Music indeed is a very influential tool in our society and culture. As time evolved, there had been many genres of music that were developed to suit the taste of different people. Moreover, these genres have specific audiences and beliefs that make it more interesting. And undeniably, it plays a very important role to the lives and culture of the people. Little may be known about it but there is a particular popular and influential music genre that trace its roots from a very colourful and interesting culture and religion—and that is reggae.
To a layman, reggae id often associated with Bob Marley but for someone who really knows a thing or two about the genre, it is more tan that. Reggae started in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1920’s but it soared to new heights just in the 1960’s. It is the indigenous music of Jamaica that have its influences from traditional Jamaican music and American (original) R&B (Romer, 2007). It is a collaboration of mento, ska and rock steady. (Behague, 2007). During that time, Jamaica was having a spiritual revolution.
Most people from out of Jamaica view their beliefs as rather radical. And so because of this, most of the reggae bands that were founded in Jamaica during that time had made it to be their praise song. All of Jamaicans were converting into Rastas and the musicians during that time started to write songs that opposes the oppression of Blacks against the hands of their oppressor. It is believed that Bob Marley and the Wailers are the ones that are responsible for bringing reggae and its beliefs into the mainstream.
When Bob Marley started their world tour, their music and lyrics became a source of some of the most controversial uprisings in Jamaica (Emick, 2007) It usually speaks of the religion’s beliefs and traditions. In America, there is a minority of people who are familiar with the music; and majority of them are immigrants from Jamaica or in some cases, people that got accustomed to Rastafarianism. After Bob Marley spread reggae into the mainstream, it became very influential to people around the world.
He was very open that he wanted to preach Rastafarianism in his music; and because of that, there are people that converted to Rastafarianism even though they are not from Jamaica. Marley’s preaching of the beliefs also coincided with the time wherein people wanted revolution in the government. With its provocative and honest lyrics, they and their music also became the anthem of the Hippies during the 60’s (Emick, 2007). Moreover, during that time, reggae was a fresh music to the ear for they had a different beat.
It also coincided with the time that The Beatles and the likes were very popular and influential in the media and the fact that it was very danceable made it more appealing to the masses. They got tired of the usual beat that was rampant during the era; they wanted something fresh and at the time, still has the spirit that they were fighting for. Moreover, in Jamaica, Rastas became elated when Marley was able to bring forth to the world their ideologies and they believed that they had a hero in the form of Marley (second to Sellaise) (Romer, 2007) and so, they became more optimistic in their way of life and their religion.
As reiterated from above, reggae is the music of the Rastas, or moreover, it is their praise song. It plays a very important role in their way of life because aside from the fact that it is their praise song, it is a part of their culture and religion. When Marley was successful in making it big to the world, they incorporated the social, economic and even spiritual status of Jamaica in their songs. And because of such, the radical people from around the world began to sympathize not just with them but also for all the country and people that were experiencing the same situation as them.
In a way, because of reggae, Jamaica was put into the map and from then on, the leaders of the country (may it be political or spiritual) began to make reforms in their constitution and the government (Emick, 2007). Until now, reggae is still a big part of the Jamaican culture and religion. Just like any other genre that was created, reggae also had its piece of controversies to reckon with. The fact that it was borne out of social “revolt” from the people of Jamaica plus it was surrounded or moreover created when spiritual revolution was at its summit, makes it more controversial than what it seems.
Once again, because of Marley and his contemporaries, most of the creators (musicians) of reggae faced an awful road of sticks and stones from its detractors. Many of the political leaders in the country became furious when it had a cult-like following in Jamaica (not to mention the fact that there were also Jamaican supporters from around the world). There was an exponential increase of followers in Rastafaranism during that time and in conjunction with it, the government of Jamaica got threatened that a bloody kind of revolution may happen in Jamaica (Emick, 2007).
The music makers helped a lot so that the “expected” revolution may not happen. Reggae talks about peace, equality, harmony and love—and these are also the virtues that the religion preaches (and so as the movers of reggae); which only implies that Marley sing the same tunes. And so, when the revolution seemed inevitable, they were successful to suppress it by having a concert for peace (Behague, 2007) and in that concert, they reiterated their virtues and so, the Rastas became enlightened and it did not pursue.
Perhaps the biggest controversy that up until now it faces is the connotation that reggae (or Rastafarianism or Rastas for that matter) involves the use of drugs. But in reality, they only use marijuana which in their case is sacred. It is their way of getting high and being one with Jah (Emick, 2007). Moreover, reggae musicians (especially Marley) pushed to legalize marijuana in Jamaica and for the longest time that they struggled, the government granted their wish. In the world, it is only in Jamaica that the use of marijuana is encouraged; but to the rest of the world, it is still illegal.
Reggae is highly connected with Rastafarianism and as time goes on, they became inseparable. They became one. Reggae has a very distinct for not just in tunes but also in how the musician dress. The most prominent and popular associated with reggae is the dreadlocks. Reggae musicians are often in dreadlocks. In their case, it is not a fashion statement but more of a spiritual stand. They strongly believe that dreadlocks are a sign of purity from the impurities of the world. The longer the dreadlocks that they have, the more pure they are. Also, reggae has their own language.
Most reggae songs sing of praise to Jah—their god. They often depict the greatness of Jah and how, in the future, they will be able to free themselves from the hands of their oppressor and eventually, how they will be able to return to Zion (Romer, 2007). Moreover, reggae also has its trademark color—and those are green, red and yellow. The colors are also the ones that can be found in the flag of Jamaica. Each color has its special meaning. Also, they are the ones responsible to have female back-up singers who don native clothing from Jamaica.
The symbols and the trademarks that they were known for come from their love and dedication for their religion—Rastafarianism. Reggae is associated to many things but perhaps the greatest and most popular of it is the fact that it will be forever be remembered as the song tat put Jamaica in the map. It stems from a very rich, colourful and profound culture and religion that over time became inseparable. Reggae was born out of the mind and soul of the people of Jamaica that wanted to be free from their oppressor; but moreover, it became a very powerful tool so that the voice of the minority of Jamaica can be heard.
Reggae has to be very thankful to Bob Marley for bringing it to the world that helped shaped the ideologies of the outsiders that eventually became a minority group in America.
Behague, G. H. (2007). Reggae [Electronic Version]. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761585597/Reggae. html Emick, J. (2007). Rastafarianism [Electronic Version]. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from http://altreligion. about. com/library/faqs/bl_rastafarianism. htm Romer, M. (2007). Reggae Music 101 [Electronic Version]. Retrieved December 12, 2007, from http://worldmusic. about. com/od/genres/p/Reggae. htm