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Celebrating raggae music and musicians
By Michelle Liew Tsui-LIn
Reggae. The music conjures images of relaxation and calm joy.
The musical form also tends to make anyone listening want to do a slow dance. It definitely puts one on the beaches of Waikiki, in front of a luau.
The uniqueness of the harmonic and melodic structure of this genre of music also give it great listening pull.
Reggae deserves a little of the spotlight and so do the famous artists who gave it its shape.
Instruments used in reggae music
The reggae sound is built on a relatively small number of instruments that play what is affectionately known among reggae artists as ‘riddim.”
Drums - a standard drum kit, congo and bongo drums
Horns-the saxophone,trombone and trumpet
Characteristics of the reggae sound
Bob Marley, who was reggae’s number one maestro until he passed away in 1981, has attributed what gives reggae its nature to the feel of the music.
The sound can be described as high, big, round, slow and yet incredibly beautiful.
Syncopated or off beat nature
Reggae’s downbeat is played on the second and fourth beats of a bar of four counts, instead of being introduced at the beginning of the bar. The slow, offbeat nature gives it its “feel”.
Reggae has a strong bassline, which is memorable and makes it what it really is. It is usually what people would remember about a reggae number, and is played repetitively, is thick, and pronounced. In a reversal of roles, the bass has musical prominence in reggae music.
Reggae keyboardists call their technique ‘the bang”. The bang essentially means that they play the keyboards on the second and third beats of a four beat bar, synchronizing with other instruments.
The reggae guitar complements the keyboard to help it sound fuller. For those familiar with guitaring, the chucking or chopping technique is used. For those interested, please follow this link for more on reggae guitaring.
Reggae usually has a strong brass section. The saxophone, trombone and trumpet are used in many reggae numbers.One horn may be tuned higher than the others.
A Jamaican form of music, congo and bongo drums are the percussion instruments mostly used. The percussive style of nyah bingi drumming is a strong stylistic feature. The snare drum is usually tuned to a much higher pitch, which gives it a sound that replicates timbales.
Reggae vocals are usually repetitive, crisp and leave a “chanting” feel. They involve singing, deejaying or a combination of both.
Singing reggae comes with its colors! Rock the songs with red, green, black or gold.
Some inspirational reggae musicians and songs
Reggae, as with other musical genres like jazz, rock, and rhythm and blues, has a fair share of outstanding musicians who have contributed to its growth.
Here are a few must-haves on the reggae list, though there are many others worthy of mention.
Bob Marley No Woman No Cry
Die hard reggae fans will be up in arms if I did not include Marley on a reggae music list.
Influenced heavily by the Rastafari movement and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, Marley’s early messages were for the repatriation to Zion of those of African descent who had been dispersed worldwide due to slavery. He sang songs such as Babylon System and Survival.
He and childhood friend Bunny Wailer began playing music together. Later, through a collaboration with Joe Higgs, they met up with Peter Tosh, who also had musical aspirations and formed The Wailers. With the Wailers in 1963, he released early reggae records with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.
The group disbanded in 1974, which pushed Marley into a solo career. He released the album Exodus which established a worldwide reputation.
I include “No Woman No Cry,” a must listen of Marley’s.
We have remembered the influence of Marley, and must not forget songwriter and percussionist Bunny Wailer Aka Neville O’Riley Livingston, Bunny Livingstong and Jeh B. Together with the other two Wailers, Marley and Tosh, he is a standard bearer of reggae, and was named by Newsweek as one of the 3 most important musicians in music. He identified with the Rastafari movement, as did the other Wailers.
He began by singing some of his own compositions like “Who Feels It Knows It,” “I Stand Predominant” and “Sunday Morning” . Probably the most forgotten Wailer, Bunny sang lead in but in a few songs, like Riding High and Keep On Movin. He also sang lead on Reincarnated Souls.
He and Tosh felt marginalized in the group as Marley started getting more attention. The band broke up and each member began operating under its own label.
I Am That I Am
A core member of the band, The Wailers, the reggae musician had a successful solo career and was an active advocate of Rastafari as well.
The Wailers, disliking up tempo ska, reduced their music to a rock steady pace and infused it with social messages of their new found faith. Together with the rest of The Wailers, he wrote songs for Johnny Nash and released the earliest reggae numbers, including Soul Rebel, Duppy Conqueror and Small Axe.
Wild World Maxi Priest
A British reggae musician of Jamaican descent, Priest performed reggae with an R and B influence, making reggae fusion popular. He has since become one of the most successful reggae fusion acts of all time.
He was one of only two British reggae acts (the other being UB40) to have a number one song on the American Billboard charts. The number was Close To You. Another of his popular numbers was Set The Night To Music, performed with Roberta Flack.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight Jimmy Cliff
The only Jamaican musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honor bestowed by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences, Cliff performs not only reggae well, but is a versatile with pop and rhythm and blues.
Cliff, also an actor, starred in the reggae film The Harder They Come, the soundtrack of which was a huge success and helped to introduce reggae to the world. He also won a Best Reggae Album grammy for the album, Cliff Hanger.
Fly Sugar Ray Featuring Super Cat doing a little deejaying.
Deejay Super Cat, also known as Wild Apache, became famous for using his deejaying skills with reggae numbers. He had a few number one hits, including Don Dada, Ghetto Red Hot and Dem Don’t Worry We in 1992. His remake of Fats Domino’s My Girl Josephine was included in the soundtrack of the film Pret A Porter. He collaborated with artists like The Notorious B.I.G and was featured on the B Side Remix of the album, Dolly My Baby. Teaming up with Sugar Ray on the album Floored, he contributed deejaying skills to the number one hit, Fly.
Reggae music may have spiritual leanings, but its eclectic sound and syncopated “riddim” is easily binds all.
Copyright Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin
All rights reserved
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