Social Commentary in 90’s Reggae Music Hits

Reggae music has long served as a form of social commentary, exploring themes related to inequality, wealth and power; often focused on exploiting those under a system known as Babylon that exploits them further.

Culture music and lovers’ rock, a moderate-tempo style of reggae that emphasizes love, are still prevalent alongside dancehall. Dub, with its eccentric mix-downs yet undeniably innovative beats, has also maintained popularity over the years.

1. Mad Professor & Ariwa Posse – Black and White

Mad Professor will headline the festival and will be joined by singers and musicians from his Ariwa studios in south east London. A pioneer of dub reggae, Fraser opened his first home studio in 1979 voicing and mixing bands and vocalists including Sandra Cross, Peter Culture and Kofi for his ‘Dub Me Crazy’ albums series.

Queen Omega of Trinidad, fondly dubbed as “the female Bob Marley,” has long been revered by Mad Professor fans. Her depth of talent in Reggae music is unrivalled while Canita, an East London secondary school teacher also within Ariwa is quickly emerging as an up and comer in this genre.

2. Paul Simon – Mother and Child Reunion

Paul Simon’s classic reggae song remains hauntingly beautiful despite its upbeat reggae tempo, offering scope for some unique interpretational flights of fancy: could this reunion represent dead mother and child meeting for the first time in heaven, or was it more of a sorrowful reunion between mother and daughter who’d given their child up for adoption?

Simon released this single as his debut post-S and G, and immediately fell in love with Jamaican music. To record it he hired authentic Jamaican reggae musicians – leaving vocal duties to backing singers with more experience of mimicking local patois than himself – resulting in an enormous hit and something he would revisit on subsequent albums.

3. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Around 1960 in Jamaica, a hybrid music genre emerged that combined American R&B and pan-African rhythms. This eventually gave way to Ska, which added accents on the afterbeat (third beat of 4/4 time). Ska later gave way to Reggae; later its beat slowed and lost its brass sound altogether – eventually evolving into Rocksteady. Bob Marley and the Wailers’ version of Is This Love appeared on their 1978 album Kaya while Hawaiian reggae group Three Plus released their cover version on their 2003 album 3 + 4 U which won them an award from Na Hoku Hanohano Hanohano Hanohano award.

4. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

As early as 1960, bands in Jamaican slums began playing a musical blend of American R&B and pan-African rhythms, featuring drumming that highlighted an afterbeat, the 2nd beat (4/4 time). Over time this gave rise to ska music which eventually evolved further by slowing its rhythm down while decreasing brass sounds to become rocksteady then reggae.

Bob Marley and the Wailers’ song Is This Love from their 1978 album Kaya was recorded and released as a single in 1978. Hawaiian reggae group Three Plus also covered it on their 2003 album 3+4 U, which won them the Na Hoku Hanohano award for Reggae Album of the Year.

5. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Around 1960 in Kingston Jamaica’s slums, a musical combination of American R&B and Caribbean/African rhythms gave birth to Ska. This new style featured slower beats without brass instruments and accented afterbeats; over time this evolved into rocksteady then reggae; the latter often having less “Pop-like” characteristics with fewer musicians and vocal harmony.

Buju Banton and Shabba Ranks brought reggae music into the global mainstream through dancehall in the ’90s, pioneering its introduction through radio-ready melodies with socially conscious lyrics that included radio-friendly radio airplay melodies combined with drum machines and four-beat rhythms that became an international craze.

6. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” has become one of the most iconic reggae music hits ever recorded, first released on his 1978 album Kaya and later covered by Hawaiian trio Three Plus on their 2003 album 3+ 4 U that won a Na Hoku Hanohano award. Marley himself performed it live while touring for his 1978 album Babylon by Bus.

Around 1960 in Kingston Jamaica’s slums, musicians began adapting American R&B and pan-African rhythms into Jamaican styles, adding their own spin. Drummers then started emphasizing the afterbeat (the 2nd and 4th beats of a four-beat rhythm), creating the Ska genre. Over time this evolved into reggae before transitioning further still into rocksteady with less brassy sounds becoming less pop-like; eventually becoming rocksteady itself.

7. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Bob Marley and the Wailers first released this timeless classic on their 1978 album Kaya. Since then, many other artists have covered it, with Corinne Bailey Rae winning a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance as one such rendition and Hawaiian reggae group Three Plus covering it on their album 3+ 4 U as another version.

Dancehall took reggae’s formula of bass, recorded drums, four-beat rhythms and vocal samples and amplified them to its sonic extreme in the 1990s, popularised by socially aware artists like Buju Banton and provocateur Shabba Ranks to reach wider audiences and introduce dancehall to new listeners. Dancehall also introduced lyrics as its signature feature.

8. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Bob Marley made Is This Love one of his signature songs, from his 1978 album Kaya. Three Plus covered it on their 2003 album 3+ 4 U which won them the Na Hoku Hanohano award for Album of the Year.

Buju Banton and Shabba Ranks introduced reggae music to new audiences through dancehall artists in the early ’90s with explosive drum-machine driven tracks that crossed over into pop. By mid-1999 ska had softened its beat and lost its brass sound to become rocksteady and pave way for reggae with its formula of bass, recorded drums, and four-beat rhythms taking a whole new turn.

9. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

Bob Marley’s timeless hit song “Is This Love?” first debuted on his 1978 album Kaya and quickly became an international phenomenon, peaking at number 9 in UK charts and becoming one of the greatest songs ever released. Three Plus later covered it on their 2003 album 3+ 4 U which won Na Hoku Hanohano Reggae Album of the Year honors.

Around 1960, Jamaican musicians combined American R&B with pan-Africanism and spirituality, with drummers emphasizing the afterbeat (the second beat in a four-beat rhythm) to form Ska. Over time however, Ska slowed down, lost its brass sound, and gradually evolved into Reggae music.

10. Bob Marley & the Wailers – Is This Love?

At around 1960, Jamaican musicians started incorporating elements from American R&B and pan-African sounds into their music, emphasizing the afterbeat – the second beat of 4/4 time – in their style known as Ska. By the 1970s this style had evolved further, becoming Rocksteady then Reggae; each style being heavily influenced by religion, social unrest and personal experience that resulted in increasingly personal lyrics written about these topics – artists such as Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks and Beres Hammond continued pushing dancehall beyond Ska with lyrics that addressed racism sexual injustices etc.

Bob Marley & the Wailers’ version can be found on their 1978 album Kaya; Corinne Bailey Rae has also covered it on her 2011 EP The Love EP.