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Reggae Music

Written by on April 4, 2018

The genre of reggae music originated in Jamaica.

As is the case with another of Jamaica’s internationally popular musical spaces, Dancehall, the emergence of reggae music is directly tied to Jamaica’s history of colonialism and slavery. Western Europeans, namely the Spanish and the British, conquered Jamaica in the 15th century, and committed a genocide of the original people, the Arawaks/Tainos.

After killing all the Arawaks, the Europeans calculated they needed slave labor to work the Jamaican sugar plantations in order to acquire significant wealth. Through the trans-Atlantic slave trade they bought “slaves” from Africa to work on the plantations. The slaves in Jamaica were primarily from Africa’s West Coast, mainly from what was then called the Gold Coast, and is now primarily known as Ghana, and to a lesser extent, parts of Nigeria. Later in the trade the colonialists also got “slaves” from the Congo region of Africa.

The “slaves”, ancestors of most Jamaicans, had, of course, brought their own sophisticated and complex cultures, worldviews and way-of-being with them to Jamaica – which included their unique cultural constructions of interpreting and explaining the world through music and dance. Over hundreds of years the African ways of ritualistically performing their worldviews through music and dance were combined with elements of the European colonialists’ structures of culture, which eventually evolved into various forms of unique Jamaican music and dance. These Jamaican folk forms of music and dance, with their accompanying philosophies, including myal, revival, mento, brukkins, quadrille, jonkunoo, kumina, gereh-benta, dinki-mini, ska, and the immediate parent of reggae, rock-steady, and reggae.

Reggae’s birth was also strongly influenced by the philosophy and teachings of Jamaica’s Rastafari. The Rastafari influence on reggae also resulted in the tradition of a great many reggae songs challenging the ways in which religious structures, primarily European, played various roles in enabling and sustaining systems of oppression against the disadvantaged and the poor. The genre has been markedly pan-Africanist in orientation. Reggae traditionally gives voice to the voiceless and speaks with power for the powerless. Reggae is most noted for its protests against political, economic and social injustices and its social commentary on life’s “serious issues.” This emphasis rose in opposition to the physical and psychological violence meted onto African “slaves” and their Jamaican descendants during hundreds of years of European slavery in Jamaica.

Reggae boasts a battery of internationally recognized artistes and has virtually spread to every area of the earth. Bob Marley (Robert Nesta Marley) is still the most recognized reggae artist in the world…though deceased. Other well-known, internationally-acclaimed reggae artists include Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Alpha Blondy, Alberosie, and many more. Anywhere one ventures, one is likely to find someone who at a minimum knows what is “reggae?” Within this context, we can now identify different types of reggae music in different regions and countries of the world.

Tambourine Radio features several selectors (DJs) who are experts in reggae.

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