Where Was Reggae Born?
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Listed as a UNESCO intangible heritage and an internationally known music, reggae also has a complex history. But where exactly did reggae come from? Where did it develop before it became such a unique musical style? If you, too, have been asking yourself these questions, you're in the right place.
Passionate about Rastafarianism and reggae, I've always wanted to learn more about these subjects. So I set to work to discover the answers and offer them to you.
Regggae is a musical trend that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s. The first traces of it can be found in the ghettos of the capital. Inspired by different music, reggae music originated mainly in Trenchtown, a neighborhood in Kingston.
You will be able to find out more about:in this article.
- The origins of reggae;
- The birthplace of this musical trend;
- The links between Jamaica and reggae.
This will give you the answers you want about the origins of reggae. Don't forget to put some Bob Marley on in the background, and let's get going!
1- MULTIPLE ORIGINS
We don't know precisely when Jamaican reggae was born. It is known that the beginnings of the movement appeared in the 1960s and that "reggae became reggae" as early as 1968. But it was not born from nothing and has known before, to become what it is, different influences that have been used by musicians.
a) A clever mix of music
Jamaica became an independent country after independence in 1940. (If you want to learn more about the island's history, check out our article.) But with this freedom came hardships that led the less wealthy populations to live in ghettos. The descendants of slaves mainly then gather in very poor neighborhoods. They struggle to find work and spend much of their time listening to music. Among what they listen to is:
- the mento,
- the calypso,
- the ska,
- but also jazz,
- rhythm and blues,
- African music.
Some begin to compose, others write lyrics. These often concern the difficulties they encounter in their daily lives and many denounce this complicated life.
b) A first step towards reggae
It is in this creative pool that the rocksteady is born. It is considered the ancestor of reggae. This music can be described as slowed down ska. It was imagined in the ghettos of Riverton City, Greenwich Town or even Trenchtown in the capital.
This music stands out from the rest with a quieter, jerky rhythm. When you listen to rocksteady, you can immediately spot the characteristics that will lead to reggae. For example, you can listen to this hit: Alton Elis Rock Steady.
The Rocksteady will have significant success first in the ghettos and then throughout the country. It will even attempt to conquer the United States. He denounces the problems that the inhabitants encounter. We can thus discover lyrics about local gangs (like the Rude Boys). This bewitching rhythm, which appeared in 1966 will quickly evolve into reggae.
2- BIRTH OF REGGAE
Music is becoming a major phenomenon in poor neighborhoods. Many people improvise themselves as musicians or authors, others as producers. This strong emulation will lead to the birth of reggae. At first, we listen to instrumentals. Then the artists improvise lyrics that are generally protesting:
It was during 1968 that the first songs that are truly considered reggae appeared. Early in the year, we hear Pop-a-Top by Lynford Anderson. Then Bang a Rang by Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling or Do the Reggay by Toots and the Maytals, songs now known as the first tracks of this musical trend. These songs are now considered part of early reggae. But the style doesn't stand still. We will also find variations in rhythm (slower, more powerful faster).
Whoever the singer or musician is, he's from a Kingston ghetto, a veritable breeding ground for reggae creators.
a) A mythical neighborhood in reggae history
Have you ever heard of Trenchtown? This neighborhood was home to many farmers who came to the capital after going broke. They hoped to find work at the time. This is also where poor people who couldn't find a place to live elsewhere gather.
The place has been home to major reggae artists:
This neighborhood is found mentioned in many songs like No Woman, No Cry. So it is particularly important to reggae. Bunny Wailer cites Trenchtown as the "Hollywood of Jamaica".
This music is heard all the time and is considered the "baby of Trenchtown". This one is regularly played on the streets by sound systems, kinds of booths with turntables, speakers and amplifiers.
Regggae thus became a ubiquitous music in the lives of the locals, and it was from here that it would spread throughout the world. Today, one area (Cooreville Gardens) is home to streets named after the reggae artists who lived there, and there are many!"
3- REGGAE, A MUSIC OF JAMAICA
This music is first and foremost a totally Jamaican style. We talk about Jamaican reggae. We think Jamaica, when we listen to reggae.
a) A symbol of Jamaica
It has become a symbol music of the country. Prime Minister Michael Manley, defined in 2003, reggae as the primary language of Jamaicans. Reggae has managed to become an identity unique to the Jamaican people. It expresses pain, daily life and aspirations. It syncretizes the different influences that have made Jamaica: European and white heritage, African and black heritage.
This musical current also has great importance for the protest movements that arose in the ghettos but also with local politicians. E. Seaga, a powerful politician and owner of many recording studios in the capital, emphasizes the importance of reggae: you can't separate music and politics in Jamaica. He will also face much criticism from reggae artists.
This music also has an important role in everyday life, and not just as a message to detract listeners! The Wailers, for example, managed to get two rival groups (the Rude Boys and the Ras) to meet. It becomes a weapon launched against the injustices suffered in these poor neighborhoods:
Uptowners are not allowed to listen to reggae, the music of "black-hearted men." This music is rejected by the elites and Christians.
b) And the relationship between reggae and Rastafarianism?
It's impossible to talk about the birth of reggae without making some diversions into Rastafarianism. You can imagine.
Naturally, the reggae icon that was Bob Marley was Rasta. Naturally, this spiritual movement was quite successful in the poor neighborhoods of the capital. But among the early creators of reggae, many were never Rastas! They even highlighted the difference between rastas mens and reggae mens:
So we cannot deduce that reggae is linked to Rastafarianism from its origin. What links the two currents is above all their presence in the ghettos of Kingston and their importance in the lives of the inhabitants. Many rastas are indeed present in Trenchtown. Like reggae, Rastafarianism will be a current of protest and resistance.
4- REGGAE, A JAMAICAN MUSIC THAT HAS BEEN INTERNATIONAL
Born in the heart of Jamaica's capital city, reggae has seduced with its bewitching rhythms and truthful lyrics. This music was dreamed up in the ghettos of Kingston and is also a powerful message. Both protesting and uniting, this music is the very image of the place that gave birth to it.
You now have all the answers to the questions you've been asking about the birthplace of your favorite music. This way you too can answer anyone who wants to know where reggae came from. Don't hesitate to talk about Kingston and its poor neighborhoods like Trenchtown, the symbol place of reggae.
Don't hesitate to wear reggae symbols like a beanie or a t-shirt featuring the silhouette of the island birthplace of this musical trend either.