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The Birth and Growth of Reggae Music Essay

Popular culture are patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give them significance and importance. These activities are popular, well-liked and common. They are often defined and determined by the mass media. It is deemed as what is popular within the social context — that of which is most strongly represented by what is perceived to be popularly accepted among society. Popular culture is mostly expressed in areas such as fashion, sport, film and design. Pop culture has greatly influenced art from the 1950s through pop art.

It first started in Britain, spreading on to the United States. Its participants have grown to include most adults, their kids and grandchildren. Popular culture finds its expression in the mass circulation of items from areas such as fashion, music, design, sport and film. The world of pop culture has had a particular influence on art from the 1950s on through Pop Art, first in Britain and later in the United States. Reggae is a style of popular music of Jamaican origin with strong elements of rhythm and blues and calypso.

It is based on a rhythmic style characterized a strongly accentuated offbeat. Reggae deals with subjects such as religion, poverty, love, sexuality, relationships, injustice and other social and political issues. This paper tries to examine the origin, rise and growth of this genre of music. Literature review Origin and Social Roots of Reggae Music Reggae is strongly influenced by both traditional African and Caribbean music, as well as American rhythm and blues. Reggae originated from the progressive development of ska and rocksteady in 1960s in Jamaica (O’Brien et al, 1998).

Ska music arose in the Jamaican studios between 1959 and 1961, itself a development of the earlier mento genre. Walking bass line, accentuated guitar or piano rhythms on the offbeat, and sometimes jazz-like horn riffs characterize ska. It was very popular among the Jamaicans. It also gained a large following among British in 1964. Rude boys began deliberately playing their ska records at half speed, preferring to dance slower to display their tough image (Barrow, 2004). In the mid 1960s, numerous artists began playing the tempo of ska slower, while emphasizing the walking bass and offbeats.

This slower genre was named Rocksteady, after a popular single by Alton Ellis. This phase of Jamaican music had a short lifespan of up to 1968. Musicians then began to slow the tempo of the music again, adding yet more effects. This is what gave birth to reggae. Bob Marley, a great reggae artist of all time, claimed that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for that means the king’s music. There was an organ shuffle that illustrated the shift from rocksteady to reggae and it was pioneered by Bunny Lee. The first true reggae records came into being in early 1968.

The Wailers, a band that was started by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer in 1963, are generally agreed to be the most easily recognized group worldwide that made the transition through all three stages. They are also among the significant pioneers who can be called the roots of reggae. The rest are Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Jackie Mittoo among others. Jamaican producers who influenced the development of ska into rocksteady and reggae in the 1960s include Coxsone Dodd, Lee Perry, Leslie Kong, Duke Reid, Joe Gibbs and King Tubby.

Another early producer was Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1960. He then relocated to England in 1962 and continued to promote Jamaican music. He partnered with Trojan Records whose founder was Lee Gopthal in 1968. Trojan released recordings by reggae artists in the UK until 1974 (Katz, 2000). By the mid 1970s, reggae was being played in the UK on John Peel’s radio show. The first Golden Age of Reggae corresponds roughly to the heydays of roots reggae. In the mid 1970s, some UK punk rock DJs started playing reggae songs during their sets.

Some punk bands started to incorporate reggae influences into their music. Reggae then began enjoying a revival in the UK into the 1980s. Groups like Steel Pulse, Aswad, UB40, and Musical Youth brought it to this level. Other artists Such as Third World, Black Uhuru and Sugar Minott who enjoyed international appeal in the early 1980s. Reggae is played in 4/4 time and swing time. This is because its symmetrical rhythmic pattern does work with other time signatures like 3/4 time. Harmonically, reggae is often very simple. These simple repetitious chord structures add to its hypnotic effects.

A standard drum kit is usually used, but the snare drum is often tuned very high to give it a timbale-type sound. Some reggae drummers use an additional timbale or high-tuned snare to get it. Rim shots on the snare are commonly used, and tom-tom drums are more often than not incorporated into the drumbeat itself (Croteau and Hoynes, 2003). There are three main categories of reggae drumbeats. They are One drop, Rockers and Steppers. With the One drop, the emphasis is entirely on the third beat of the bar. The first beat is completely empty, which is extremely unusual in popular music.

Carlton Barrett of The Wailers is credited as the creator of this style, although it may as well have been invented by Winston Grennan. An emphasis on beat three is in all reggae drumbeats, but with the Rockers beat, unlike all the other reggae drum beats emphasises on beat one, usually on bass drum. This beat was pioneered by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. These two later helped create the Rub-a-Dub sound that was very influential in Dancehall. In Steppers, the bass drum plays four solid beats to the bar. This gives the beat an insistent drive.

The Steppers beat was also adopted at a much higher tempo by some of the 2 Tone ska revival bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A significant characteristic of reggae drumming is that the drum fills do not end with a climactic cymbal. A range of other percussion instrumentation is used in reggae. Bongos are usually used to play free, improvised patterns, with heavy use of African-style cross-rhythms (Bradley, 2000). From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, a piano was usually used in reggae to double the rhythm guitar’s skank, playing the chords in a staccato style to add body.

They also played occasional extra beats, runs and riffs. The piano part was then taken over by synthesizers in the 1980s, although synthesizers have been used in a peripheral role since the 1970s to play incidental melodies and countermelodies. Larger bands usually include either an additional keyboard player, to cover or replace horn and melody lines. Horns are commonly used in reggae to play introductions and counter-melodies. Instruments in a typical reggae horn section include saxophone, trumpet and trombone. Real horns are sometimes replaced in reggae by synthesizers or recorded samples.

The horn section is often arranged around the first horn to play a simple melody or counter melody. Demographics, values and other social forces in reggae music Reggae music generally has its lovers across the racial, geographical , age, gender and socio-economic divide. However, the most notable faithfuls of this genre are the Rastafarians. This is a movement of black consciousness born from poor people in Jamaica. Its population majorly made up of the West-African slave trade descendants. They have managed to keep their roots with their native African heritage very strong especially within their music and dance.

However, since the 1900’s Christianity has dominated the Island as the head religious faith of the Jamaican people. Reggae is known for its tradition of social criticism, although many reggae songs discuss lighter, more personal subjects, such as love, sex and socializing. Some reggae lyrics attempt to raise the political consciousness by criticism of materialism. They also try to inform the listener about controversial subjects like Apartheid. A number of reggae songs promote the use of cannabis, which is considered a sacrament in the Rastafari movement.

Many artists also portray religious themes in their music through discussing religious topics or simply praising the Rastafari God Jah. Other common social and political topics in reggae songs include Black Nationalism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, criticism of political systems and promotion of caring for needs of the younger generation. Roots reggae usually presents themes such as poverty and resistance to government oppression. Many of Bob Marley’s and Peter Tosh’s songs fall into this category. Controversies in reggae Controversy surrounds reggae music because of its Rastafarian influence.

This is because of the use of Marijuana and wearing of dreadlocks by its followers. Marijuana is smoked by many Rastas and is believed to give clarity and deeper understanding of the religious beliefs. Others argue however that it is not an inherent characteristic of reggae There is a heated argument over incorporation of reggae into gospel music. One group maintains that reggae must never be Christian. On the other hand, the second group argues that reggae music actually started in the church and its history has been no worse than any of the other music genres.

Some dancehall and raga artists are under fierce criticism for homophobia that sometimes includes threats of violence. For instance Buju Banton’s song titled, “Boom Bye-Bye” states that gays must die. Other dancehall artists who have been accused of homophobia are Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man. The controversy surrounding anti-gay lyrics led to the cancellation of UK tours by artists Beenie Man and Sizzla. The dancehall music industry later agreed in 2005 to stop releasing songs that promote hatred and violence against gay people after great lobbying to that effect.

Role of media in popularizing reggae music The media has played a pivotal role in the birth, growth and spread of reggae music. The various forms of media include television, Internet, radio and mass media. Television and radio have both allocated a good portion of their programming to reggae. There are even special radio and television channels dedicated to playing reggae music and transmitting reggae related content. The Internet has been very instrumental in the distribution of reggae music. There are online shops all over the world that are recording huge sales in reggae music. Discussion

Indeed reggae has had a historical evolution right from its inception. It is closely linked to the Rastafarian movement although there is evidence that these two are independent. Reggae has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to the weak and oppressed in the society. Reggae themes and lyrics were greatly influenced by the ills and crimes of slavery. Rape, murder, incest, civil wars, concentration camps, poverty, suicide and domestic abuse find their way into reggae music as themes. There have been various changes as reggae developed from one form to another. Its popularity has also grown tremendously since its inception.

It is now listened to nearly everywhere. The future will certainly keep this trend. Reggae is most likely going to incorporate other genres of music in future generations. This will be done according to specific regions specifics. For instance, Africans may want to incorporate their own traditional beats into reggae. Homophobia is a key issue in this music genre. It is most common among the Jamaican dancehall and raga music. Ironically homophobia is most common in Jamaica, the native home of reggae. However many industry players around the world have been working hard to discourage it.

In future, homophobia will be wiped out as reggae loyals tend towards tolerating other cultures. Reggae strongly condemns capitalism. The current global trend, however, will mostly force reggae adherents to accept it. Commercialization of music is in top gear and reggae is part of it. Many reggae artists preach about black people liberation. The global racism intensity has fallen tremendously. This is likely to reflect in reggae themes as well. Referring to the west as Babylon and Africa as Mount Zion will no longer be necessary as globalization takes its root.


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