeated to form the complete verse.
Drums and Percussion
Reggae is often competed by a standard drum kit, however, a snare drum is typically tuned so high to provide a timbales-type sound. There are reggae drummers who are using extra high-turned snare or timbale to obtain the sound. The cross-stick technique that is used on a snare drum is often used while the tom-tom drums have been integrated into its drumbeat.
The drumbeats of reggae are categorized into three:
- Steppers – In this category, bass drum is played in each quarter beat of bar, thus, it gives an insistent drive to the beat.
- Rockers – the emphasis has been on all 4 beats of bar (mostly on a bass drum). Such beat has been pioneered by the Sly and Robbie and it soon influenced the dancehall.
- One drop – emphasis is totally on a backbeat
Reggae drumming’s unusual characteristic is that drum fills often do not actually end with the climactic cymbal. More percussion instrumentation are also applied in reggae. Bongos heavily use African-style cross rhythms and these are typically used in playing improvised and free patterns. On the other hand, the claves, shakers and cowbells have a set of pattern and more defined roles.
There are more interesting facts to learn about Reggae because it has influenced the way people deal with music. Today, it is now well recognized in different parts of the world.