Reggae music is a very popular style of music in Jamaica, and its roots can be traced back to the 1960s. Over time, many reggae artists received attention in the United States, which popularized reggae and slowly brought it to mainstream audiences. In order to understand this genre of music, you must be aware of its history and its significance to the people of Jamaica.
The term "reggae" was first used in Jamaica in 1960. The name reggae evolved from the word "ragged", a term used to describe a style of dance music which had its roots in New Orleans-style rhythm and blues. It soon changed to the style we recognize today and its origin is not actually Jamaican, but a mix of sounds from the U.S. and Africa.
What sets reggae apart from other styles of music is its syncopation. Syncopation allows the emphasis of beats that would otherwise not be emphasized and rhythms that often deviate from their expected placement. In reggae, this usually means that the second and fourth beats are accented, and the third beat is emphasized. The bass drum is often played as if to mimic a heartbeat, and the bass guitar is in the forefront with a thick, treble-less sound. Guitars often take a back seat in reggae, unlike most styles of music including rock and jazz, where the guitar incorporates melody.
Reggae is identified with the Rastafarians of Jamaica, who consider the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, to be the incarnation of God known as Jah. With lyrics which are often related with Marcus Garvey and his intent on emigration back to Africa, reggae became a voice of the people rather quickly in its short history. Reggae lyrics also incorporate themes involving love, sex and socialization along with social criticism and political consciousness. Lyrics such as "All around in my home town, they are trying to track me down, they say they want to bring me in guilty" in the song "I Shot the Sheriff" decry the political targeting going on in Jamaica at the time.
Throughout the 1960s, reggae was distributed by then independent label Island Records and was associated with the violence of the Jamaican landscape of that time. As the decade came to a close, many reggae songs extolled the virtue of peace in the land and reggae soon adopted peaceful lyrics as well as more laid-back grooves. In 1967 Neil Diamond had America's first reggae pop hit in "Red Red Wine," which gave the style exposure in the United States.
No discussion about reggae would be complete without the mention of Bob Marley, who is unarguably the most recognized reggae artist of its history. Bob Marley was responsible for the first all-reggae album, and was an activist for the Jamaican people. He rose to fame in the 1960s with The Wailers, and became a star after releasing such classics as "I Shot the Sheriff" and "No Woman, No Cry" in the 1970s. Marley died of cancer in 1981.
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