Reggae began as an unruly form of dance music around 1960. Influences included New Orleans rhythm and blues as well as African nyah-bingi drumming style, with emphasis on repetitive and syncopated beat styles.
The Wailers’ songs touched upon many topics, such as Jamaica’s past of slavery and present-day oppression of Black people. Bunny Wailer tackled racism with grace and empathy.
The Abyssinians are a Jamaican band widely recognized for their soulful melodies and stirring lyrics, reflecting Rastafarian beliefs of spirituality and social justice through music. Their songs encourage listeners to live a life filled with truth and love – leaving an indelible mark on reggae genre, inspiring numerous artists.
Their most beloved song is “Satta Massa Gana,” an upbeat piece that honors Rastafarian faith while advocating peace and unity. This classic roots reggae tune combines traditional Jamaican rhythms with Afrocentric themes and Nyahbinghi chants to produce one powerful track.
Abyssinians songs such as “Declaration of Rights,” which highlights individual freedom and social justice, are popular with reggae fans. It features an infectious beat with upbeat vocals reminiscent of reggae music fans alike. Furthermore, this band has released many hit singles like “Yim Mas Gan” and “African Race.”
Established in 1968 by Bernard Collins and brothers Donald and Lynford Manning, The Abyssinians’ sound was an updated take on classic 60’s vocal groups such as Wailers and Techniques. Their groundbreaking debut release Satta Massa Gana set an anthem for Rastafarians worldwide.
The Abyssinians have played at some of the most celebrated Reggae concerts ever held, sharing stages with artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Additionally they have recorded albums and made television show appearances – several songs have even been covered by artists like Luciano and Israel Vibration! Their music has inspired many people to embrace Rastafarianism and live lives filled with truth and love.
Burning Spear began life as a duo led by Winston Rodney – who took their name from African statesman Jomo Kenyatta when recording at Clement “Coxone” Dodd’s studio in the late ’60s – before gradually transitioning into a trio and eventually solo project. Over time, however, their music stayed consistent with their mission of enlightening listeners through catchy melodies and deceptively simple lyrics; their early work for Island focused more heavily on these themes; their later albums focused on perseverance (“Try Again”) self-analysis (Friends), and community (Together).
Rodney was one of reggae’s natural wonders; his voice had an authentic deep, rugged richness that transformed a phone book into mystic incantation. His music often addressed questions of black identity and African heritage – taking inspiration from Marcus Garvey (born near Rodney in St Ann parish). Songs such as ‘Slavery Days’ and ‘Marcus Garvey’ provided uncompromising warnings against oppressors while providing aid for the downtrodden.
Burning Spear was well known for creating sophisticated reggae music. This song stands as an incredible example of that sound; from its beautiful horn parts and basslines, to throbbing basslines and clattering percussion. Additionally, there was also a dub version with melancholic tones to match Bunny Wailer-esque lyrics; fans will recognize many similarities with Bunny’s voice tone as well as his mysterious lyrics – making this piece an absolute classic of rocksteady music that combined traditional Jamaican folklore with Rastafarian beliefs by Burning Spear himself. A masterpiece.
Althea & Donna
The late 1970s were a pivotal time in Jamaican music’s history: Bob Marley reigned supreme, punk was drawing its inspiration from roots and dub, and new generations of singers and MCs were making reggae come to life in London and New York.
Althea Forrest and Donna Reid were one such duo; their top UK number-one hit was Uptown Top Ranking in 1977. Since then they’ve recorded other songs but, like most Jamaican one hit wonders, have all but vanished into history.
Though they were only known for one hit single, they produced an impressive album which showcased their effortless vocal style and mastery of traditional reggae music. Their title track remains an indelible classic: an emotional love song with catchy melodies and lyrics that remain appealingly catchy over time.
Slavery is a constant theme in reggae music, but Ken Boothe takes its exploration to another level with I’m Not For Sale. Amidst mournful horns to underscore his point, Boothe is heard rejecting an offer of purchase by woman through a stunning vocal performance that rejects her advances.
Althea and Donna’s amusing parody on uptown snobbery was actually an accurate portrayal of Jamaica in the early 1970s, reflecting its true state. That it became a top five hit in Britain may indicate their growing appreciation of reggae music since Bluebeat first hit UK shores during World War Two; through Bob Marley and The Wailers to eventually reach wide adoption across Europe by 1980.
Reggae music in Jamaica in the 1960s reflected its political history as it dealt with racism and poverty, using songs such as Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites,” which cast Black people as real Israelites imprisoned by modern Babylonia seeking liberation through Zion – giving Jamaica’s pop music an inherently revolutionary quality.
Ken Boothe was one of the most effective practitioners of this template, beginning his singing career in Kingston’s Denham Town area as part of Stranger and Ken alongside Winston “Stranger” Cole (then known as Stranger). From there he recorded for Duke Reid and Leslie Kong before joining forces with Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One where they scored hit songs such as World’s Fair”, Hush”, Artibella” and All Your Friends”, between 1963-1965.
Boothe was perfectly suited to rocksteady when it emerged in 1966 and quickly made waves with John Holt’s “The Tide Is High,” as well as issuing an innovative cover version of “I’m Not For Sale,” in which he disproves any notion that she could purchase him.
Boothe achieved great success during the early 1970s with local releases, recording an outstanding rendition of Phil Pratt’s classic song ‘Rasta Never Fails’ for producer Bunny Lee. Soon thereafter he signed a five-year contract with Trojan Records; unfortunately however, not long afterwards their company went bankrupt, forcing Boothe’s contract into liquidation and ending his investment into his career by that company.
Holt’s talents as both singer and composer enabled him to lead Jamaican vocal music from Studio One and Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio in the mid to late ’60s as front man for The Paragons teenybopper group that developed rocksteady beat, an informal rhythm which followed on ska to give rise to reggae music.
Roots reggae experienced its golden age between 1968-1983. During this period of reggae’s development, Jamaican nationalism was deeply felt; Black African consciousness emerged through Rastafari doctrine that linked Afro-Jamaican captivity in Babylon with their continued oppression as slaves under white colonizers; artists came of age, shedding their family entertainer image and taking up social issues that had previously been taboo in Jamaican society.
Roots reggae artists were also prolific at penning romantic love songs during its golden era, producing some of its most beloved melodies such as Gregory Isaacs’ iconic lover’s rock tune “One and Only Remedy”, while Hammond’s defiant plea to live better (“Shirt my legs a tear up, trousers go/Breaking my back for an overnight dollar that just goes from hand to mouth”) is indicative of this subgenre and 1970s reggae’s ongoing depictions of social injustice.
Artists like Lee “Scratch” Perry, known by Rolling Stone magazine as the Salvador Dali of music, employed rhythmic variations and chord changes from Jamaican folklore to create dub, an instrumental form of reggae featuring an emphasis on bass line bass guitar riff.