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List of genres of reggae | African reggae | Ragga | Riddim | Roots reggae

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Stylistic origins: R&B, Jazz, Mento, Calypso, Ska, Rocksteady
Cultural origins: 1960s onwards, Jamaica, especially Kingston
Typical instruments: Bass - Drums - Guitar - Organ - Brass - Melodica
Mainstream popularity: 1970s onwards, worldwide
Derivative forms: Trip hop - Drum and bass
Roots reggae - Dub - Dub poetry - Toasting - Lovers rock - Dancehall - Ragga
Fusion genres
Reggaeton - Seggae - Ska punk - Trip hop - Drum and bass
Regional scenes
African - UK - Japanese - Dutch - Fijian - Hawaii - New Zealand - Slovenia - Spain

Reggae is a music genre developed in Jamaica. Reggae may be used in a broad sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, including ska, rocksteady, dub, dancehall and ragga. The term may also be used to distinguish a particular style that originated in the late 1960s. Reggae is founded upon a rhythm style which is characterized by regular chops on the back beat, known as the "skank", played by a rhythm guitarist, and a bass drum hitting on the third beat of each measure, known as "one drop." Characteristically, this beat is slower than in reggae's precursors, ska and rocksteady. Reggae is often associated with the Rastafari movement, which influenced many prominent reggae musicians in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the subject matter of reggae songs deals with many subjects other than Rastafari, with love songs, sexual themes and broad social commentary being particularly well-represented.



Its origins can be found in traditional African Caribbean music as well as US R&B. Ska and rocksteady are 1960s precursors of reggae. In 1963, Jackie Mittoo, pianist with the ska band The Skatalites was asked to run sessions and compose original music by record producer Coxsone Dodd at his Studio One record studio. Mittoo, with the help of drummer Lloyd Knibbs, turned the traditional ska beat into reggae, slowing the rhythm down in the process. Bob Marley, who popularized reggae worldwide, also recorded rocksteady records early in his career. By the late 1960s reggae was already getting radio play in the UK on John Peel's radio show.

It is thought that the word "Reggae" was first used by the Ska group Toots and the Maytals, who coined the phrase in the title of their hit Do the Reggay in the early sixties.


Main article: List of genres of reggae

In Jamaica however, new styles are nowadays becoming more popular, among them, dancehall and ragga (also known as raggamuffin). Mixing techniques employed in dub, an instrumental sub-style of reggae, influenced hip hop, drum and bass and other styles. The toasting or dee jaying first used by artists such as U-Roy and Dillinger had a world-wide impact because Jamaican DJ Kool Herc used them as he pioneered a new style that subsequently became hip hop or rap music. In the Jamaican sense of the word, a "DJ" is an "MC" or rapper, whereas the term "DJ" describes the music selector in the U.S.. Therefore what is called dee jaying, toasting or chatting in Jamaica is called rapping in most other parts of the world.


Main article: Roots reggae

Roots is the name given to specifically Rastafarian reggae music. It is a spiritual type of music, whose lyrics are predominantly in praise of Jah (God).

Recurrent lyrical themes include poverty and resistance to government oppression. The creative pinnacle of roots reggae is arguably in the late 1970s, with singers such as Johnny Clarke, Horace Andy, Barrington Levy, and Lincoln Thompson teaming up with studio producers including Lee 'Scratch' Perry, King Tubby, and Coxsone Dodd. The experimental pioneering of such producers within often restricted technological parameters gave birth to dub music, and is seen by some music historians as one of the earliest (albeit analogue) contributions to the development of techno.

Roots reggae was an important part of Jamaican culture, and whilst other forms of reggae have replaced it in terms of popularity in Jamaica (Dancehall for instance), roots reggae has found a small, but growing, niche globally.

Social issues

One of the main themes of reggae music has been social liberation. This has both political and religious aspects.

Political awakening

The music attempts to raise the political consciousness of the audience:
The American dream
Is not what it seem.
Why do you slumber? (Jimmy Cliff, "American Dream" 1983)

Alternatives to orthodox religious dogma

It also militates for freedom from religious delusion:
Most people think
Great God will come from the sky
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
So stand up for your right. (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, "Get Up, Stand Up")

Freedom of religious expression

Repression of many kinds, and especially repression linked with the prohibition of ganja (marijuana), which is considered a sacrament by Rastafarians, is another recurring theme in the music.


Quite a few of the most common themes found in reggae music have been viewed as controversial by many members of the public at various times. The most controversial of these themes have traditionally been the promotion of marijuana / cannabis usage , and the promotion of homophobic views. Other views prevalent in reggae music which have been the source of controversy at various times include black/african militancy, misogyny , criticism of colonialisation, anti-poverty, criticism of political systems, criticism of racism and criticism of the colonial education system. Some of these themes like marijuana usage have been prevalent in reggae music throughout the recorded and un-recorded history of the music, whilst others such as homophobia are a more recent phenomenom relative to the history of reggae.


Bob Marley is a prominent marijuana icon Bob Marley is a prominent marijuana icon

The promotion of the use of cannabis through both lyrics, images and lifestyle has been a staple of reggae since its inception. The prominence of marijuana usage in reggae primarily stems from reggae music's origin as music derived from the musical tradition of the rastafarian religion, a religion within which marijuana usage is considered a sacrament. The controversy surrounding marijuana in Reggae has increased in proportion to the increased unacceptibility of marijuana in general society. For example Bob Marley's famous Catch a Fire album cover showing him smoking a spliff was controversial at the time the album was first issued primarily for its novelty. That the album cover was issued at all indicates some difference in society's views at the time, and such an album cover would never be issued by a major record label today. Peter Tosh was also renowned for his promotion of cannabis usage and lobbied for the decriminalization of marijuana. His most famous song is titled "Legalize It". Tosh was imprisoned multiple times in Jamaica for marijuana possession (Jamaica, incidentally, has some of the harshest anti-marijuana laws in the world) and often performed with a spliff in hand.


Reggae in general and the sub-genre of Reggae called Dancehall in particular has come under increased criticism from both Jamaican and International organisations for homophobic themes and lyrics. Many believe reggae music has prompted or incited instances of gay bashing.

Anti-homosexual or homophobic themes have been associated with dancehall music throughout its history. To a significant degree these themes stem from the anti-homosexual, though not necessarily violent, sentiment towards homosexuality of Jamaicans in general. A similar strong anti-homosexual sentiment is present in most English-speaking Caribbean nations. Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica as well as in most former British colonies in the Caribbean.

Homophobic lyrics have been described by J-FLAG, a Jamaican gay rights organization, as one aspect of "widespread [Jamaican] cultural bias against homosexuals and bisexuals." Artists whose music features homophobic lyrics have had concerts cancelled. Various artists have had international travel restrictions placed on them and have been investigated by international agencies including Scotland Yard on the accusation that the lyrics incite the audience to assault homosexuals. Many of the affected artists hold the opinion that such legal or commercial sanctions are essentially an attack against the artists freedom of speech.

The increased criticism of dancehall music by international organisations is often attributed to the increased international exposure of the music, especially with regards to international media and the Internet. Dancehall has always included themes of not only homophobia, but of violence, sexism, and misogyny as well, which have come under their share of criticism, as in this Village Voice review: "Whether the homophobia and misogyny (that also blight almost all current reggae) are carryovers from tight-assed, purse-mouthed, colonial-era Brit sexual fear or personal limitation, the result was lyrical statements too stupid to be spoken."

Reggae music festivals

Jamaican reggae music festivals

Reggae Sunsplash, Ocho Rios, Jamaica,
Sting reggae music festival, Kingston, Jamaica
Reggae Sumfest, Montego Bay, Jamaica

International reggae music festivals

Soundsplash Eco Reggae Festival, Raglan, New Zealand
Westchester Reggae Fest, White Plains, NY. United States
Austin Marley/Reggae Festival, Austin, TX. United States
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Mendocino County, CA, United States
Reggae on the River, Humboldt County, CA, United States
two 77 splash, Amsterdam Netherlands
Reggae Sundance, Eindhoven Netherlands
LB27 Reggae Camp, Komarom, Hungary
Reggae on the Rocks, Morrison, CO, USA,
Rototom Sunsplash Festival, Osoppo, Udine, Italy, [1]
Soča Reggae Riversplash, Tolmin, Slovenia,
Chiemsee Reggae Summer, Übersee, Germany
Summerjam, Cologne, Germany
MIDEM Reggae Showcase, Cannes, France
Notting Hill Carnival, London, UK
Bob Marley Outernational Day, Perth, Western Australia
International Reggae Festivals at ReggaeSeen
Spanish Reggae Festivals at Reggae News
Uppsala Reggae Festival, Sweden
Seasplash Reggae Festival, Pula, Croatia
Ostróda Reggae Festival, Ostróda, Poland
One Love Sound Fest, Wrocław, Poland
The Costarican Summerfest, be organized by exa fm, and exa reggae vibes and Chino Artavia.
Reggae Geel, Geel, Belgium

Music samples

Music Samples
Buffalo Soldier - Bob Marley


  • O'Brien, Kevin & Chen, Wayne. Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music. Ian Randle Publishers. ISBN.
  • Clarke, Sebastian (1980). Jah Music. Heinemann Educational. ISBN.
  • Griffiths, Marc (1995). Boss Sounds: Classic Skinhead Reggae. Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN.
  • Larkin, Colin (ed.). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae. Virgin. ISBN.
  • Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter. The Rough Guide to Reggae. Rough Guides. ISBN.
  • Morrow, Chris. Stir It Up: Reggae Cover Art. Thames & Hudson. ISBN.
  • Jahn, Brian & Weber, Tom. Reggae Island: Jamaican Music in the Digital Age. Kingston Publishers. ISBN.
  • Davis, Stephen. Bob Marley: Conquering Lion of Reggae. Plexus. ISBN.
  • Observer Station. Bob Marley: The Illustrated Discography. Omnibus Press. ISBN.
  • Hurford, Ray (ed.). More Axe. Muzik Tree, UK. ISBN.
  • Taylor, Don. So Much Things to Say: My Life as Bob Marley's Manager. Blake. ISBN.
  • Morris, Dennis. Bob Marley: A Rebel Life. Plexus. ISBN.
  • Boot, Adrian & Salewicz, Chris. Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom. Bloomsbury. ISBN.
  • Campbell, Horace. Rasta & Resistance. Hansib Publications. ISBN.
  • Potash, Chris (ed.). Reggae, Rasta Revolution. Shirmer Books. ISBN.
  • Gunst, Laurie. Born Fi Dead, A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld. Payback Press, UK. ISBN.
  • Baek, Henrik & Hedegard, Hans (1999). Dancehall Explosion, Reggae Music Into the Next Millennium. SB Publishing, Denmark. ISBN.
  • Kaski, Tero & Vuorinen, Pekka (1984). Reggae Inna Dancehall Style. Black Star, Finland. ISBN.
  • Katz, David (2000). People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry. Payback Press, UK. ISBN.
  • Lesser, Beth (1989). King Jammy's. Muzik Tree, UK. ISBN.
  • Salewicz, Chris (2000). Rude Boy, Once Upon a Time in Jamaica. Gollancz, UK. ISBN.
  • Stolzoff, Norman C. (2000). Wake The Town And Tell The People. Duke University Press, USA. ISBN.
  • Owen, Joseph (1976). Dread - The Rastafarians Of Jamaica. Heinemann, UK. ISBN.
  • Davis, Stephen & Simon, Peter (1979). Reggae Bloodlines. Heinemann, UK. ISBN.
  • Hebdige, Dick (1974). Reggae, Rastas & Rudies: Style and the Subversion of Form. University of Birmingham, UK. ISBN.
  • Katz, David (2003). Solid Foundation - An Oral history of Reggae. Bloomsburry, UK. ISBN.
  • de Koningh, Michael & Cane-Honeysett, Laurence (2003). Young Gifted and Black - The Story of Trojan Records. Sanctuary Publishing, UK. ISBN.
  • de Koeningh, Michael & Griffiths, Marc (2003). Tighten Up - The History of Reggae in the UK. Sanctuary Publishing, UK. ISBN.
  • Bradley, Lloyd (2001). When Reggae Was King. Penguin Books Ltd, UK. ISBN 0140237631.

External links

Reggae | Reggae genres
Ska - Dub - Roots reggae - Two Tone
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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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