Published May 01, 2000Reggae fans worldwide are generally receptive to a variety of styles. Though many claim, for example, to be "strictly dancehall," this has always celebrated, and is dominated by its roots. Reggae itself emerged in 1968, most probably named after the Maytals' "Do the Reggay." While early reggae was much faster than it would subsequently become, in the early 70s it quickly diversified into a variety of sub-genres.
Reggae in many ways is still defined by its sound from 1970 to 75: slow, bass-heavy and featuring melodic vocal trios, with a profound Rastafarian influence in its lyrics and drummed rhythms. For the most part, roots reggae is still played and recorded by live bands, as opposed to being digitally produced. Current artists include Sizzla, Burning Spear, Israel Vibration, Bunny Wailer and Michael Rose.
It began in late 60s by King Tubby wiping out vocal tracks, and quickly progressed to adding homemade effects to four-track recordings. Lee Perry started making some very weird music by 1972 on tracks like "Cow Thief Skank." The style rose to new heights by the mid-70s, creating an post-psychedelic, techno-ganja music unlike anything else in the world. Augustus Pablo's "King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown" and Keith Hudson's "Pick A Dub" are but two classics. In England, Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor and Jah Shaka recorded outstanding music throughout the 80s. Dub's effect-friendliness has influenced virtually every contemporary electronic musician.
Deejays: Jamaican Style
"Toasting" talking over rhythm tracks in a sound system goes back to the origins of sound systems (mobile, open air dances) themselves. In the mid-60s, U Roy began talking over instrumental versions of current hits. When multi-track recording started in Jamaica in the late 60s, the art of the deejay and the dub mix exploded. Deejays like I Roy, Dennis Alcapone, and Big Youth began to record their raps for the same producers who created the vocal versions. Now many deejays sing as well, and often pioneer their own original rhythms.
Linton Kwesi Johnson and Michael Smith heralded a new vocal style in the late 70s: dub poetry, distinguished from DJing by its almost exclusively political storytelling. Dub poetry is one of the most vivid fusions of words and music in any popular genre, and has inevitably influenced rap. Canada has produced many outstanding dub poets, each with their own distinctive style: Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph, Adri Zhina Mandiela. Worldwide, some of the best are Sister Carol, Oku Onuora, Benjamin Zephaniah, and Mutabaruka.
Beginning in the late 70s, the twelve-inch disco mix single became the standard for sound systems, while the dub and vocal mixes were combined on the same A-side. This led to stripped-down productions that furthered drummer Sly Dunbar's "Rockers" innovations and redefined the dub sensibility in a vocal mix. The first dancehall producers were Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy and Prince Jammy. Yellowman was the quintessential early 80s dancehall deejay, and caused a sensation with his sexually explicit lyrics. Computer rhythms were launched in the mid-80s with the much-versioned "Sleng Teng" and "Boops" rhythms. Since then, breakbeats have informed dancehall. Jamaica, as has been its custom for 50 years, has redefined American influences into new rhythms and production values sonically, dancehall is simultaneously street and abstract dub.
In mid-70s Britain, sweet soul lovers started "nicing up" the lyrical end, resulting in an overall softer sound in the words and the music. There is very little Rastafarian or political content in this style. Jamaican influences on lover's rock include Gregory Isaacs and Ken Boothe. The "loverman" image (à la Otis Redding or Teddy Pendergrass) in Jamaican music has been a constant since the 60s, and one should look to Jamaica to find contemporary male voices who still draw inspiration from the original soul men. Current artists include Beres Hammond and Luciano.