3 Letters of Jamaican Dance Music

Dancehall music is the most beloved type of Jamaican dance music. This urban folk genre originated in Jamaica during the 1970s and quickly gained notoriety for its deejay toasting style.

Music has been the longest-running popular genre in Jamaican culture. Its boundaries continue to expand and it remains an essential factor in the lives of its creators, participants, observers and critics alike.

1. Riddim

The word “riddim” is a Jamaican patois (slang) pronunciation for the English word “rhythm.” In dancehall and reggae music, riddim refers to instrumental accompaniment of a song followed by vocal voicing – spoken words spoken by singer or deejay or master of ceremonies (MC).

Dancehall and reggae music artists often reuse the same riddim, or rhythm track, for multiple songs. This practice dates back to the early days of dancehall when selectors would toast live over each album’s tracks while an artist sang atop them.

As the music industry developed, record companies sought out new riddims to use on their artists’ recordings. By the late ’60s and ’70s, an extensive market had formed for riddim production.

Riddims were a go-to choice for many DJs and producers due to their ease of production and wide variety of styles.

Furthermore, they were simple to learn how to use and had an extensive library of sound effects. These were ideal for adding a special touch to any song.

Riddims became immensely popular across Jamaica, leading to Jamaican artists using them for all types of dancehall and reggae songs. This trend has since continued, with various musical genres being heavily influenced by the same basic drum pattern and bassline.

That is why it is essential to know how to utilize a riddim correctly. Possessing this knowledge can make an immense difference in your performance and ability to communicate effectively with your audience.

2. Bass

The bass is an essential instrument in any band, serving as the link between treble (guitar) and percussion (drums).

Instruments produce sound when they vibrate over one or more transducers, also known as bass pickups. These pickups convert vibrations into an electrical signal which can be heard via an amplifier. Tone and volume of the bass can be adjusted by positioning, type, and function of these pickups.

Music is composed of two primary categories: melody and rhythm. A melody is a single line of notes that repeats throughout the song, while rhythmic instruments include drums, marimbas, and timpani.

Melodic instruments like the saxophone, flute and harp are often employed to add an upbeat rhythm and melodic quality to a song.

Harmonic instruments include guitar, piano and violin. These instruments create a more intricate musical arrangement and help to emote the lyrics.

Bassists are essential members of any musical ensemble, as they ensure the song’s rhythm and harmony remain intact. This is especially true if the melody calls for a soloist on another instrument such as the saxophone or guitar.

The bass is a beloved instrument in several genres, such as rock, jazz and funk. Many bassists have achieved fame through the development of their unique style of playing; examples include Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers; Sting from Police; and Aston Barrett from Bob Marley & the Wailers.

Reggae music was first created in Jamaica during the 1960s, with its roots traceable back to early ska and rocksteady. But reggae’s basslines tend to be more intricate with scratchy guitars and drum patterns not typically heard in Western pop music.

3. Vocals

Jamaican dance music has inspired people around the world with its variety of subgenres such as Ska, Dub Music, Dancehall and Lovers Rock. Each genre has its own distinct rhythms and distinctive soundscape; making each unique in its own way.

This musical genre can be traced back to 1951 when Jamaica opened its first recording studio. Here they recorded “mento” (folk dance music) and imported rhythm’n’blues records that were played by disc jockeys at eccentric traveler’s dancehalls throughout the island.

Poor Jamaicans could afford to hire bands for their parties, so this style of dance music became increasingly popular. These traveling dance halls were run by eccentric disc jockeys such as Clement Dodd and Duke Reid.

In the mid-1950s, recordings of Jamaican music gave birth to ska. While ska had strong influences from R&B music, it also blended other Jamaican styles and created a distinct local sound.

One of the iconic ska songs is “Forward March,” which commemorates Jamaica’s independence from Britain in 1960 and cemented ska music’s status as an iconic Jamaican musical style. Frederick “Toots” Hibbert lends his powerful baritone, while Henry “Raleigh” Gordon and Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias provide sweet harmonies on this upbeat ska track.

The song’s chorus serves as a powerful reminder that “we’re independent.” It has been a beloved staple among reggae fans for decades, but its significance now is even greater as Toots Hibbert’s passing has caused an international outpouring of grief and sorrow.

This classic roots-reggae tune has been sampled on numerous hip-hop hits and serves as a timeless testament to love and family values that has earned it one of the highest selling reggae singles ever.

4. Drums

Drums are an essential element of Jamaican dance music, providing the rhythms heard on most songs. They come in a range of shapes and sizes that can be crafted using various materials like gourds or shells.

These instruments have a long-standing tradition in the Caribbean region and remain popular today. You’ll often find them used in reggae music as well as many other genres of music.

Drums can be crafted out of a variety of materials and carved to create unique designs. Some drums even take the shape of human heads, giving them an ethereal aura.

Jamaicans traditionally utilize bamboo and wood drums to make music. However, they have recently invented steel drums which have become immensely popular today.

These drums have become an iconic symbol of Caribbean culture and can be played either by hand or with a drum stick. Although they can be found worldwide, they are most commonly associated with Jamaica.

Jamaica boasts several distinctive styles of drumming, each unique to the country. Examples include Myal, which is associated with religious celebrations and performed at St. Elizabeth parish.

Other drumming styles can be heard throughout the island, such as Dinki Mini. This style of music and dance is predominantly performed on the Eastern side of the island and frequently featured during wakes or other ceremonies.

5. Lyrics

Lyrics are an integral element of reggae and dancehall music. Not only do they make the music more approachable to listeners, but they also add to its overall atmosphere.

While many reggae and dancehall songs have positive messages, others can be downright offensive – particularly when written in Jamaican patois.

“One Blood,” composed by Junior Reid in 1980 to help quell violence caused by Jamaica’s divisive political climate, has since gained international recognition. Its catchy beat and pointed lyrics have been sampled by American rappers such as Vampire Weekend.

Another popular subgenre of dancehall music is lovers’ rock, which originated in the United Kingdom and quickly caught on among Jamaicans at sound-system dances. With soulful melodies and romantic lyrics, lovers’ rock quickly gained popularity among couples across Jamaica as it spread like wildfire throughout the country.

In the 1980s, Jamaica experienced a revolution in music that combined roots reggae with hard-driving riddims and toasters — rappers free-styling over instrumentals. This style became the cornerstone of modern Jamaican dancehall and had an enormous influence on US hip-hop as well.

Toasting has its origins in Jamaican sound-system culture, but has since become an essential aspect of music itself. Artists such as U-Roy, Bounty Killer and Yellowman became well known for this practice which allowed them to rap over instrumental tracks without using their own voices.

Lyricism in Jamaican culture can be powerful and insightful; however, it may be difficult to decipher what the words actually signify when first heard.