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Most people’s mental image of reggae music includes images of dreadlocked musicians playing syncopated guitar beats; however, this genre encompasses much more. Reggae music has long been known for containing social criticism and religious themes in its lyrics.


Reggae music began its life in Jamaica during the 1960s against a backdrop of political freedom and national pride that set it apart from other Caribbean styles. Derived from ska and rocksteady, reggae evolved into its own genre with syncopated rhythms and socially conscious lyrics that champion themes of love, peace and social justice. Rastafari influences are evident within reggae as its spiritual dimension pays homage to Haile Selassie I (Jah) via reggae’s spiritual dimension – something which Rastafari influences are manifest through Reggae itself! Furthermore, its spiritual themes can also be found within reggae’s portrayals of white oppression as Babylon and idealization of returning back home–Zion: Zion being synonymous with African homeland returns.

Reggae was first created with ska and rocksteady as its immediate forebears, both stemming from mento rhythm, which originated from West Indian drumming traditions such as Nyahbinghi and African-American drumming styles such as buck dance. Ska typically featured two-and-a-half beat rhythms while bass guitar became an important instrument within rocksteady. Rocksteady maintained this two-and-a-half beat pattern but added an upbeat on four. Over time however, bass guitar was brought forward as its own music genre: reggae music evolved alongside it!

By 1968, ska had begun to lose popularity, giving way to rocksteady: a slower and more instrumental subgenre which laid the groundwork for reggae music, which was heavily influenced by Britain’s multiracial inner city neighborhoods as seen with groups like Aswad and UB40. Some artists adopted more Jamaican-influenced sounds known as lovers rock in addition to British-inspired reggae sounds.

Reggae emerged from underground to mainstream during the 1970s thanks to Three Dog Night and Johnny Nash scoring No.1 hits with reggae covers by Three Dog Night and Johnny Nash respectively. Bob Marley himself managed to gain recognition through combining traditional Rastafarian themes with rock audiences that resonated.

Today, reggae retains strong roots in Jamaican culture and society, but has grown into an international musical movement. Played everywhere from Europe to Africa to South America and adopted into other popular genres of music like rock, rap and hip hop, reggae is now an international musical force.


Reggae music incorporates elements from multiple musical genres, including rhythm and blues, calypso and jazz. Originating in Jamaica in the early 1960s as an amalgamation of ska and rocksteady dance styles popular at that time; reggae typically moves faster than rocksteady but has tighter, more complex rhythms with prominent bass guitar play; sound equalization typically removes higher frequencies to emphasize lower ones in its sound signature.

Reggae lyrics often address social issues and religion, while its traditional of Rastafarianism — an amalgamation of biblical thought and pan-Africanism that reveres Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia who reigned from 1930-1974 — is widely celebrated within this genre. Many black African people believe they will return home eventually due to Rastafarianism’s teachings.

Reggae music features traditional instruments such as drums and horns alongside synthesizers and percussion, synthesizers, organ shuffle, organ soloing (using Hammond organ or similar instruments to skip beats for an “organ shuffle”), organ solos (usually Hammond), synthesizers and percussion as well as other sounds such as synthesizers and percussion. A notable element is the organ shuffle; in which Hammond or similar organ plays chords while skipping beats to give an organ choppy feel compared to most Western music – unlike most Western music where beats one and three (or equivalent counts) so as not to fill any void between counts one and three (or versions thereof).

Reggae was thrust upon the world stage during the 1970s by artists such as Bob Marley and The Wailers, Toots Hibbert & The Maytals and Carlton Barrett. Skinheads (fans of British punk rock) particularly appreciated its political overtones and anti-British sentiments which helped solidify its place within popular music culture.

In the mid-1970s, a new subgenre of reggae known as dub emerged; vocals were sacrificed in favour of drum and bass rhythms to create a darker and heavier soundscape; artists such as King Tubby and Lee Perry pioneered this trend.

In Jamaica during the 1990s, roots reggae experienced a revival thanks to female artists like Queen Ifrika (“Lioness on the Rise”), Hempress Sativa (“New Name”) and Koffee. This represented an evolution within Rastafari ideology towards female agency while reinforcing an emphasis on the Omega Principle – which stresses equal rights between man and woman – by increasing female musical presence.


Music can be an extremely effective medium for communicating ideas, affirming values and communicating expectations. Reggae music in particular has become increasingly relevant as an expression of social activism; reflecting oppression through song while celebrating heroes and martyrs while furthering Rastafari ideals embodied by Bob Marley himself and other reggae artists who use their music to fight injustice and uplift those suffering oppression. Bob Marley set an exemplary example, using his music as an advocate against injustice while helping those underdogs rise from beneath; many other reggae artists have followed in his footsteps by using their music to fight injustice while lifting those underprivileged through song.

Reggae music was initially inspired by rhythm and blues, jazz and calypso; however, its core was ultimately created from rocksteady and ska (popular dance styles in Jamaica in the early 1960s). Reggae pioneers include Prince Buster (known for rocksteady) and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (producer and sound system owner). These influential individuals combined Caribbean rhythms, African musical traditions and American influences into an engaging style that appealed to an international audience.

Reggae music’s development brought with it many engineers, producers, and sound systems with distinct styles – including Volcano Hi Power, Black Scorpio and Youthman Promotion in Jamaica; Downbeat the Ruler and Sir Coxsone Outsider in America, as well as Studio One in London England. All these producers helped develop reggae’s distinctive tropical sound while providing an outlet for aspiring musicians to hone their musical talent.

In the 1970s, female artists made significant contributions to roots reggae music. Singers such as Marcia Griffiths from I-Threes fame and Sister Carol became leading voices within this genre of music; others such as Olivia Grange, Trish Farrell and Sharon Gordon who became the first female producer in reggae were also vital contributors.

Reggae transitioned towards more dancehall-influenced sounds during the 1990s, thanks to artists like Dawn Penn and Chaka Demus & Pliers. Artists such as Dawn Penn and Chaka Demus & Pliers advanced this form, adding faster rhythms and electronic sounds – eventually giving birth to raggae genre – which still continues its development today with artists like MC Lady Leshurr making waves around the world.


Reggae lyrics often address themes of social criticism, religion and love. It has also long been associated with Rastafarianism and has had an influence on other genres like hip-hop and punk music. Reggae can be traced back to Jamaica in the late 1960s where it evolved from ska, rocksteady, calypso – commonly played on Hammond organ – while its distinct rhythm with strong offbeat accents is played out through syncopated basslines reminiscent of Rastafarianism – unlike its musical cousins such as Rastafarianism which features rhythmically accents on offbeat beat one. Reggae remains relevant today in many forms of music such as hip hop & punk!

Reggae gets its name from Jamaican rege-rege, which can mean both “a quarrel” and “ragged clothing.” Bob Marley was perhaps the best-known reggae musician; he passed away in 1981. However, reggae remains popular today in Jamaica where it has become an influential cultural symbol, drawing followers of all ages; youth spiritual groups often incorporate reggae songs into their chants as part of spiritual practice.

This song by British reggae group UB40 exemplifies a love ballad with a reggae beat. A worldwide hit and the first reggae song to make number one in Britain, its lyrics tell of a man trying to impress a woman by telling her how much he loves her, with its chorus including the phrase “la la la long”, an allusion to sexual content in its chorus.

Reggae music often employs the “skank” guitar rhythm. This tempo is created by playing chords of a chord with emphasis on their offbeat; typically on beat three in reggae songs while beats one and two are left void of emphasis. Furthermore, drummers frequently utilize syncopations in the drumbeats.

Reggae music relies heavily on bass. Usually the bass line features syncopated quarter-note and eighth note rhythms to create an irresistibly catchy tune; additionally it is integral in creating dub music which relies solely on drums and bass line to produce its signature sound.