In the late 1960s, Jamaicans of African descent created the Reggae musical style. Reggae bands incorporate the musical styles of many other traditional genres. These styles include mento (a Jamaican folk style), ska, rocksteady, calypso, American soul music, and rhythm and blues.

The genre has succeeded as a dance music genre thanks to its pulsating percussion, mesmerizing bass lines, and constant, up-stroke rhythm guitar (dubbed the “skank beat”). Most reggae songs also include lyrics in Lyaric, Jamaican English, or Jamaican Patois.

Origin of Reggae

Reggae, a distinctive genre of Jamaican music, has a long history in Jamaica and is intimately associated with the Rastafarian religion and social movement. Many reggae singers still follow Rastafarianism today. However, Reggae music shares similarities with other popular music genres that emerged in the late 1960s. Singers frequently sing about Rastafari spiritual concepts or social justice. The socially conscious lyrics of reggae have influenced other musical genres, such as hip-hop.

This style gets its name from the Toots and the Maytals’ song “Do the Reggay” from 1968. Songs like “Nanny Goat” by Larry Marshall, “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker, “No More Heartaches” by The Beltones, and “People Funny Boy” by Lee “Scratch” Perry all achieved significant success in Kingston the same year and contributed to the development of reggae as an influential genre of Jamaican popular music.

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Bob Marley & The Wailers, arguably the most well-known reggae band, was founded in 1963. The band’s distinct feature is its ska and dancehall successes, which modern bands such as The Skatalites influence. However, when reggae gained popularity, singer-songwriter Bob Marley, guitarist Peter Tosh, drummer Bunny Wailer, and bass guitarist Aston Barrett embraced the style. They created several top-charting albums, including Burnin’ (1973) and Exodus (1977).

In 1974, Eric Clapton recorded a version of Bob Marley’s song “I Shot the Sheriff,” which helped the Wailers gain international recognition. Jimmy Cliff, famous for the track “The Harder They Come,” and American Johnny Nash, who had significant success with “I Can See Clearly Now,” are two more notable reggae performers from the 1970s. Outside of Jamaica, roots reggae music has flourished. The English bands Steel Pulse and UB40 attained considerable success. Coxsone Dodd, King Tubby, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, who was equally popular behind the boards as he was in front of the microphone, are notable reggae producers.


Soul music’s intensity, ska’s light touch, and Jamaican mento’s spiritual core influence reggae music. The rhythmic patterns in the rhythm guitar, bass lines, and percussion also make the songs famous. This rhythm has a continuous quarter-note pulse on the bass drum, which the bass guitar frequently duplicates. Generally, it is similar to the American “four to the floor” beat.

Burning Spear’s song “Red, Gold, and Green” illustrates the “Steppers” beat. The rocker’s beat has four quarter notes per bar, but there is more room for syncopation. The rhythm section of Sly and Robbie, who contributed to creating the famous “rub-a-dub” sound, pioneered the rockers’ beat.

Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae” is another representation of the rocker’s beat due to its 4/4 rhythm and offbeat syncopations. The one-drop rhythm has a constant sixteenth-note pulse (similar to American funk music), with the kick and snare drum adding a backbeat accent. The song “One Drop” by Bob Marley & The Wailers is the source of the movement’s name.

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