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The roots of modern Jamaican music can be found in the sound systems of the 1950s. As the 60s began the music began to take off in its own direction, leading to a completely new sound, the frenetic Ska, which was followed a few later by the more melodic and soulful vibes of Rocksteady.

The 70’s were the most creative decade in Jamaica’s musical history, as rocksteady mutated into the more bass driven and political Reggae music.

At the centre of this sound was Roots, a ‘conscious’ political form of reggae. Rivalling this in local popularity was the work of vocal DJs or toasters. Out of the need to create instrumental ‘versions’ for toasters came Dub, featuring spacious soundscapes of rhythm and bass and reverb. 
The UK had always been a big market for Jamaican music, and in the mid 70s developed its own, hybrid of the form – Lovers Rock.

In the 80s the culture of DJing developed into Dancehall, featuring harsher, faster rhythms, usually accompanied by explicit lyrics.  In the 90s this mutated into the more hip-hop influenced Ragga and Bashment sounds. Buy it wasn’t all about slackness – dancehall had its pop practitioners, and – as the 90s progressed – a more cultural and lyrically conscious offshoot developed, realigning itself to traditional Rastafarian values.

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 The Root of Reggae - Sound systems and R&B

The roots of modern Jamaican music can be found in the sound systems of the 1950s. 'Sounds' were large outdoor parties where DJs would play the latest R&B and jump blues records. It was a fiercely competitive scene, with DJs blanking out the titles of their new tunes to stop rivals getting copies. As the decade progressed two rival sound systems proved more popular than the rest, Duke Reid's The Trojan and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's Downbeat.
See also:
Coxsone Dodd at Wikipedia
 Duke Reid at Wikipedia

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At the beginning of the 60s Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, the owners of the two leading sound systems of the time, took the next logical step and set up their own record labels - Treasure Island and Studio One. They would provide the backbone for the island's music industry over the next decade.

The first new sound to emerge from Jamaica in the early 60s was Ska, an energetic hybrid of the American R&B sound, where piano and guitar rhythms focused on the upbeat - producing the characteristic 'skat, skat, skat' sound. Well known exponents of this genre included The Skatalites and Prince Buster, producing tunes which provided the soundtrack to the newly independent Jamaica.

From the outset home-grown Jamaican music found a sympathetic audience in the United Kingdom, where immigrants of the 'Windrush' generation were hungry for the latest cuts from back home. It also provided swinging London with a touch of the exotic, with Prince Buster appearing on the pop show Ready, Steady, Go, and West Indian night clubs proving popular with the rock star set.  Later in the 60s ska also became the music of choice for the emerging UK skinhead scene.

Ska continued to fuel the imagination of musicians long after its popularity faded in Jamaica, most notably in the British Two Tone movement (The Specials, Madness et al) of the late 70s and, in more recent years,  the ska-punk scene in the United States.

See also:
The History Of Ska Music
The Ska Lyric Archinve
Ska at Wikipedia

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By the middle of the 60s the abrupt sound of Ska was replaced by the more melodic and soulful vibes of Rocksteady. Rocksteady was heavily influenced by American vocal groups, especially Curtis Mayfield's The Impressions. Notable artists of the era include Toots and the Maytalls and The Paragons.
Ironically, given its sweet romantic lyrics, rocksteady became the music of choice for rudeboys - the young gangsters of Kingston's increasingly dangerous and poverty stricken ghettos.

See also:
Rocksteady at Wikipedia

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Reggae music and the Church of Bob

With reggae Jamaican music truly came of age, reaching a global audience in the 70s through the iconic power of Bob Marley.

The first track to mention reggae was Toots and The Maytall's 1968 track "Do the Reggay" - and it was around this time that Rocksteady began to take a new direction, slowing down, emphasising the bass and developing a more 'choppy' guitar sound. Reggae also (like its soul counterparts across the water in America) increasingly began to address social issues, and became closely linked to the Rastafarian religious movement.

No one embodied reggae music's rise more than Bob Marley and The Wailers. The band had a history that stretched back through the ska and rocksteady eras, and the Wailers already had some local success when they began to record with producer Lee Perry in 1969. It was a relationship which would help define the genre for the next decade.

The other crucial factor in the spread of reggae was The Wailers signing to Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1971. The 1973 release of the album Catch A Fire, marketed in such a way as to appeal to white rock audiences, began a process which would establish Bob as one of the most recognisable and revered musical figures of the 70s. When he died of cancer in 1981 he was given a state burial and was mourned the world over.

See also:
Official Bob Marley site
Bob Marley Magazine
Bob Marley at Wikipedia

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Roots Reggae

Bob Marley may have been the most visible international artist of the 70s, but he was certainly not the only star to come out of Jamaica at the time. The music that proved most popular was the heavily Rastafarian roots style - which lyrically championed the oppressed, drew on biblical sources for inspiration and celebrated the liberating powers of marijuana, the latter of which made it most appealing to ageing hippies in Europe
The list of great artists from this era is long, but of special note are Burning Spear, Culture, Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru.

See also:
Roots Reggae at Wikipeida

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For those of a sonic inclination reggae's greatest achievement was Dub. Its mighty soundscapes had a galvanising effect on noiseniks the world over.

Like so many of Jamaica's innovations dub has its routes in sound system culture. Producers would make 'versions' of vocal tracks, emphasising the bass and drums for the dancers - and providing space for the DJ to talk or 'toast' over the records (see the DJ section for more details). It also allowed recording studios to recycle the same tunes again, and again, and again. Cheap!

There's some disagreement over who started dub, but the two main innovators were undoubtedly Lee Perry - whose dub is full of humour and eccentricity - and the more stripped down and minimalist approach of King Tubby.

Like ska before it, dub has proved a resilient form - a hardy perennial of the music world. In the UK today sound systems like Jah Shaka and Aba Shanti still attract large audiences, searching for truth amongst the rhythm and the bass.

But it is its attitude to sound that defines Dub's legacy  - its interests in texture, pace and abstraction have had a major influence on Trip Hop, Ambient, D'n'B and the more leftfield reaches of Electronica.

See also:
David Toop's A-Z of Dub
Dub Flash
Dub at Wikipedia

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 DJs in the 70s

Less well known outside Jamaica in the 70s, but seen by many as a precursor to rap, was the tradition of DJs talking over records (a confusing title, Jamaican DJing being the equivalent of, in hip hop terms, MCing). DJs were also referred to as toasters or sing-jays.

DJing emerged in the late 60s; the mighty U-Roy is generally seen as the first exponent of the style. Djing developed hand in hand with dub, as instrumental versions of the well known tracks left the record spinner free to add his own vocal take over the record, firin' up the crowd to ever higher levels of excitement (much the same as at a Drum 'n' Bass rave today).

As the 70s progressed the DJ became recognised as a star in his own right, in Kingston Big Youth's popularity was only rivalled by Bob Marley's.

See also:
U-Roy at Wikipedia

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Lovers Rock

The UK's main stylistic contribution to the Reggae sound was Lovers Rock, a style which came to the fore in the latter half of the 70s. Very popular with the ladies, Lovers eschewed the 'heavy' themes of roots - focusing more on the traditional romantic themes of popular music. The most famous exponent of the style was Janet Kay, who had a UK chart hit in 1979 with "Silly Games".

Lovers Rock was one of the rare instances in which UK reggae ifluenced the Jamaica scene. Artists such as Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs spent so much of their time in London that they devloped a taste for it, and imported it back to JA.

See also:
Lovers Rock at AMG
Lovers Rock at Wikipedia

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The early days of Dancehall

In the early 80s a sea change occurred in reggae music, as roots and conscious music gave way to the more abrasive, faster, and at times down right slack (Jamaican slang for rude), dancehall. Here the DJ was king - and the undisputed king of early Dancehall was Yellowman, an albino toaster whose main topic was, to put it nicely, his way with the ladies.

The other major change of the 80s was the move away from analogue to digital production, spurred on by a Jamaican audience constantly craving innovation and change. The first fully digital track of the era was Wayne Smith's 1985 track 'Under Mi Sleng Teng', produced by Prince Jammy - one of the most popular dancehall producers, and a prodigy of legendary dub man, King Tubby. This digital form of dancehall is sometimes referred to as ragga.

See also:
Dancehall at Wikipedia

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Hip Hop meets Dancehall

In the 80s and early 90s Dancehall increasingly absorbed influences from American hip hop (which went increasingly 'slack' itself!) and began to achieve a degree of international success. Shabba Ranks crossed over big time in the states, doing duets with Queen Latifah and KRS1, and even doing a track for the film Addam's Family Values.

See also:
Dancehall at Wikipedia

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Pop and Conscious Dancehall

It would be wrong to give the impression that dancehall is all about the rude and the crude (slackness in Jamaican parlance), some of its biggest stars having firmly placing themselves in the pop camp. One of the biggest stars of the 90s was Shaggy (a US citizen), who achieved a massive worldwide hit in 1993 with a cover of the Folkes Brothers "O Carolina".
But in more recent years the crossover crown has definitely belonged to the 'Dutty One' himself, Sean Paul, a man who has brought the pleasures of the dancehall to teenage girls around the world.

In the late 90s some dancehall artists rejected slackness and embraced a more 'consciousness' approach, embracing Rastafarian values and discussing social issues in their lyrics. Prime exponents of this style (sometimes referred to as 'Cultural') include Capleton and Sizzla.

See also:
 Dancehall at Wikipedia

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