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History of Jamaican Reggae Music
by Alex Cosper (12/15/12)


The roots of reggae music permeated in the Caribbean island of Jamaican that trace back to at least the 1950s. Ska and rocksteady were early forms of reggae, which mixed with rhythm and blues. The popular frat rock song "Louie Louie" was written by American songwriter Richard Berry in 1955 with a Jamaican flavor and became a hit for the Kingsmen in 1963. Although not quite a pure reggae record, the song contained key elements of what reggae later became in the sixties, highlighted by heavily accented beats. In 1968 the hit "The Israelites" by Desmond Dekker was closer to the sound of what is now a continuum.

An often overlooked footnote in reggae history is the fact that The Beatles helped bring the sound to a mass worldwide audience in 1968 with a track from their White Album called "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." The song has a bouncy rhythm that's close to what Bob Marley and other reggae artists did in the seventies. Marley ultimately became regarded as the King of Reggae because of his prolific work coming out of Jamaica. Marley began recording in the sixties with his band The Wailers but his most acclaimed music was released throughout the seventies and early eighties. Some of his most memorable songs have been "Stir It Up," "One Love," "Jammin'" and the ballad "Redemption Song."

The hallmark of reggae music has been arrangements with melodic bass lines and rhythmic accents on offbeats. Upstrokes on the guitar are perhaps the most common technique that defines reggae music. Jazz instruments such as horns also began to define the genre in Jamaica in the early sixties. The term "reggae" first surfaced in the music industry in the late sixties with the song "Do the Reggay" by The Maytals. Early reggae artists besides Marley included Derrick Morgan, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Prince Buster.

Jimmy Cliff helped popularize reggae in the early seventies with teh song "I Can See Clearly Now," which became a big hit in America by Johnny Nash. A cover of the Bob Marley song "I Shot the Sheriff" hit number one by Eric Clapton in 1974, as Marley himself began gaining attention. One of the early music industry leaders who believed in reggae was Chris Blackwell, who started Island Records in Jamaica a few years before moving to England in 1962. The label eventually spawned many great reggae acts. By the end of the seventies ska and reggae infiltrated British music and could be heard in the music of The Clash, The Police, The English Beat and The Untouchables.

By the 1980s reggae was part of the mainstream as Marley had generated a large catalogue of reggae anthems and UB40 has popular reggae hits such as "Red Red Wine." Bob Marley's son Ziggy also charted with "Tomorrow People" and kept his father's pioneering spirit alive in the music world. Other reggae acts that gained worldwide attention in the 80s were Musical Youth, Steel Pulse, Aswad and Black Uhuru. In the 90s more reggae hits followed through the popular pipeline of alternative rock radio, which played hits by Wailing Souls, Inner Circle and Sublime. Other notable reggae/ska artists have included Yellowman, Eek-A-Mouse and Burning Spear. Many reggae songs voice the philosophies of the Rastafari movement.





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