The origin and history of reggae music (2023)

For most people, the word “reggae” conjures up very specific associations – for example, dreadlocked warblers strumming syncopated guitar beats under thick clouds of grass, chill vibes, palm trees, and tropical locations.

But how much do you really know about reggae?

The history of reggae and how it became a universally recognized musical genre is a fascinating tale of ambition, dedication and national pride. By drawing on indigenous Jamaican musical styles to address the plight of Jamaicans in the second half of the 20th century, reggae broke new ground for Jamaican music and helped elevate the nation's image at a time when it was still alive explored her newfound independence.

From its roots in Jamaica to its international appeal, see how reggae stormed the map.

The roots of reggae

Reggae music comes fromseveralGenre backgrounds and influences to create their inimitable and instantly recognizable sound. Their unique blend of musical styles includes:

  • Traditional African music
  • Caribbean traditional music
  • Jazz,R&Be rock
  • Earlier Jamaican styles like ska and stable rock

For many, reggae is more than a genre of music.

An enduring symbol of Jamaican pride and national identity, for many it symbolizes an entire culture and way of life. But to understand how reggae grew from a pet project of a few hard-working artists to a globally popular art form, it is necessary to detour for a quick history lesson on Jamaica, the birthplace of the genre.

(Video) THE HISTORY OF REGGAE MUSIC (How reggae started)

A Brief History of Jamaica

The earliest records of civilization on the island we now know as Jamaica date from around AD 600,when the mysterious people from Redware got there.1They were followed about two hundred years later by the Taino, who were the first to colonize the island.

For hundreds of years, the Taino lived on the island in small villages ruled by individual chiefs. It is estimated that the island was home to up to 60,000 people at its most populated point. They survived mainly by fishing and growing maize and cassava.

Then, on his second voyage to the Caribbean in 1494, Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica, then called Xaymaca, a paradise known as "the land of blessed gold." The gold rumors proved false, but the arrival of Columbus officially signaled the presence of Europeans on the island and ushered in a period of British (first Spanish) colonial rule that lasted until Jamaica declared independence in 1962.

The history of reggae began in the 1960s against the background of newly won independence and growing nationalism.

where does reggae come from

As in many parts of the world, the end of World War II marked a turning point in Jamaican history. Jamaicans flocked to the growing capital of Kingston from the island's rural areas in search of the opportunities that the war's end seemed to promise.

There they built a vibrant social culture around the city's famous halls, known as the sound systems for the music they played.

(Video) Reggae The Story Of Jamaican Music BBC Documentary

For much of the 1940s and 1950s, these dance halls played imported music, mostly American rock and rhythm and blues. But the rapid change that the country was going through at the time soon awakened the desire for a typically Jamaican sound.

Enter music.

Reggae is a student of ska, a music genre that emerged in the 1950s. Ska is a by-product of Afro-Caribbean music and R&B. Ska's distinctive sound includes offbeat rhythms, booming horns, piano, heavy guitar hits and fast-beating drums. Ska pioneers include:

  • Ernie Ranglin
  • Derrick Morgan
  • Prinz Buster
  • Toots and Maytals
  • die Dominosteine

However, by the mid-1960s, ska's popularity began to wane in favor of an emerging subgenre called rocksteady.2Rocksteady was primarily instrumental, incorporating many of the same elements as ska, but with greater bass and drum prominence. Rocksteady is rhythmically slower than ska,and the sound is reduced.

It's the path of ska and rocksteady that leads us to reggae, which emerged in the late 1960s.3Slower than rocksteady and with far more musical complexity than ska, reggae paid homage to the music that came before it while establishing itself as a distinct and entirely new sound.

The Architects of Reggae

Reggae is the creation of many talented and innovative musicians who have worked together (and individually) to create a totally original Jamaican sound. From musicians and singers to visionary producers and recording studio owners, reggae as we know it today would not exist without the individual talents and shared passions of many people.

However, there are a few names that keep coming to the fore. Producers who helped guide and shape nascent reggae included:

(Video) Roots, Reggae, Rebellion Full BBC Documentary

  • Lee „Scratch“ Perry- Dubbed the "Salvador Dali of music" by Keith Richards for his surreal and futuristic style, Perry was responsible for taking the rhythm of reggae beyond the confines of ska and rocksteady.4He was also an early practitioner of the reggae dub subgenre, which heavily influenced American hip hop and dance music.
  • Hase Lee– In 1969, Bunny Lee played an organ shuffle on The Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling's classic “Bangarang”. A technique of playing the organ that blends chords into a syncopated, irregular sound has become a hallmark of the genre.5Later, Bunny Lee was instrumental in bringing reggae to an international audience in the UK and elsewhere.
  • Osborne Ruddock- Ruddock, known as King Tubby, has worked closely with some of the most famous reggae artists and producers in his home studio. Experimenting with audio effects like delay and reverb, he helped define reggae's parameters and invent dub.6
  • On the other side of the mixer, early reggae leaders included:

  • Toots and Maytals– After helping to develop ska, Toots and the Maytals became one of the first music bands in reggae.His 1968 album 54-46 (That's My Number) became one of the first big hits of the genre.
  • Jimmy Cliff- Cliff started out as a ska artist who drew huge crowds in London and South America.7her 1970 album,wonderful world, beautiful people,was avonfirst international reggae hits.
  • O wails- Although the iterations of the Wailers(along with The I-Threes who are arguably the most influential female reggae singers)Dating back to the early 1960s, it wasn't until the early 1970s that the band started releasing their classic reggae album "catch a firein 1972 and its sequel Burnin' in 1973. The group was formed by Neville "Bunny" Livingston, Peter McIntosh and the man who would become the face of reggae, Bob Marley.
  • These early reggae architects were as invested in Jamaican society and culture as they were in music production. A hallmark of reggae from its inception has been its focus on issues affecting Jamaicans, particularly those living in the Kingston ghettos.

    Like all popular music, reggae lyrics were not without romantic themes. Still, the genre's early progenitors retained a special space for building conversations about poverty, social justice, and human rights.

    Reggae goes international

    It didn't take long for reggae to spread from Jamaica to the rest of the world. while its predecessor'With ska and rocksteady not making a lasting impression off the island, reggae was always destined for greatness.

    In the early 1970s, reggae took the world by storm:

    (Video) A Brief History of Reggae Music

  • "The More They Come"- This 1972 film made clear the connection between reggae music and the Jamaican fight against poverty and disenfranchisement. Starring reggae star Jimmy Cliff, it was an international hit that helped introduce reggae to a worldwide audience.
    • The Bob Marley Effect- As the lead singer of The Wailers, Bob Marley became one of reggae's most recognizable figures and a driving force behind the genre's appeal outside of Jamaica.8Popular American artists like Eric Clapton found big hits with covers of Marley songs,While opening up to Bruce Springsteen and Sly and the Family Stone, he brought the Wailers and reggae to an even wider audience. As a devout Rastafarian, Marley was also instrumental in cementing the connections between reggae and the spirituality that he and so many others practiced.
    • Jamaican immigrants in the UK- A large Jamaican population in the UK led to the emergence of reggae across the pond from the 1970s.9Artists like Asad, Steel Pulse and others helped bring the genre to international attention.

    The Legacy of Reggae

    At the time of its creation, reggae music's success as a valuable Jamaican export validated the nation's right to sovereignty, for both Jamaicans and people abroad. As such, it reflected and fulfilled the country's move away from the colonialism that had shaped its history since the 17th century.

    Musically reggae and subgenresby reggaewould influence the work of a wide variety of artists across all music genres, helping shape American pop, hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, and R&B.

    Reggae sounds better on the turntable

    If you don't hear reggae under the palm trees on a Jamaican beach, there's only one place you should hear it: at aVictrola.

    From high quality turntables and turntables that impress with their sound quality to our extensiverecord shopPacked with tracks from every genre, Victrola lets you hear the best reggae on amazing gear.VonCoxsone Dodd, Haile Selassie, Black Uhuru, Duke Reid, Desmond Dekker, King Tubby, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, Peter Tosh, Jackie Mittoo, Ziggy Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, Dennis Brown,and other big ones.

    And if you're just here to learn more about the genre, we've got some resources for you to peruse.


    (Video) History Of Reggae | GRAMMY Museum

    1. British.Jamaica history.
    2. Red Bull Music Academy.Rock Steady's Beginnings: An Introduction to the Most Influential Genre in Jamaican Music.
    3. British.Reggae | Definition, History, Artists and Facts.
    4. The guard.Lee "Scratch" Perry, visionary master of reggae, dies at 85.
    5. The guard.Bunny Lee obituary.
    6. facts magazine.A Beginner's Guide to King Tubby.
    7. British.Jimmy Cliff, Jamaican singer and songwriter.
    8. Biography.Bob Marley: Quotes, Songs and Children.
    9. British.Or.


    What is the origin and history of reggae music? ›

    reggae, style of popular music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s and quickly emerged as the country's dominant music. By the 1970s it had become an international style that was particularly popular in Britain, the United States, and Africa. It was widely perceived as a voice of the oppressed.

    Who first started reggae music? ›

    Reggae is a musical genre developed by Jamaicans of African ancestry in the late 1960s.

    What is the origin of the word reggae? ›

    “Reggae” comes from the term “rege-rege” which means “rags” or “ragged clothes”, and this gives you your first clue into the story behind reggae music.

    What is reggae music explained? ›

    Vocal Style. Since reggae originated from Jamaica, the Jamaican accent and “singjay”—a distinctive style that combines singing and toasting—are evident in most reggae music. Lyrically, much of reggae music comes from a deep sense of animosity and the need for survival and to be fighters.

    What is the main message of reggae music? ›

    Reggae has always been concerned about the problems that have affected society, and it is through its music that it delivers messages of hope, peace, happiness, harmony, positive attitude and love.

    What are the 3 features of reggae? ›

    Reggae emerged in the late 1960s and can be identified by: time signature of 4/4, with heavy accent placed on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar. strophic form - a repeated verse and chorus. typical rock line up – vocals, backing vocals, electric guitars, bass guitar and drum kit.

    Where is the origin of reggae music? ›

    Reggae (/ˈrɛɡeɪ/) is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora.

    Who invented the word reggae? ›

    Obituary: Toots Hibbert - the man who coined the word reggae.

    Who invented reggae reggae? ›

    Levi Roots is the mastermind behind famous condiment, Reggae Reggae Sauce. After securing funding on Dragons' Den, Levi has now expanded his business to sell a range of sauces, soft drinks, snacks and seasonings.

    Who was the first reggae man? ›

    One of the earliest reggae hitmakers was Desmond Dekker, who sang in his authentic Jamaican dialect on a number of reggae classics such as 'Israelites' and 'It Miek'.

    Why is reggae so important? ›

    Reggae has influenced societies throughout the world, contributing to the development of new counterculture movements, particularly in Europe, in the USA and Africa. Indeed, by the end of the 1960s, it participated in the birth of the skinhead movement in the UK.

    What are the three types of reggae? ›

    There are 3 main types of Reggae– Ska, Rock Steady and Dub. Ska very quick and lively, whilst Rock Steady tended to be slower. Dub emerged in the 1970s and used modern technology to remix drum beats and add effects to the music such as delay and echo.

    What are the two types of reggae? ›

    Although ska and rocksteady helped inspire Jamaican musicians to begin developing a musical tradition all their own, it wasn't until the two genres gave way to reggae, toward the end of the 1960s, that the people of Jamaica had a wholly unique sound they could claim.

    What is the spirit behind reggae music? ›

    Spiritual Message in Reggae

    Although known for its efforts of liberation of the black people, fight against oppression and so on. Similarly it advocates for equality, freedom from the religious, economic, social, and political domination.

    What was the first reggae music? ›

    In the USA, Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine (1967) was the first reggae hit by a pop musician. Shortly afterwards, Johnny Nash's Hold Me Tight (1968) propelled reggae onto the charts. Do The Reggay (1968) by Toots (Hibbert) And The Maytals was the record that gave the music its name.

    What is the culture of reggae? ›

    Reggae grew from this exceptionally rich musical culture, and especially reflected the growing influence of Rastafari in urban Jamaica in the 1960s. The country's music scene became infused with Rastafari philosophy, drumming and style, including the signature dreadlocks that have become the image of Reggae music.

    Who is king of reggae music? ›

    Jamaican musician Robert Nesta Marley, popularly known as Bob Marley, would have been 74 years old today, February 6. Thirty-eight years after he died of skin cancer, he, however, remains wildly celebrated as one of those who popularised reggae or for some, as the 'King of Reggae'.

    Who is the first king of reggae? ›

    Jamaican musician Robert Nesta Marley, popularly known as Bob Marley, would have been 74 years old today, February 6. Thirty-eight years after he died of skin cancer, he, however, remains wildly celebrated as one of those who popularised reggae or for some, as the 'King of Reggae'.

    Was Bob Marley a founder of reggae? ›

    Robert Nesta Marley OM (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer, musician, and songwriter. Considered one of the pioneers of reggae, his musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as his distinctive vocal and songwriting style.

    Who started reggae in Africa? ›

    In 1980, world-famous Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley performed in Harare, Zimbabwe, and that concert is often credited as marking the beginning of reggae in Africa.

    Who is the God of reggae? ›

    Rasta believe Selassie is the Messiah, or the incarnation of God who would lead people of African origin to the promised land. He died in 1975 but Rasta believe he'll return. Before his coronation, Selassie was known as Ras Tafari Makonnen, which is where the movement gets its name.

    Who is the biggest reggae artist of all time? ›

    1) Bob Marley

    No list of reggae artists would be complete without Bob Marley in the top spot. Bob Marley rose to fame with his backing band, The Wailers, starting in 1963.

    Who is the biggest selling reggae artist of all time? ›

    1 gave Bob Marley & The Wailers (Jamaica) their 35th entry and 12th No. 1 on the US Reggae Albums chart. Legend – The Best Of Bob Marley And The Wailers, with sales of over 10 million in the US alone, is the biggest-selling reggae album of all-time.

    Is reggae African or Jamaican? ›

    Since the late 1960s, reggae has been the primary popular style of music in Jamaica. Its origins reflect the cultural hybridity for which the Caribbean is known. Reggae's roots trace back to the late 1940s and 1950s when the Jamaican recording industry was in its infancy.

    What is the opposite of reggae music? ›

    Reggae is basically the opposite of Rock n' Roll because it inverts the role of bass and guitar. Many of the early reggae artists of the 1970's incorporated their religion, Rastafarianism, into their music. This religion is very common among Jamaican people who are of African descent.

    What religion did Bob Marley create? ›

    Rastafarianism helped lead a movement of cultural renewal among Africans. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Marley truly begins to accept this religion and incorporate its beliefs in his songs. Bob Marley's lyrics spread his spiritual and political messages.


    1. JAMAICAN MUSIC HISTORY - Short History of Reggae Music.
    (Dancehall Shinobi)
    2. The Evolution Of Reggae
    (Bobo in the Jungle)
    3. History of Reggae Music | Jamaican Origins
    (Sara Aguilera)
    4. HISTORY OF REGGAE from 1958 to 1995
    5. The 60 Year History of Reggae Music in less than 3 minutes
    (The Riddim Nation)
    6. Part 1 - History of Jamaican Music (From Ska to Reggae to Dancehall Music)


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