Reggae is the heartbeat of Jamaica – a brand of reggae music as strongly identified with the island as R&B is with Detroit or jazz with new reggae Orleans. It’s a major factor in the Jamaican economy, at no time better demonstrated than during Reggae Sunsplash and Reggae Sumfest (enormous annual reggae festivals), when almost one-quarter million visitors arrive from overseas to dance and sway in delirious union to the soulful, syncopated beat on the tiny island.
Reggae evolved in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, born of the tensions and social protest simmering violently in the late 1960′s. Jamaicans will tell you that reggae means “coming from de people,” a phrase coined (as was the name reggae itself) by Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals.
Reggae is associated above all with one man: Robert Nesta Marley. Bob Marley had established himself as an early leading influence, with his creative style and unique stage presence. The type of reggae he performed is called Roots Reggae. He adopted Rastafarianism, injecting his reggae music with greater soul and more poignant lyrics that helped spark a worldwide “Third World consciousness.” Bob Marley became an international superstar and is considered a prophet by the followers of the Rastafarian religion.
Though Marley died in 1981, Reggae has gone from strength to strength. International stars such as Eric Clapton and Paul Simon even began to incorporate Reggae tunes into their smash hit reggae albums. Bob Marley has sold more reggae albums posthumously than any other reggae recording reggae artist. On his birthday, February 6, 2001 Marley was awarded a star on the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame. He receives numerous awards for his contributions to reggae music each year.
Types of Reggae
Not all reggae stars are Jamaican. Reggae has a huge following in Scandinavia, Germany, England and Japan and indeed in most countries throughout the world where homegrown performers are bursting onto the scene. Nor do all reggae reggae artists embrace social commentary in their reggae music. Other types of West Indian reggae music that actually preceded Reggae but can be found at most reggae festivals and are all grouped under the term “Reggae” to the masses:
Lovers Rock Melodic, romanticized reggae. Maxi Priest is one of the most popular to sing this type of reggae. Dub Purely instrumental reggae. Jamaican reggae DJ’s invented their own lyrics to dub over the reggae music, initially in a verse form that has since evolved into…
Dancehall Reggae similar to rap reggae music. Ska this frenetic forerunner of reggae accentuated by a strong horn section has made a comeback and is popular among young adults in USA and UK.
Rock Steady ska slowed down to half speed and became more syncopated. The dance style was more languid with minimal movements. Soca from Trinidad, this fast-paced dance reggae music has a pedigree going back two decades and gained prominence in Jamaica only recently at Carnival time. It is now the reggae music of choice at upscale discos in ‘uptown Kingston’ (reggae dancehall is the reggae music of ‘downtown’).
Calypso fast-paced reggae music from Trinidad featuring steel drums.
World Beat West African Highlife reggae music
Reggae may have put Jamaica on the reggae musical map, but the nation’s reggae musical heritage runs much deeper. It is also constantly evolving, setting the tone and pace for the world to follow. Kingston has become the ‘Nashville of the Third World’ and reggae recording studios pump out dozens of new reggae titles each month. Reggae has influenced so many of today’s marketing efforts with reggae jingles with its distinctive beat being heard on the radio and television around the world selling everything from laundry soap to soft drink. It is ‘feel-good’ reggae music and marketers capitalize on that.
Rastafarians & Dreadlocks
The Rastafarians with their uncut, uncombed hair grown into long sun-bleached tangles known as dreadlocks or dreads are synonymous with the island in the sun. Rastas wear their hair in dreadlocks because of their intrepretation of a passage in the Bible. There are perhaps 100,000 “Rastas” in Jamaica (and millions worldwide). They adhere to an unorganized religion – a faith, not a church. Their influence has far outweighed their small number as youth around the globe admire their easy-going lifestyle and philosophy of One World family. Rastafarianism is a type of Christianity and they study the Bible.
Rastafarians have adapted traditional Christian tenets to fit their philosophical mold. The basic belief is that His Imperial Majesty, The Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, was the second coming of Jesus Christ. They site passages in the Bible that confirm this. It advocates a peaceful fight against oppression against Babylon (the establishment). They are vegetarians that eat fish, strict teetotalers, they shun tobacco, coffee, sugar, and processed food. Those who copy Rastafarian lifestyle but bring ill repute are called ‘wolves’.
Dreadlocks have become en vogue and can be seen on models in reggae magazines and actors and ac tresses on television and in the movies.
Patois: Language of Reggae
In Jamaica, officially English is the spoken language. In reality, Jamaica is a bilingual country as everyone speaks patois (pa-twah), a reggae musical dialect with a unique rhythm and cadence. Patois evolved from the Creole English and a twisted alchemy of the mother tongue peppered with African, Portuguese, and Spanish terms and Rastafarian slang. Most Jamaicans will vary the degree and intensity of their Patois according to whom they’re speaking with.