Reggae: A Jamaican Sensation

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    Jan 30, 2013
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Alborosie @ Uppsala Reggae Festival 2010
Alborosie @ Uppsala Reggae Festival 2010
Photo by Joakim Westerlund

Reggae music began in Jamaica, in the West Indies. Like jazz and blues, reggae is black music that has become popular with both black and white people in many countries, especially in Britain and America.

But reggae is music for young people. It has a strong rhythm with a loud, heavy bass sound that makes reggae fans want to get up and dance. To find the beginning of reggae music, we have to look at Kingston, the capital city of Jamaica, in the 1950s and 1960s.

At that time, the city was crowded with young people from countryside who had come to work in the new factories. They created their own entertainment. These were very simple travelling discotheques, and at first their disc jockeys played American “rhythm and blues” records. Soon, however, the Kingston record industry began, and at the beginning of the 1960s Jamaicans started to make their own records. At first, their music was American “RNB” with a Jamaican flavour, but it soon developed into a new sort of music, called “ska”, shich also showed influences of the West Indian music of the countryside. “Ska” soon became “Rock steady” – slightly slower than “ska”.

Reggae has all these musical influences, but it has something else too. In the words of many reggae songs, there`s a special message. The songs express the feeling of being young and black, and they attempt to create a sense of identity. Sometimes, the message is an angry one; sometimes it`s one of love and hope.

Reggae is also the music of Rastafarianism. Rastmen believe all African people will return one day to the home in Ethiopia. Black West Indians are, of course, Africans; their ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many of the most popular reggae stars, like Bob Marley, are Rastafarians, and their songs contain Rastafarian ideas and hopes.

Not all reggae songs are about Rastafarianism, of course; lots of them call for unity and love without expressing Rastafarian beliefs. Many songs simply describe a love of dancing or music. Whatever the song tells us, its message reaches us very strongly through its rhythm and repetitive beat.

Reggae is extremely popular in Britain with young blacks, whose parents emigrated from the West Indies in the years after the second world war. Young whites, too, respond to the music and its stars.


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