A HISTORY OF REGGAE MUSIC
I love funky and I love soul Sometimes a little blues will please my soul. But when I want something to rock my soul Give me Reggae every time.
Fifteen years ago, people listened to reggae music in only one country Jamaica. Jamaica is a small island far away in the Carribean Sea.
Only the poor people of Jamaica liked reggae. Reggae was born in the shanty towns of Kingston. Kingston is the biggest city of Jamaica.
The musicians lived with the people in the shantytowns. They were part of the people. They understood the suffering. And they sang about it.
They sang about unemployment, hunger and violence. They sang about suffering – but the music was also strong and fuII of hope. That is why the people loved it.
The fans knew that reggae music was good. They knew that it must spread to other countries. And they were right. That is what happened.
In the 1970’s, musicians like Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh grew famous in England and America. Today there are reggae musicians in lots of different countries – even South Africa. And there are thousands of reggae fans all over the world.
Maybe reggae is so special because the people made it – poor, ordinary people. Reggae music is the people talking. And it comes from the soul.
Poor people have lived in Jamaica for a long long time. In all that time, lots of things happened. And all those stories are in the music today.
Just over 300 years ago, Britain began to rule Jamaica. Before that, Spain ruled Jamaica. By the time the Spanish left Jamaica, most of the Karib people in Jamaica were dead. The Karibs had lived in Jamaica for hundreds of years.
So the new rulers had a problem. They owned Jamaica and all its sugar fields. But they did not have enough people to work for them.
But these were days of slavery. So they sent ships to Africa. And for 250 years, the ships brought slaves from Africa to Jamaica.
The slaves were forced to leave Africa for ever. But they never forgot where they came from. They took their African music with them to Jamaica.
And they passed it down to their children and grandchildren. The old African beat is still alive in reggae music today.
Many reggae songs are about slavery. The musicians remember their forefathers – the slaves who sweated and suffered in the sugar cane fields.
Bob Marley sang: Slave drivers Your table is turned Catch your fire You are going to be burned Every time I hear the crack of a whip My blood runs cold.
In 1838 the years of slavery ended. But the people of Jamaica were still not free. They were still poor. Wages were low and life was a struggle.
The people still didn’t forget Africa. They heard stories about strong African fighters like Shaka in South Africa and Ja Ja in West Africa. These stories gave them hope.
In the 1920’s something important happened in Jamaica. A Jamaican man called Marcus Garvey started to fight for the rights of black people. He told all the black people of the world to unite and fight.
Marcus Garvey told the people in Jamaica about a new king in Africa. The king’s name was Haile Selassie. His other name was Ras Tafari. He ruled a country called Ethiopia.
And so in 1930, a new religion began in Jamaica. The religion is called Rastafari. And people who believe in this religion are called rastafarians.
Today Rastafari is a very strong religion in Jamaica. They believe that Emperor Haile Selassie IS the living God. They call God “Jah”. And they read the Old Testament of the Bible.
They wear their hair in dreadlocks just like the fighters In East Africa. They smoke a lot of ganja (dagga). They believe ganja is a herb from heaven.
They also believe that one day all black people will go back to Africa. The “Mighty Diamonds” sing a song called Africa:
Africa our father’s land is calling us home So long we have been a slave And no more will be one So I hope and I pray That the day wiII come When we wiII see the rising sun no more crying Nor victimising No more starvation No more killing
Rastafari religion is a very big part of reggae music. Most reggae musicians are rastafarians – and they sing lots of songs about Rastafari.
Britain ruled Jamaica until 1962.
Then Jamaica got it’s own government. Rich people from other countries came there for long, lazy holidays. For them, sunny Jamaica was a great place.
But Jamaica was not a great place for the people living there. There was no work in the countryside. People were starving. So thousands of people moved to Kingston. But few people found work there. They lived and suffered together in the big shanty towns outside Kingston.
Because many young guys had no work, they became gangsters. They were called the “rude boys”. And they were sharp and fast and ready to kill.
The Slickers sing this song about the rude boys. Walking down the road with a pistol in your waist. Johnny you’re too bad Walking down the road with a ratchet Marcus Garvey in your waist Johnny you’re too bad You’re just robbing and stabbing and looting and shooting You know you’re too bad.
In the 1960’s something new came to Jamaica – vans that played music. The vans drove around the streets of shantytown. And they played records at big parties in peoples’ backyards.
First they played American records. But then they paid rude boys to sing on records. They didn’t pay the rude boys very much – but the rude boys loved singing.
The rude boys first made music called “ska”. Later, ska turned into music called “rock – steady”. And in the last years of the 1960’s, rock-steady turned into reggae.
Many rude boys died young. But others became reggae stars. People like Max Romeo, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Peter Tosh were all rude boys.
Reggae singers sing about slavery. They sing about Rastafari. And they sing about the rude boys and life in the shantytowns.
Reggae singers also sing about some thing else – violence in Jamaica. Jamaica is a very rough place. There are too many guns. And there is a lot of fighting and killing.
The people fight and kill each other in the crowded shantytowns. The people in different political parties fight each other. And like in many other countries, the police are very cruel. And the poor people and the rastafarians suffer the most.
Jimmy Cliff sings a song called “Peace Officer” : Police officer Are you a warrior Got your knife, got your gun Got your bayonet, got your gas bomb Got your dog, got your baton Got your whip, got your whistle Is it war you are defending Or is it peace?
Reggae music is against violence. It’s against war. The “Gladiators” sing.
Jah didn’t make us to live like beasts No more fighting No more killing Let love and beauty abide
But the reggae singers say that the fighting won’t stop by itself. And the police won’t stop killing people just like that. And people won’t suddenly stop suffering.
The fighting will only stop when people stand together – and work together. Bunny Wailer sings.
The world won’t get no better if we all let it be We got to change our ways You and me
And Peter Tosh sings: Get up, stand up Stand up for your rights Get up, stand up Don’t give up the fight