Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Jamaican music is known worldwide but many people are unaware of just how much this tiny island has contributed to the industry, and not just Reggae. Certain hit songs released by international artists such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber fall within the genre of Jamaican reggae/dancehall music, a sign of how our music has become mainstream. Reggae and dancehall are the most recognized genres that originated in Jamaica, however the country’s influence extends much further.
Reggae is characterised by the fusion of European and African traits, with origins in enslaved work songs – created with guitar, rumba box, bongo and banjo. Mento mixed this with satirical lyrics of everyday life and verse repetition, creating a foundation from which reggae would blossom. Reggae employs a heavy four-beat rhythm driven by drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and the “scraper,” a corrugated stick that is rubbed by a plain stick.
Below are 8 Music Genres created & influenced by Jamaica.
The style of reggae music known as Rockers began in the mid 1970s. It was pioneered by the then Studio One house band called “The Revolutionaries.” The so-called "Rockers Rhythms" were essentially updated versions of Studio One classics from the rock steady era. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the bass player and drummer, developed Rockers as a more militant style than the One Drop reggae of the early to mid 70s. Although not the only rhythm used in reggae, the one drop is probably the one most people hear in their heads when they think of the genre. You can check out an example of it in the Wailers’ track One Drop, from the 1979 album Survival.
It is also sometimes characterized as having a more mechanical sound than earlier reggae. Rockers soon became the preferred style by reggae musicians and fans alike. Sly and Robbie backed such reggae legends as Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru. Other Rockers artists include Jacob Miller & Inner Circle, Steel Pulse, Aswad, Sound Dimension, Johnny Osbourne, Augustus Pablo, and Cornel Campbell.
Jacob Miller and Inner Circle - We A Rockers Live Paris 1979
6. Lovers Rock
Lovers Rock is a style of Reggae music noted for its romantic sound and content; hence the name. While love songs had been an important part of Reggae since the late 1960s, this style was given a greater focus in mid-1970s London. Lovers rock represented an apolitical contrast to the conscious Rastafarian sound dominant in Jamaica at the time. A continuation of the soulful and commonly love-themed rocksteady style, based on singers like Alton Ellis. It combined the smooth soul sounds of Chicago and Philadelphia soul with rocksteady and reggae bassline rhythms.
Rooted in the sound systems of South London, the style had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars including Carroll Thompson. Louisa Mark was aged 14 when she had a major lovers rock hit with her version of Robert Parker's "Caught You in a Lie" in 1975. This spawned the distinctive young girl female sound associated with early lovers rock.
The roots of Lovers Rock lies in the last days of the Rocksteady era and early days of Reggae. Jamaican and American singers such as Ken Boothe, Johnny Nash and John Holt had international hits with versions of well-known love songs.
The popularity of Lovers Rock has continued, and in 1986, the Revue label had a major hit with Boris Gardiner's “I Wanna Wake Up With You.” In the 1990s, the likes of Mike Anthony, Peter Hunnigale and Donna Marie enjoyed success with the genre; and several British stars have performed at Reggae Sunsplash. The 21st century has seen Lovers Rock being exposed to more audiences through the 'Giants of Lovers Rock' series of concerts at London's O2 arena.
Dennis Brown - Love Has Found It's Way
7. Roots Rock Dancehall
Often referred to as reggae's rebellious cousin, Dancehall music emerged as an under-ground genre in the late 1970s. Sound systems began stringing up on street corners attracting large crowds of locals, resembling a dance hall, hence its name. Artistes would toast (like rap) over digital riddims (rhythms) as opposed to the usual playing of prerecorded music.
The fast paced tempo laid the foundation for a genre with dancing, sexuality and "gangster life" at the heart of it. The dancehall market was initially concentrated in Jamaica especially for the members of the inner-city communities. It was often seen as very coarse and raunchy with no apologies.
Artistes like Capleton and Sizzla later introduced a more conscious side to the dancehall through the influence of the Rastafarian movement. Buju Banton (Untold Stories) and Anthony B (Damage) were also strong contributors in this category.
Dancehall saw initial mainstream success in Jamaica in the 1980s, and by the 1990s, it was popular in the Jamaican diaspora. In the 2000s, dancehall experienced worldwide mainstream success, and by the 2010s, it began to influence the work of established Western artists and producers.
Musically, older rhythms from the late 1960s were recycled, with Sugar Minott credited as the originator of this trend, when he voiced new lyrics over old Studio One rhythms between sessions. In the 1970s, Big Youth, U Roy, and I Roy were famous DJs. Around the same time, producer Don Mais reworked old rhythms at Channel One Studios, using the Roots Radics band.
Another trend was sound clash albums, featuring rival deejays /or sound systems competing head-to-head for the appreciation of a live audience. Underground sound clash cassettes often documented the violence that came with such rivalries.
Yellowman, one of the most successful early dancehall artists, became the first Jamaican deejay to be signed to a major American record label; and for a time enjoyed a level of popularity in Jamaica to rival Bob Marley's peak. The early 1980s also saw the emergence of female deejays in dancehall music, such as Lady G, Lady Saw, and Sister Nancy. Other female dancehall stars include artistes like Diana King and in the late 1990s to the 2000s Ce'cile, Spice, Macka Diamond and more. Around that time, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Mad Cobra, Ninjaman, Buju Banton, and Super Cat became major DJs in Jamaica.
Capleton - Fire (Martial Arts Riddim)
8. Gospel Reggae
Gospel Reggae is the fastest growing segment of Reggae music today. It is a homecoming of sorts because so much of the music that influenced Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae had its roots in Gospel. Songs like “Shadrach, Meshach, & Abendego” by Justin Hinds & the Dominoes, “Oil in My Lamp” by Eric ‘Monty’ Morris, “The Tree of Life [We Are Marching On]” by Stranger Cole & Ken Boothe, “The Rivers of Babylon” by Brent Dowe and the Melodians, which also became a worldwide hit for Boney M, were some of the songs from the Ska and Rock Steady era[s] that demonstrated a major Gospel influence.
Many mainstream artists have now switched to, or at the very least include] Gospel Reggae including Clive Tennors, Hopeton Lewis, Sanchez, Papa San, Carlene Davis, Richie Stephens, Judy Mowatt, Lt. Stitchie & Junior Tucker. Some of the popular artists include Joan Flemming, Claudette Clark, and Chevelle Franklyn.
Other major artists in the genre include Christafari. Lester Lewis, described as a pioneer of gospel reggae, won the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission Gospel Song Competition in 1989 with "Every Time I Read My Bible".
Jamaican music has gone full circle. Give Thanks and Praises.
Lt. Stitchie - Gospel Reggae (Official Video)
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Jacqueline is a writer/editor with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.