Reggae singers and producers frequently address religion, politics, or social criticism through their lyrics. Yet their music can also inspire and uphold, as evidenced by this song by Koffee (a young Jamaican musician). It speaks about overcoming poverty among ghetto dwellers by making use of alternative resources – such as this song about it from Koffee himself.
One Brother Short’s soulful roots-reggae music brought poignant lyrics about ghetto suffering that foretold its future depictions of social inequities, while their commitment to this cause ensured their longevity as a band.
“Two Sevens Clash”
Two Sevens Clash was an influential album from reggae’s roots era that captured religious fervor of its day. Culture recorded it with producer Joe Gibbs at his own studio during 1976, and released it under their label later that same year (see 1976 in music). Joseph Hill’s captivating vocals and the song’s prophesied date led many Jamaican businesses to shut down on July 7, 1977 – as predicted.
Black Uhuru were one of the pioneering acts in roots reggae during the late ’70s, elevating roots reggae music with powerful production and vocal harmony. Led by Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, they brought rock band influences into Jamaican music to create an edged-out sound. Michael Rose led passionately, Puma Jones provided celestial harmony while Ducky Simpson provided majestic lower range. These legendary performances continue today in songs such as Welcome to Jamrock by Damian Marley (“Welcome to Jamrock”) and Protoje (“Kingston Be Wise”).
Gregory Isaacs’ romantic lover’s-rock hits set the template for reggae’s 1970s subgenre; but “Night Nurse” by Gregory was what established his global recognition as a vocalist. With its sublime rub-a-dub grooves from The Roots Radics and exquisite guitar work by Freddie McGregor – along with its poignant depiction of ghetto desperation it presaged 1970s roots reggae’s depictions of social inequality – “Night Nurse” marked Gregory Isaacs as an iconic vocalist of global renown vocalist whose global popularity would continue.
In 2010, there was a reggae revival led by artists whose Rastafari-inspired, positive lyrics harkened back to its golden age in the 70s while also reflecting current influences. Raging Fyah were one of the more self-contained bands within this revival; here is their rendition of “Judgement Day: Music for Rebels”, an excellent showcase for their talents.
Hopeton Lewis was 19 when he composed this unassuming tune that is considered the first reggae track to include rocksteady beat, an easy, minimal rhythm that followed ska, its forebear. The catchy melody and Lewis’ scatted syllables helped make it a huge hit, kick-starting his international career and making his international name known. Pulsating, hypnotic rhythms combined with subtle keyboard melodies showcase Jamaica’s diverse musical heritage beautifully in this masterpiece.
Reggae music’s global popularity brought this Jamaican musical genre to new audiences around the world. While at first associated with street culture in ghetto Jamaica and urban violence, artists like Toots Hibbert & The Maytals’ Do the Reggay (1968) helped launch a dance craze that tied reggae music more closely to hippie peace & love philosophy than its roots in street life culture. Other artists have used reggae as an outlet to express frustrations or desires through musically.
Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff are two iconic Jamaican singers who have greatly contributed to the international development of reggae music. Their songs draw influence from Rastafari beliefs that emphasize interconnectivity among humans while maintaining strong connections to Jamaica’s African roots, with this spirit evident both through lyrics and musical pieces such as African-influenced drumming styles like Nyah-bingi drumming style found within Jamaican reggae music.
Reggae music has expanded beyond Jamaica to form subgenres like reggae rock and reggaeton. Reggaeton is an electronic genre with driving beats and catchy choruses intended for dancing; its graphic lyrics often address drugs or sexuality topics.
Digital music has also played an influential role in the growth of reggae globally. Listeners can download songs directly onto mobile devices for listening purposes instead of purchasing albums of an artist, thereby shifting focus away from creating albums that adhere to an artistic or cultural concept to selling single songs tailored towards consumer taste.
Digital technologies have drastically transformed how music is delivered, with more artists now employing video clips to promote their work. Artists such as Ali Campbell from UB40 use this medium to highlight their political activism while others such as Matisyahu have achieved recognition through mixing traditional Jewish themes with reggae music – part of an increasing trend where secular and religious topics coexist alongside popular styles like pop or dancehall music.
Bob Marley’s “Come Again” is an atmospheric reggae tune with an underlying message to remind us to slow down from life’s hectic pace and take some time out for ourselves. A worldwide hit, but particularly beloved in America where its beat captivated moviegoers and featured prominently in commercials; beloved across generations this song remains one of the best reggae tracks to dance to today.
Jamaica’s struggle for independence was an integral element in much of the music produced in Studio 17 and other Jamaican recording studios, with much of this musical revolution touching upon themes like slavery (for instance Peter Tosh’s “400 Years”) as well as colonial authorities exploiting Jamaicans (eg, Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves”).
As reggae evolved, artists such as Toots And Maytal and Third World offered commercial fusions of reggae, rocksteady, and funk music. Third World’s “Now We’ve Found Love” provides an essential message of peace: love is found when listening to this track! And its catchy beat makes any listener want to dance on the beach or wherever.
Dub reached its creative height during the early ’80s thanks to artists like Lee Scratch Perry at his Black Ark studio, creating revolutionary music fusing together ska, funk, soul with African rhythms that resonated with audiences across America, UK and Japan; still inspiring musicians today.
Linton Kwesi Johnson was one of several artists working in dub poetry, crafting tunes with instrumentation ranging from the acoustic to electronic and creating moods by manipulating instrumentation from its beginning to end. These songs offered messages that resonated equally well among disenfranchised populations in Jamaica as in America or beyond; similarly Jimmy Cliff and Sly Dunbar provided voices both rough and smooth which are still present today in contemporary styles of reggae and hip-hop music.
Reggae music has such an indelible hold over Jamaica that even spiritual groups incorporate reggae beats into their services. To broaden its appeal in America, major-record labels began pairing Jamaican toasters with American rappers; one successful partnership saw Jamaican singer Super Cat join New York rapper Heavy D in pushing one another further with their fast paced deliveries and bold lyrics.
Reggae began to develop into various subgenres during the 1970s. Roots reggae artists like Bob Marley, The Wailers and Third World integrated political themes into melodies while other artists such as Gregory Isaacs & the Roots Radics’ lovers rock featured rub-a-dub rhythms; other artists like Gregory Isaacs & the Roots Radics created lovers rock. Reggae also found its own identity in London thanks to groups like Steel Pulse & Aswad; this UK style reggae highlighted the multiracial mix amongst London inner city neighborhoods while Jamaican patois was mixed interming with Cockney slang.
Buju Banton was an iconic dancehall artist himself and capitalised on this trend with the song “Murderer.” This marked a pivotal turning point in his career, marking his move away from dancehall reggae into more serious Rastafari music – and predicted his 1995 album Til Shiloh which proved both critically and commercially.
One of the innovations introduced into reggae music during this era was dubwise, an electronic genre which added electronic effects to traditional Jamaican rhythms. Pioneers of dubwise included Yellowman (Winston Foster) with his Mister Yellowman (1982) album; crossover artist Eddy Grant with his Afro-rock-reggae-funk fusion Walking on Sunshine (1979); and Ripton Joseph Hylton who devised an innovative vocal technique which alternated between singing lyrics, rapped verses, and DJ hooks – inventers of dubwise were all innovators within reggae music itself!
In this era, UB40’s iconic hit “Red Red Wine” rose to global popularity – serving as evidence of both reggae’s mass appeal and talented artists’ ability to transcend cultural barriers while conveying powerful messages to their listeners.