Reggae is the voice for all the brothers and sisters out there, mon. Except those brothers and sisters from Babylon, mon. Not the ancient Iraqi city state, mon, because that would be paranoid. No mon, we mean the worldwide governmental conspiracy against Jah. They in Babylon have their vile media, their corrupt public officials, their shampooing hair salons. These songs of freedom are all we've ever had, mon.
At least that's what we tell they police when they ask about the musky smell.
Reggae is a musical genre from Jamaica and the world's leading reason to poorly imitate another accent (see: mon). The style borrows heavily from the R&B and ska musical genres, co-opts African folk drums, and is unlikely to ever return the beanbag lent by the calypso genre. Essentially they pillaged the spectrum of Afro-American music, so it's that black on black crime you always hear about.
The music also manages to appeal to a disproportionate amount of white people by virtue of its strict adherence to the 4/4 time signature, just like every album AC/DC has ever produced. A reggae song is defined by a focus on the latter three beats in a bar rather than the first beat, which is usually left empty. The severely delayed reaction time of reggae enthusiasts is the likely reason for the difference.
Bob Marley helped push reggae into the popular consciousness through heavy hitting social commentary, while bands such as UB40 toned down the peace and love message into something more relatable by singing about their love of red wine instead. Although reggae might be most famous for granting the gardening industry product placement opportunities everyone else could only dream of.
Trying to categorise a song as "reggae" can fool some people sometimes, but it can't fool all the people all the time.
The tempo of reggae is always slow. That kind of school kid lounging in class and daydreaming slow. Particularly if they've just returned from the toilets with bloodshot eyes. The beat is also "symmetrical" because the old school artists spent most of their schooling lounging around and pondering those kind of things at length.
The lyrics in reggae are, confusingly, both a call to action and about the most relaxing thing in the universe. Basically, once they figure a way to weaponise hammocks then Babylon is screwed. Bob Marley in particular focused upon social issues but he managed to express his feelings without being whiny, demanding, or effeminately high-pitched.
Listening to reggae usually leaves a feeling of empowerment because it:
- Mentions Africa without demanding you donate right this second
- Mentions God without demanding you bow before him right this second.
- Mentions a woman without demanding she return right this second.
- Mentions "ting", "stylee", "murderation" and other corrupted words to prove not even the folks at the Oxford Dictionary have power over us.
Guitar & bass
Like most things of Afro-American origin, reggae enjoys focusing on someone swinging around a big fat bass. The "lower frequencies" are emphasised, so to speak. Thick and heavy is how reggae likes it. Now before you run off to your local feminist action group and cry about female objectification, the guitar does get a bit of play. Yeah, that's called the "skank". And it's often an offbeat little minor scale.
Implications aside, reggae is similar to most other musical styles in the way the bass and guitar use chord progression. As such, pumping out Marley's Buffalo Soldier at a party will alienate the post-chord, tight pants crowd but will endear one to the post-shampoo, hippie pants crowd. They're the ones who are going to be ordering all the pizzas anyway. With extra garlic bread.
Typically the last concern of any musical group, the drums are elevated to a position of great importance in reggae; percussion is the 3rd last concern, just in front of neo-classical economics and bathing. The percussion section is basically an excuse to show off the exotic instrument the artist bought last week (steel drums, bongos, cowbells, the skulls of gay men etc.) by slowly and rhythmically smashing it to pieces.
Cross-stick technique is commonly used (ie. rest one stick on the drum and hit it with the other) as the old school drummers had crap hand-eye coordination because their favourite kind of paper run involved more licking than throwing.
Mix these all together and bake (usually into a brownie) and you will have yourself a true reggae song. Here's some we prepared earlier.
"Three Little Birds"
|Talking animals are fun.|
|"No Woman, No Cry"||What would be called a "red light" in relationships today.|
|"I Shot the Sheriff"||Marley manages to pre-empt the popular anti-police movement that would later be expressed with even more subtlety in N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police".|
|"Buffalo Soldier"||Marley manages to pre-empt the popular furry movement that would later be expressed with even more subtlety on the Internet.|
|"Sweat (A La La La La Long)"||Epitome of annoyance that manages to undo all the peace and love reggae ever spread before.|
Much like those Old Testament genealogies, Ska begat Rocksteady begat Reggae and, much like you'd expect from Old Testament era people, the first true reggae song was about a goat. "Nanny Goat" to be exact, written in 1968 by a guy named Larry. Yes, reggae kind of had to work on its image.
Thankfully there was a prophet out there ready for a virgin re-birth, and he was prepared to bring his own Mary: Bob "Tuff Gong" Marley.
The first iteration of Bob Marley and the Wailers were so suited and proper they made Buckingham Palace look like a hippie commune. However Marley proved all those exaggerated anti-drug public service announcements correct by reinventing himself overnight from a clean cut soul singer a grandmother would enjoy while gardening, becoming a scuzzy reggae performer a university student would enjoy while "gardening".
Marley released Catch a Fire and Burnin' in quick succession during 1973, although this may just have been because he really, really needed to borrow a lighter. The albums contained the hit "I Shot the Sheriff", but fortunately for all the Sheriffs out there the albums proved to be the closest humans have come to auditory pacification. In 1974 there was even a plan to replace the UN Headquarters with a single stereo repeating "I Shot the Sheriff", although it was binned after concerns from the plumbing industry that it could eliminate bathing from human culture.
During 1974, Marley found God in his own "burning bush" so to speak, and this influenced his following albums Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration. Although the albums usually focused on the boss man, the most successful song "No Woman, No Cry" discussed Marley's tumultuous relationship with the boss woman; his wife. Marley managed to have (at least) 12 children with 9 different women during his life; basically, when he went to a male fertility clinic and asked about the quality of his sperm the doctor always replied "every little thing is going to be alright".
Marley then went full-Jesus in 1977 with the release of Exodus, which coincided with his arrest, conviction and the crucifixion of his bank account for possession of cannabis. The album remained high on the charts for 56 weeks (coincidentally the same length of time Marley didn't stay high after his arrest) due to the anti-racist "One Love" that confirmed Marley had no problem accepting the money thrown at him by any race.
Yet More Bob
Yes, all except the money thrown by white South Africans. After being denied the right to send Nelson Mandela a few indoor plants to spruce up his cell, Marley embraced the anti-apartheid campaign and produced the albums Survival and Uprising in 1979. The songs paid respect to the African struggles against poverty, genocide and colonialism, although most contemporary renditions of "Redemption Song" are sung by people who's only struggles are hangovers, sunburn and sand in the butt-crack.
Unfortunately, Babylon had its revenge via Marley's half white South African genes and Marley succumbed to skin cancer on 11 May 1981. At Marley's funeral the then Jamaican Prime Minister delivered the sombre eulogy;
|“||His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds...
...but I ain't no queerer batty mon.
The body was taken for cremation, leaving a haze over the whole of Kingston and several looted snack stores. His productive digits and member may have been entertaining Jah up in Zion, but Marley still had the ability to stupefy his people.
Three days after Marley's passing something rolled the heavy rock from the entrance to the Island Records recording studio in London, messing up the exquisite hair of several '80s glam acts. The miracle landed a deadly blow on the combined forces of Babylon because no one, no matter how white or governmental, can keep on oppressing while singing out of tune to "Buffalo Soldier", the song that was revealed by the miracle at Island Records.
Modern reggae bands respect their anti-establishment origins by using more digital masturbation than a Silicon Valley start up. In the "dub" and "dancehall" sub-genres black men with messy, tangled hair have largely been substituted by black boxes with messy, tangled cables.
Dancehall reggae has kind of morphed into a form of urban music, which is another way of saying the lyrics are so violent they'd make the Terminator feel embarrassed. Sean Paul is arguably the most popular dancehall performer, mostly because he is merely misogynistic.
The band Skindred has also blended reggae and rock, however some of that effort could have been spent learning how to dress themselves to avoid blending dreadlocks and metal spikes.
Finally, Bob Marley style "roots" reggae lives on at almost every 3rd world tropical beach. Too poor to afford synthesisers, pre-packaged digital "riddims" or basic dentistry, local taxi drivers can be found as far afield as Bali, Costa Rica and Thailand adapting local versions of the peace songs. Usually before beating up European backpackers over a few cents on their taxi fare.
As a direct competitor to "house music" and "industrial", dancehall reggae artists naturally hate gay men to the core. Realising they could never compete with the OONZE OONZE OONZE, some artists have included lyrics about murdering gay men instead. The gay men didn't really enjoy being murdered (or even murderated) and protested.
Most old school reggae artists just shook their head and asked why dancehall couldn't idolise something legal like drug use- oh.