About Jamaican Music
Mento, Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, Dancehall and all other Jamaican music forms have a very deep rooted history. Jamaicans can trace their musical roots to around the time of 1655 when the English had assumed control of Jamaica. After capturing the island from the Spanish, they continued to expand on the existing slave trade. Until the 19th century the English imported several thousand of enslaved Africans to the Jamaica and with the Africans came new languages, new religions, new music, different cultures, beliefs and ways of life.
The British realized very early that African traditions especially singing, dancing and drumming were vital in retaining their spirit of freedom. They were also fearful that these African rituals could be used as calls to rebellions and uprisings. As a measure of control, legislation was passed in 1696 which forbade large gatherings, prayers, singing, drumming or other forms of celebration. However, despite the oppression, the Africans held close to their traditions and learned how to secretly pass these traditions down through the generations.
The interaction between Europeans and Africans created a new language which evolved into Jamaican Creole or Patois. This language was used in most Jamaican folk songs.
Jamaican folk music is probably the earliest form of Jamaican music and can be characterized into different groups. Ring games and nursery songs which carries a distinct European influence, and other forms like kumina and tambo, where the influence is clearly African. In between, are revival and mento and the performance style is always African. Before Jamaican independence, folk music was looked down upon in Jamaica and was not included in the education system. It was characterized as being lower class and was only performed by the working class. Post independence saw the acceptance of folk music and is today a common fixture at national events.
The early 1900's saw the rise of Mento in Jamaica. Mento is a Jamaican folk music form that features acoustic instruments such as an acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums and a rhumba box. The 1950's was the golden age of mento, which greatly influenced and led to the development Ska.
Ska combines elements of Jamaican mento with American Jazz and rhythm and blues. After World War II, many Jamaicans obtained radios and frequently listened to American jazz and rhythm and blues that was brought to the island by American naval officers stationed there. In the 1950's however, Americans began listening to rock'n roll instead of jazz and R and B, and Jamaicans yearned to hear the jazz and R and B which they had come to love. In an effort to recreate the music, producers such as Clement ‘Coxone' Dodd, Prince Buster and Duke Reid which were at the time sound system operators, began producing recordings. One theory is that ska was created in a recording session by Prince Buster who instructed the guitarist to change the emphasis on various beats. The guitar began emphasizing the second and fourth beats in the bar, giving rise to the new sound. The drums were taken from traditional Jamaican drumming and marching styles. To create the ska beat, Prince Buster essentially flipped the R&B shuffle beat, stressing the offbeats with the help of the guitar. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ska)
At the time, Ska lyrics were largely influenced by the Jamaican rudeboy culture. Rudeboys was the name given to poor Jamaican youth who could not find employment, but would sometimes be hired by sound system operators and promoters to crash the parties of other promoters. They were also sometimes referred to as dancehall crashers.
When these rudeboys starting dancing a little slower to the music, the tempo of the music changed and became slower. This was the birth of rocksteady. Rocksteady is characterized as being slower than ska with a more prominent bassline. It is often said that, Alton Ellis was responsible for the music when he released the song ‘rocksteady'. The rudeboy culture was even more prominent during the rocksteady period and most of the lyrics revolved around love and the rudeboy lifestyle.
Rocksteady only lasted 2 years and led to the advent of reggae. Reggae emerged around 1968 and is commonly used to refer to all popular Jamaican music. When the tempo of the music began to slow down the music form known as reggae was created. The word reggae with regards to music comes from the song ‘Do the Reggae' by the Maytals. Other theories about the term reggae have caused a little confusion surrounding the origin of the word.
"We didn't like the name rock steady, so I tried a different version of "Fat Man". It changed the beat again, it used the organ to creep. Bunny Lee, the producer, liked that. He created the sound with the organ and the rhythm guitar. It sounded like ‘reggae, reggae' and that name just took off. Bunny Lee started using the world and soon all the musicians were saying ‘reggae, reggae, reggae.'"- Derrick Morgan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggae)
"There's a word we used to use in Jamaica called 'streggae'. If a girl is walking and the guys look at her and say 'Man, she's streggae' it means she don't dress well, she look raggedy. The girls would say that about the men too. This one morning me and my two friends were playing and I said, 'OK man, let's do the reggay.' It was just something that came out of my mouth. So we just start singing 'Do the reggay, do the reggay' and created a beat. People tell me later that we had given the sound it's name. Before that people had called it blue-beat and all kind of other things. Now it's in the Guinness World of Records."- Toots Hibbert (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reggae)
During the seventies and eighties, reggae achieved international acclaim with the success of groups like "The Wailers" and movies like Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come". In 1985 ‘The Best Reggae Album' category was added to the Grammy Awards. ·During this period reggae began to take a new form that came to be known as dancehall.
The term dancehall comes from the spaces in which popular Jamaican recordings were played by local sound systems. The music is characterized by a deejay singing and toasting (or rapping) over raw and danceable music riddims. The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in reggae, sometimes with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancehall)
Henry "Junjo" Lawes has been credited with the creation of dancehall in 1979. The music was further refined in eighties by King Jammys.