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Do The Reggay
A Brief History of Reggae Music

In 1968 the Jamaican music rocksteady gave way as a new rhythm started to emerge from Jamaica – Reggae. The defining characteristic of this new sound was the ‘shuffle’- choppy sounding chords that give reggae music a distinctive sound (Chang & Chen, 1998).
According to the Oxford Dictionary the term Reggae is used to refer to all popular music coming from Jamaica since the sixties. However, it also refers to the certain style that was extremely popular in Jamaica from around 1969 to 1983. Jamaican music can be divided into four styles that are distinguishable from one another, ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall (Chang & Chen, 1998). Ska became popular in 1960 and lasted to1966, rocksteady from 1966 to 1968 and reggae from 1969 to 1983. Reggae being divided in two time periods, "early reggae," from 1969 to 1974, and "roots reggae," from about 1975 to 1983. From 1983 until now the music has been called dancehall (Chang & Chen, 1998). For the purpose of this paper I am mainly focusing on early and root reggae.
During the period of early reggae, the Rastafarian inspiration of roots reggae had not yet taken full effect. While it had similarities to rocksteady and ska, it had a faster and more distinct beat, making it nearly impossible not to move to the music. The lyrics focused on similar topics as rocksteady during the early stages of reggae, songs about love and life in Jamaica were prevalent. However the influence of the Rastafarian movement began to rise in the 1970s, for example many early Burning Spear recordings leaned towards social and religious themes (Burning Spear, 2013-2014). Recordings taken from this period have a unique, rustic sound to them, as found on early Toots and the Maytals tracks (Chang & Chen, 1998).
Island Records, an independent Jamaican label, circulated Jamaican records in the UK during the sixties, but reggae only became popular there when Prince Buster's Al Capone (1967) started a brief "dance craze" (Roots, n.d.). In the United States, Jamaican music was linked to ghetto life and associated with gang violence, but Jimmy Cliff's Wonderful World Beautiful People (1969) brought together reggae and the "peace and love" philosophy of the hippies (Chang & Chen, 1998). Johnny Nash's Hold Me Tight (1968) propelled reggae onto the charts, although UB40’s cover of Neil Diamonds Red Red Wine later became a sensation. Do The Reggay (1968) by Toots and the Maytals is often thought to be the record that gave Reggae its name.
As the seventies grooved forward, reggae music began to become an international hit. A key piece in its progress was Perry Henzell’s 1973 film ‘The Harder They Come’, which was about the life of a young criminal in urban Jamaica (McLellan, 2006). The film’s soundtrack full of reggae hits, and was influential in transporting Jimmy Cliff and reggae music to an international audience (McLellan, 2006). Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want, featured on the soundtrack of the film, helped bring reggae into the mainstream.
One of the reasons reggae music had, and continues to have such an impact is the substantial religious, social and political themes that enveloped the genre in the seventies. The origin for this was the growth of the Rastafari movement, a beliefs system popular in downtown Trenchtown an urban area of Kingston, from where many reggae musicians surfaced (Chang & Chen, 1998). Rastafari’s principles such as peace, praise to God or ‘Jah’, social equality and righting the injustices of the ‘Babylon’, which is what they call the Western World, all became the core of reggae music during this period, also known as ‘roots reggae’ (Barrow, Dalton, & Buckley, 1997).
Roots reggae has acted as protest music across the world, when the Berlin Wall fell, people stood at the fallen rubble and sang Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds for hours (Sherman, n.d.). This music has acted to unify the communal activities when threatening forces are present. It is perhaps because of the social and religious themes of these messages, and the intense contextual relevance and cultural specificity of the music, that roots reggae songs are often powerful, and almost spiritual to listen to.
By 1975 Reggae Music was played world wide. In the seventies producers like Bunny Lee and Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd helped reggae musicians and bands like Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs, The Abyssinians, Bob Marley, Burning Spear create records. Trojan, Island Records, and Studio One were constantly releasing albums of top quality (Chang & Chen, 1998). The combined efforts made Bob Marley and Dennis Brown reach levels no reggae or Jamaican artists had ever seen. Producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry created the ‘Black Ark’ recording studio in his backyard and ended up producing some of the best reggae albums of all time (Sherman, n.d.).
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a big shift in Jamaican music, the world was changing, Jamaica was changing and so the music changed. The roots reggae inspired by the Rasta lifestyle gave way to music made for the dancing – dancehall. While most hits coming from Jamaica in recent years have been made for dancehall, authentic sounding reggae music continues to be made. Winston Mcanuff and the Sicilian Alborosie are both examples of a modern artist who has kept a strong connection with roots reggae.
This genre has enriched the lives of many worldwide, given people a leg to stand on in times of trouble, and made it impossible to not let the beat take control of you. It continues to inspire artist of the present and deepens our desire to seek equality.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Top of Form
Barrow, S., Dalton, P., & Buckley, J. (1997). Reggae. London: The rough guides.

BURNING SPEAR - Official Website. (2013-2014). BURNING SPEAR - Official Website. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from!the-story/cbivBottom of Form
Top of Form
Chang, K. O. B., & Chen, W. (1998). Reggae routes: The story of Jamaican music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Definition of reggae in English. (2014). Reggae: definition of reggae in Oxford dictionary (British & World English). Retrieved July 14, 2014, from
McLellan, D. (2006, December 2). Perry Henzell, 70; his movie `The Harder They Come' brought reggae to the world. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 19, 2014, from
Roots Rock Reggae - Dis a Reggae Music. (n.d.). Roots Rock Reggae - Dis a Reggae Music. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from
Sherman, M. (n.d.). The Rise of Reggae and the influence of Toots and the Maytals. The Rise of Reggae, and the influence of Toots and the Maytals. Retrieved July 22, 2014, from of Form

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