Developmentof Indigenous Caribbean Reggae Music:
Apartfrom being one of the earliest forms of art, as it numerouslyappeared in the bible, music is the only form of art that is regardeduniversal. It is flexible hence, can be accessed by everyoneanywhere. Due to its ability to involve emotions, music can bedefined as a powerful form of art that employs the strongest sensesto pass a message. Artists use their emotional senses to share theirideas, issues, stories and beliefs through music. In my research, Iwill focus the history, and identify the role reggae music played inthe creation of the Caribbean identity. Music defines the culture ofa particular region, and its prevalence creates a sense of identitytowards its owners after a period of time (Turner,2006).
Thehistory of Caribbean identity can be closely linked with slavery,language, race and geographical location of the region. However, theterm can also be related to religious and cultural beliefs, music,ethnicities and cuisines in the modern Caribbean. The Caribbean isalso considered as one of the most diverse areas on earth. Itspopulation comprises of people with lingual, cultural and racialdiversity (Turner,2006). Caribbeanmusic history dates back during the pre – Christopher Columbus whenthe indigenous inhabitants of the region were the Neo – Indians. Anexample of a ceremony that the Neo – Indians sang danced to aslit-drum, percussions and rattles were called “areito”.To date, the Caribbean has creolized quite a number of cultures whichinclude Indian, Asian, African and European.
Caribbeanhistory denotes that the indigenous people revolted against slavery,there was the invasion of whites such as Christopher Columbus, andalso the mass migration of individuals from East Indian. These eventsindicate evidence of a region with diversity among its people. Thesehappenings led to the establishment of folk songs, which combinedboth “Chanting and use of drums”(Turner, 2006). Folksongs are believed to have an African origin while the music genre“Chutney”originates from East India. The Eastern Indians were tricked intooccupying the Caribbean region hence importation of “chutney”.
Caribbeanreggae music is regarded as the most recognized and respected musicgenres in the world. Reggae was incepted in Jamaica during the late1960’s. Over the years, reggae has grown and produced differentbranches. Dancehall, Dub, and lover’s rock are examples ofdifferent styles that evolved from reggae. Before the inception ofreggae music, there existed a different style of Jamaican folk musicknown as Mento.Mento also combined the use of drums and chanting, which bothoriginated from European and African folk music respectively.(Warner,1988).Jamaica also had another style of music that existed during the mentomusicera called Ska.In addition to drums and chanting, Ska employed one additional musicinstrument, the bassguitar.Bass guitars were used as the dominant instrument in ska (Anderson,2004).
Thefusion between the two main local Jamaican music styles, ska, andmento, led to the birth of reggae music. During the inception ofreggae music, the country was seeking its identity as it was duringthe colonial era. Reggae music was hence fused with a blend ofRastafarianism, political as well as religious connotations as a wayof seeking identity during the struggle for freedom. In order forreggae music pass its messages beyond regional borders, the lesspowerful whites had to change and rerecord it (Manlove,2005).Jamaican music such as reggae defines the Jamaican culture as it usesplenty of beats related to the American rap and hip hop. Reggae hasalso played a role in identifying other Caribbean music styles suchas CalypsoandSoca.Reggae music can be easily recognized by skank, which is the offbeats rhythmic accent employed mostly by the guitar. Talented reggaeartistes such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer emerged.
Theemergence of Rastafarianism as a religious movement as well as itsattractive teachings to the people greatly contributed to the rise ofBob Marley through reggae music. Through the religious Rastafarianteachings, people believed Bob’s reggae songs were prophetic andthis provided more respect and recognition worldwide. Due to itsrecognition, more artists emerged. However, with the emergence of newreggae artists over the years, the lyrical content of reggae musichas since evolved from the original sociopolitical message to anotherday to day issues such as crime and violence (Anderson,2004). Jamaicandancehall music is associated with crime due to its violent nature.
Contraryto dancehall music, the original ideologies behind reggae music was aplatform where Rastafarians from Jamaica would use to expresspersonal and religious feelings towards various issues. Robert “bob”Nesta Marley (1945 – 1981) was a great pioneer Rastafarianideologies and an advocate for peace and unity. Jamaican born, he isone of the most known Rastafarian reggae singers and songwriter.Among the songs that Bob Marley sang passing the Rastafarianideologies of unity is “one love”. This among other reggae songshas contributed to the Caribbean identity on the global platform.Jamaican reggae songs are characterized by various topics like war,slavery, love, freedom, unity, betrayal. The messages to the songsalso identify itself with “Zion”,a place that refers to “Paradise” or “The promised land” and“Babylon”whichRastafarians regard as “evil”. An example of Babylon is theAfrican slave trade. This is evident in some of Bob’s songs such as“AfricanUnited”,and “by the riverof Babylon”(Dagnini, 2011).
Apartfrom Bob Marley, other popular Jamaican reggae artist that usedreggae to highlight the painful experiences of the Africans andadvocated for Rastafarian ideology of peace and unity were PeterTosh, Burning Spear, and Jimmy cliff. One of the major events thatalso greatly pioneered reggae popularity was the release of a filmand a song bearing the title “TheHarder They Come”by JimmyCliff.The reggae beat versatility has enhanced the adoption of love musicinto reggae, and common reggae artists associated to this areBritish reggae band known as UB40, Beres Hammonds, Glen Washingtonand Gregory Isaacs among others.
Eventhough public opinion on some individuals feel reggae music diedalong with the late Bob Marley, I strongly disagree. On the contrary,I feel Bob’s absence in the Jamaican reggae music industry left ahuge void in the industry. Despite the immense efforts by the newgeneration musicians such as Romain Virgo, Richie spice, Beenie Man,Buju Banton among others, the quality of reggae music is different ascompared to Bob’s music. None the less I feel that reggae music notdead and better still far from being dead. The music has hence beenused as a “Caribbeanising” tool particularly for the purposes ofadvertising the region. In most advertisements involving theCaribbean region, reggae vibes are usually heard from the backgroundas an identity (Dagnini,2011). More so, over the years since its inception, people and institutionshave also used reggae music to enlighten and educate themselves onRastafarian theology, philosophy, and culture.
However,as much as reggae music has played an important role in creating theCaribbean identity, it has as well created a negative perception ofthe region. For instance, due to its evolving nature over the years,reggae music created several new sub-genres. These sub-genres havebeen blamed for being controversial and causing havoc and insecuritywithin and beyond Caribbean borders. Dancehall music which is asub-genre of reggae music is a perfect example. Due to itspopularity, dancehall music has attracted artists beyond theCaribbean borders. Some of these artists have been boycotted againstand criticized for songs that are said to promote violence,sexuality, promiscuity, nudity, and even degrading women. Dancehallmusic has also led to the creation of dirty and sexual dance stylessuch as “bubbling”,and “duttywhine”.“Daggering”is also a term used in dancehall music referring to a type of dancethat promotes sexual behaviors. Such growing trends have created anegative perspective in of the region as some would describe it asthe “slackness” in the region.
Followingthe negativity impacted on its listeners, dancehall music conflictsfurther escalated with the birth of “Gully”and “Gaza”debacle. This led to a rise in crime and violence among the Jamaicanpopulation, and due to its popularity, it quickly spread to otherareas such as Barbados. One of the noble criticizers of dancehallmusic was the former Jamaican Prime Minister, Mr. Edward Seaga.“Classicalmusic contains lyrics, melody and rhythm components which dancehallmusic lacks”.Mr. Seaga also went on and defined dancehall music as popularnonsense and undeniably powerful. The former Jamaican Prime Ministersays, even though he loves local music, he does not love dancehallmusic. The lyrical conflict between VybzKartelfrom Gazaand Mavadofrom Gully,greatly influenced the lifestyles of Jamaican youths (Dagnini,2011).
Throughoutthe Caribbean region, shouts from youths of “GullyGangsta”and “Gazami sehh”can be heard as one passes by clubs and dubs, a true indication ofthe influence it bears. Due to this, reggae and its sub-genres havegreatly created a negative perception on the Caribbean as a rude,violent, homophobic and slack region in people’s minds globally.For instance, the constant arresting of popular reggae artists suchas Buju Banton and Vybz Kartel, on charges of intent to distribute,and conspiracy to possess, worsens the already existing problem ofMarijuana trafficking among the youths. Many dancehall artistes suchas Vybz Kartel have influenced the lifestyles of many young peopleglobally. Such artists act as role models to youths both in theCaribbean and beyond (Dagnini,2011).Witha misleading criminal behavior and violence such as possession of anillegal firearm, these artists tend to negatively influence theyouths. Many young people across the globe will imitate the behaviorsportrayed by their role models. In the process of imitating thesebehaviors, many crimes are committed hence a negative effect.
Itis only human nature for most people to turn the focus towards thenegative effects and assume the positive effects. This is also thecase with Jamaican reggae music. Reggae music and its sub-genres suchas dancehall music have played a great positive role in the Caribbean(Alleyne,2000).However, due to the negative implications it has brought along with,people all over the world have shifted their focus towards thenegativity. Globally, people have stopped looking at this kind ofindigenous music genre and its sub-genres at a negative angle, hence,they no longer respect and acknowledge it as before.
Forinstance, there are a number of reggae songs that contain lyrics thatencourage people to end violence like raping, and killing, someencourage school children to stay in school, engage in safe sex,respect and love for all mothers/ women, and some talk about theteachings of God or “Jah”,some even inspirational, and have proven to have inspired many youthsin the region and beyond. Examples of reggae songs which havepositively impacted the Caribbean population is”noguns to town”song by “NattyKing”which discourages violence, “helpthem lord ”sang by “ChakaDemus”, which is inspirational and "Jahbless the women” sangby “LuckyDube”, whichas its title denotes, it encourages respect for all women/ mothersetc.
Eventhough there is evidence on the negative implications brought upon byreggae, as most people globally have shifted focus from the positiveeffects to the negative effects, I still uphold the true nature ofReggae music. In my own opinion, I choose not to focus on thenegative effects, but rather on the positive. My focus still dwellson the conscious wise message with full of cultural respect withinits lyrics. It is true to say that one chooses to either getpositively or negatively affected depending on the sides one focuseson. One of the main noticeable aspects in the dancehall musicindustry is “sextheme”.In the modern generation, the theme of sex is a whole “selling”aspect of the music industry (WayneMarshall, 2009). Thisis to say, music in the modern day generation especially thedancehall music, would heavily sell with the incorporation of sexualcontent in its lyrics. With this observed, many dancehall artistesseem to have realized this and are leaving nothing to chance.
Mostdancehall artistes have taken this fact into consideration and henceapplying it during songwriting. Therefore, having understood thisfact, it is easy to note that dancehall music is not different fromreggae music. It is simply the fusion of indigenous lingo, culturaldances with an offbeat, and the mastered art of incorporating asexual fuse in the lyrics sang. I feel most of its listeners whocriticize dancehall music usually blow things out of proportion. Thisis because I believe that nothing lacks disadvantages. Even with theold Jamaican reggae music, some songs encourage the partaking ofMarijuana as a holy herb. While this seems to be encouraged in thesesongs, some nations have illegalized Marijuana hence in the process,the songs implicate a negative behavior on the youths (WayneMarshall, 2009).
Therefore,it is wise enough to note that the music industry is sometimes moneydriven. Hence, most modern dancehall artistes will use sexual ideasin their music so as to sell and obtain money. Besides, most of theindigenous reggae music lyrics were based on African struggle. Sincetime has changed, with no more slavery and suffering, the newgeneration population will want to listen to trending issues in itsmusic.
Inthe development of the Caribbean identity, it is no doubt that Reggaemusic has its merits and demerits. However, it still remains to be animportant part of the history and identity Caribbean region despiteits negative impacts globally (Regis,1988).Itotally disagree with the statement that reggae music died with thedeath of the reggae legend Bob Marley, as some of the people have it.I conquer, the death of Bob Marley might have led to a drop in thequality of reggae music, but the music genre still lives on. Thereggae legendary artist might have departed the world but his musiclives forever. Reggae music will never come to an end. It is part ofus and dwells in the blood of Caribbean people (Alleyne,2000).
Assumingthe reggae music genre was to be renamed, I feel that the changeswill only apply to its title. Reggae music from its inception hasevolved throughout the changing times. To date, even amid thenumerous changes, reggae music still involves dancing, the rhythmicbeat of the drums and chanting (Regis,1988). Thisis a clear indication that reggae music is very far from dying. Dr.Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St, Vincent once said, “Weare sounds of the Caribbs, the Amerindians and Arawaks, the rhythm ofAfrica, and the melody of Europe, we are the cause of Asia, IndianChinese, and others and we are the home-grown lyrics of theCaribbean”.
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