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Reggae Music: The Music History Of Jamaica

By Edited Apr 9, 2016 1 0

Bob Marley
In order for us to understand the Music History of Jamaica, let us begin with the roots of its birth: facts about Jamaica beginning from its roots to what has made it popular to this day.

Jamaica Facts: How Jamaican Music started.

Jamaica didn’t get its independence up until the year 1962, when the British colony finally let go of its rule after more than 200 years of conquest. Since then, Jamaica’s emotional outlet after all those years of struggle is its Music. Before its independence, early Jamaican music styles like Mento and Ska were born.

Mento is the earliest form of Jamaica history music. Mento is a mix of early traditional African and European folk music. It is often called plainly as “country music” by Jamaicans and had that rustic rural sound where a banjo, an acoustic guitar, home-made wind instruments like flute from a bamboo, home-made saxophone, clarinet and a variety of percussion instruments like improvised drums and a rumba box. Mento music’s lyrics comments on different aspects of daily life in a light-hearted comical way often on various issues that were common during that time in Jamaica like social equality and poverty. It was widely known that one of the things to do in Jamaica back then was to sing about their troubles and setbacks and this reflected throughout the lyrics of their music.

Although Mento is often confused with Calypso (a different musical form altogether but confused with because it was used as a generic term for Jamaican music in Jamaica history, which included Mento also back then), it was popularized in the 1950s by recording artists like Lord Flea, Louise Bennett, Count Lasher and the initial Mento group, Slim and Slam.

It remained in the music history of Jamaica as its favorite form of music up until the R&B explosion from the USA started to flood the radios and music scene.

Mento Jamaica
This was when the era of Ska was born. One of the musical facts about Jamaica is that Ska came along sometime before the 1960s and it is known as a fusion of Calypso, American Jazz and Rhythm and Blues or R&B for short. Ska became the predecessor of other unique Jamaican Music styles namely: Rocksteady and Reggae.

With Ska being a more lively musical form in the history of Jamaica where Jamaican people danced with, Rocksteady became the main hit in the Jamaican Music scene in the 1960s when the search for something new was prevalent amongst Jamaicans. Rocksteady had a slower tempo and feel than the danceable Ska and it is for this sole reason that numerous experiments with its instrumentation and beat gave it its characteristic style that eventually evolved into Reggae.

What is Reggae?

There are many Jamaica facts and theories as to how the word Reggae was formed in the history of Jamaica and Jamaican Music. But mainly, Reggae comes from the word “ragged”, which was used as a term by Jamaicans in the 1960 to classify the new sound that was once again surging in the Music Scene. More closely related to its pre-cursor Rocksteady, Reggae had the characteristic sound of slow chanting while emphasis on syncopated patterns all throughout the music. It incorporated different influences from sources like the Nya-bingi rhythm and lyrics that emphasized the Rastafari movement, both having deep religious roots.

While many people see Reggae as a collective whole to Jamaica's entire span of dance music, it is only but a part of the entire music history of Jamaica. Reggae has evolved from earlier Jamaican music styles like Ska, Mento and Rocksteady. One of its immediate characteristics is the style of offbeat rhythms that are played staccato (chopped sound) in 4/4 time. Many Jamaicans call this the "Skank" or the "Reggae Beat."

Rhythmically, the backbone of Reggae revolves around a slower tempo than Ska and Rocksteady in standard 4/4 meter time, coupled with offbeats from the guitar or piano "skank" beat while maintaining an emphasis on syncopations of bass lines. To listen to an example of how this would sound like, listen to a popular Bob Marley song like "Waiting in Vain" or "One Love".

Reggae and the World

Bob Marley and Wailers
Bob Marley is the person to be credited in the history of Jamaica as the one who was able to blend Jamaican music with Western European and American Music with his lyrics and music style that ultimately gained him the hearts and ears of a vast audience worldwide. In other words, he was able to relate Reggae to the masses while injecting messages that encouraged peace, love, social equality and unity.

Songs like Stir It Up (1972), No Woman No Cry (1974) and I Shot the Sheriff (1974) with the last song, as many of the people may not yet know, promoted justice despite the title suggesting otherwise.

It is no wonder that in this modern time today, Reggae music has entirely penetrated the world and is known widely accepted as a unique and separate music genre.  

Now that you have an understanding of the music history of Jamaica, whenever you plan to visit the country make sure that one of your things to do in Jamaica is to listen to some authentic Jamaican Music. 



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