Music says a lot about a culture. Not just the lyrics — the beat, the instruments, and even the tone are passed from one generation to the next like genetics. In our increasingly globalized world, we can listen to any kind of music we want. But genres can have distinct and valuable cultural histories and heritages, which have to be kept alive. So, this July first, we at Nothing But the Arts recommend that you look up your favorite reggae bands, support your favorite reggae artists, and wear gold, red, and green for International Reggae Day!
Reggae is a music style from Jamaica. It originated in the 1960’s and has gained worldwide renown since then. But, despite its wide popularity, reggae represents aspects of a specifically Jamaican culture and history. Jamaica’s motto is, “Out of Many, One People,” because of its diverse heritage and unified national identity. Reggae likewise combines diverse music styles, such as R&B, calypso, jazz, ska, and the local mento folk music, into something fascinating and new. Also, since Jamaica is mostly black or mixed-race, people from the world over celebrate their black heritage with reggae. In 2018, UNESCO even added reggae to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for its profound cultural importance in Jamaica and abroad.
Reggae’s most recognizable traits are its drum and bass counterpoint, staccato chords, and offbeat rhythm. The lyrics, often sung in Jamaican Patois or English, often center on socio-political commentary or religion. Winnie Mandela even said that reggae helped inspire black people in South Africa to fight apparteid! In the past few decades, however, lighter topics and tones have entered into the mix, including music specifically aimed at children.
2022 also marks the sixtieth anniversary of ska music. Ska is the musical older sibling of reggae, starting about ten years earlier and having a big influence on reggae as a style. Famous ska artists who helped shape reggae include Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers, and Bob Marley (who was also a member of the Wailers). With its upbeat, energetic tempo and bold use of trumpets, ska is thoroughly fun and exciting, and imparts a lot of that energy on the slower reggae.
The official International Reggae Day event is held annually in Kingston, Jamaica. Andrea Davis created the event not only to celebrate reggae as a music style, but as a symbol of independence and the fight for justice. In the almost 38 years since then, thousands of people have flooded the island to attend the energetic, emotional event. Similar festivals have popped up worldwide.
Did you have the opportunity to attend a reggae festival or party? If so, what did you think? What artists did you see? How did it inspire you?
Are you a young reggae musician? Do you want to meet like-minded artists and talk about your favorite reggae artists? Hop on our Geneva chat today!