Jamaican Music Transitions And History For Dancehall and Reggae
The Jamaican music has seen many twists and turns, many ups and downs. We have evolved from a nation ruled by other nations and now free. Free to sing and play our music for all the world to hear.
Jamaica is known for its reggae music but the reggae sound evolved from genres before its time. Music that came from other cultures before. When the reggae was developed it was the start of a new era when Jamaica music could stand up against the best of the blues, or pop and any other music from around the globe.
Now the Jamaican sound has taken center stage as we are winning Grammy after Grammy, our music on the Billboard at every turn. Our music being chosen as the music of the millennium thanks to Bob Marley's "One Love".
Most people associate Jamaican music with Bob Marley or Reggae, but before Reggae there were other genres which helped to mold the sweet sounds you are hearing today into what they are. Below are the different genres of music coming out of Jamaica.
Trench Town the home of Bob Marley's Music
Rendition of a Jamaica Folk Song - Long Time Gal
Jamaican folk music was borne out of a people who were trying to find their place in the new world. After facing such turmoil, slavery, then freedom with a price. Life was hard. People sang about their daily lives and hardships.
Songs of freedom also found their way into the music as life got better. Love, friendships and some of the African folklore in there too.
In 1907 a compilation of the Jamaican folk songs were published in a book by Walter Jekyll. Folk music is as popular today as the day it was first created with our Jamaica Folk Singers and the Carifolk Singers making sure to keep our memories in tune so we never forget where we are coming from.
Original folk music never came with instruments as the slaves and laborers had no musical instruments and some of these songs were made up while they were in the fields, or a night around a fire, telling "Anancy" stories. All Jamaican music originated here.
**Anancy stories are African folklore about a spider called Br'er Anancy (Brother Anancy)
Originally, drumming was an African tradition. When the slaves came here they were allowed to do their drumming and have their own little party. The estate owners saw no harm in allowing this and they themselves found it amusing.
However, the slaves used the drums to send messages from estate to estate as they were not allowed to speak with each other. It was also used in rituals to celebrate birth or to mourn the dead. Drumming has become a huge part of Jamaica's culture and Kumina is to blame.
Now in the 21st century Kumina is a very popular way of sending off the dead. This music is played at the home of the deceased for 9 nights until the dead is buried.
These days the music is transitioning unto CDs and being marketed as regular music.
In the 19th century our people wanted to create their own music. They were tired of listening to predominantly European music yet liking the sound of the instruments, they brought the best of both their world and the white man's world together creating what is now known as the grandfather of Reggae.
It is believed that mento started way back when we were slaves and the master used to ask the musically inclined slaves to play for them. The slaves, trying to please their masters would try to play the European music but the African sounds would find their way inside there somewhere.
Mento uses the African sound and European sound to give music a unique and one of a kind sound. Mento is an original creation of Jamaica, our first original sound.
Mento is not known worldwide or listened to by the masses who love reggae yet without mento there would be no reggae, but wait a bit, several genres came out of mento.
One Popluar mento song was made popluar by Harry Belafonte when he covered "Day O" popularly known as the banana boat song. Mento lyrics are influenced by everyday life.
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Ska came out of the 1950s and this music could be dubbed as the first dancehall music. This music is a combination of several genres including jazz, American R&B of the era, the mento and calypso.
The genre of music called ska was the creation as a version of the American music. The Jamaican people were hearing the American sound so often and of course the Americans were leading in the music industry at the time so they decided to record their own version of Jazz and Rhythm & Blues.
Ska is a lively sound that makes you want to dance. Its sound is infectious and when you hear it you can definitely see why reggae is so popular.
There are several claim to fame about the word ska and why the music was coined as that. The famous Ernie Ranglin said that the strum of the guitar had a scratching sound and the musicians referred to that as "skat, skat skat". That still doesn't really explain how the music became "ska".
Another version is that while recording in the studio in 1959, bassist Cluett Johnson told Ernie to play "ska, ska, ska" on his instrument. Ernest Ranglin categorically denied this stating that Johnson could not tell him what to play.
Anyway, no matter how the name came about there is one thing for sure that the musicians of the era like Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Ernest Ranglin, Clement Dodd were somehow responsible for creating the music.
The Ska music was so successful and the Jamaicans were on a roll. They had created two genre's of music that they could solely call their own, they decided that that wasn't enough. Around the mid 1960s the Jamaicans again mixed jazz, R&B, the African sound and some of the Latin American sound along with other genres to make it into Rocksteady.
Around about that era Jamaicans were traveling to Cuba and Panama to work on sugar plantations, so they would have had first hand experience of the central American and Latin music.
Rocksteady isn't as fast dancing as ska but non-the-less just an infectious. This genre didn't last long and died down in about two years making way for reggae.
During those infamous 1960s when ska and Rocksteady became famous, Reggae was born. You could say that Jamaican music was borne out of experimenting with different styles and genres and it worked, so instead of leaving it there they decided to create more music and got a sound that didn't sound like anything anyone had ever heard or done before.
Reggae was the most unique of all the sounds the Jamaicans had ever created, drowning out the Latin music, the jazz and the R&B, yet enhancing them to make music that slowly but steadily begin to catch the world on fire.
To date, reggae is one of the most popular music in the world. The song of the millennium is a reggae song, One Love!
Robert Nester Marley who came on the music scene round about that time, began to take reggae to the world. Of course there are other great men behind the music. Bob didn't create reggae, he is only the messenger but people relate to him for he is the one they hear. However, Bob wasn't alone, the band he worked with, The Wailers were very instrumental in making reggae what it is.
Other music icons who made reggae famous were Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Dennis Brown.
Dancehall came about as the dance music of the US became popular in the 70s. Dancehall was really supposed to be a faster version of reggae which people could dance to. So really dancehall music is a spin-off of reggae music, or another experiment which paid off.
By the 80s, the music got even faster due to the introduction of digital musical instruments and so the dancehall music increasingly got popular.
The comparison would be: Dancehall music is Jamaican's version of funk and disco, but please don't say that out loud! They sound nothing alike but dancehall was really created because of these genres. Jamaicans wanted their own dance music, hence dancehall.
By the 90s the music became so popular that it began to outshine reggae, however, some musical artistes worked really hard to keep reggae alive.
Danchall music was made popular by Sizzla and Capleton, dancehall icons.
Other Jamaican sounds
It would be remiss of me not to mention the other sounds that came out of our Jamaican heritage or music.
- Dub is a sub-genre of reggae and is really a mixture of already existing music. The music is edited to remove the vocals, trimmed to reveal the drum and bass, so leaving a heavy beat. Purely instrumental. You can take a dub and remake it however you want. In essence you can take a piece of reggae recording and remake it to sound completely different. Usually people will purchase what is known as a dub plate and record their own sound over that.
- Niyabinghi is an African sound much like the kumina, you could call it a sub-genre of kumina. The niyabinghi is a sound developed by the Rastafarians way back. Niyabinghi means "black victory" and the music celebrates this victory.
As you can see Jamaica has a rich music history as we seek to find our place in the world. Our music has broken down walls and barriers and can be found in almost every nation and loved by many people.