Introduction to Reggae and Dancehall: Music 101

May 26, 2021
Introduction to Reggae and Dancehall: Music 101

Caribbean Music is lively, lovely, and full of fun. You can see the culture, and colors peeking in the song.

So are you bored because of the quarantine or the lockdown? Looking for something to listen to? Try Reggae and Dancehall, you would never regret it.

In the World music scene, Caribbean Islands are always a big name. The culture, music, and vibrancy shine through, despite the adversities of time. We have been gifted with so many talented singers and musicians, who are from these countries.

The music has gone international, and it’s not surprising at all. Some popular music genres originated here, such as:

  • Reggae
  • Ska
  • Dancehall music
  • Socca
  • Dub

However, these are only some of the names I have mentioned from a really long list. We cannot discuss all these genres today within this constraint. But we will do it in later blogs.

For now, we will discuss two genres, reggae, and Dancehall.

Reggae is a music style that comes straight from Jamaica. We were first introduced to it during the 1960s, which was already a historically significant time. It consists of elements of other music styles as well, such as:

  • Calypso
  • Mento
  • American jazz
  • Rhythm and Blues
  • Ska
  • Rocksteady

In the earlier days, it’s the best way to do commentary on political, social, and economic issues, provide news, and spread gossip. It still is, and some artists took the liberty to bend it artistically.

According to music experts, Reggae was a mechanism to spread words about Rastafari. Rastafari itself originated as a means of protest against British colonialism at that time. But in the later stages, people wrongly began to associate it and Reggae as a promotional tool for criminal activities, and violence. Yes, it may have slang and other words like it, but no Reggae artist will say that they promote criminal acts.

What are the elements of this music style?

  • Two guitars (one used by the lead vocalist, or to support the singer, and the other one creates rhythm)
  • Drums
  • Congas
  • Keyboards
  • Horns

It has an offbeat track, with second and fourth beats accentuated, and the third beat usually has a guitar note. If we have to talk about tempo, it’s quite slow and provides a soothing effect. And as mentioned earlier, these songs are usually quite lyrical, discussing serious and light-hearted topics.

This genre has several talented artists, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Cliff was one of them. These artists were successful in making the genre popular internationally.

Do you have recommendations for a playlist?

Yes, I do. These are the Reggae songs I would listen to, on any day:

  • Pressure Drop
  • I Can See Clearly Now
  • One Love
  • Many Rivers To Cross
  • Angel
  • Someone Loves You
  • Get Up, Stand Up
  • Sweat
  • Police and Thieves
  • Untold Stories
  • Lover Man
  • Slavery Days
  • Everything Crash
  • What One Dance Can Do
  • Vietnam
  • Caan Dun
  • Ram Goat Liver
  • Wear You To The Ball

You can listen to any song from the list, and try other ones as well.

Now, let’s check out dancehall Music:

Dancehall is another form that comes from Jamaica. This one originated in the 1970s and is the precursor of rap music. In this music, the artist or the DJ bashes or speaks over the music.

This music is usually played in halls, that’s why it’s named like that. Notable names in this genre include Shabba Ranks, Yellow Man, and King Jammy.

In the 1980s, we saw the introduction of digital elements, giving it new recognition.

What are the elements of this genre?

  • Usage of electronic keyboard is crucial here
  • Usage of riddims

The tempo of this genre can change, but usually, it’s more upbeat. The lyrics can vary too. Like Reggae, it has faced the heat of criticism and went for a downhill spiral. But it is making a comeback, as many singers are modifying the genre to suit modern tastes.

What Dancehall songs should I listen to?

These are my recommendations, and the songs listed here showcase the talented artists’ skill and uncanny power to get the message across.

  • Murder She Wrote
  • Bam Bam
  • Ring The Alarm
  • Who am I?
  • Here I come
  • You Don’t Love Me (No, no, no)
  • Get Busy
  • Budy Bye
  • Sycamore Tree
  • Rich Girl
  • Murderer
  • Everyone Falls in Love
  • Just One of Those Days
  • Ghetto Story
  • Girls Dem Sugar
  • Ice Cream Love
  • Gimme The Light
  • Greetings
  • What The Hell The Police Could Do
  • Pon De River Pon De Bank

These genres have given birth to different sub-genres, each of them with famous songs, and artists. If you want to learn more about them, keep your eyes peeled here.

What’s the difference between these two?

  • Dancehall is more free, more upbeat, and funky. It says about the harsh realities we cannot escape from.
  • You cannot sit in a chair while listening to Dancehall
  • Reggae is comparatively calm, and conscious.
  • It’s soothing and has a meditative effect

These genres have a massive fan following, both in the Caribbean Islands and abroad. Now, they are being used as a powerful tool for communication by artists across the globe. In the USA, you will find singers singing these songs, and the audience erupting in chorus.

Both these popular genres came from Jamaica, and as a female caribbean artist, I could not be more proud. I regularly listen to these songs, new and old, whenever I am in the mood.

Music is very dynamic, and it changes according to the subsequent time. This is a proven fact seen through different generations.

If you are a first-timer listening to Caribbean music, I would ask you to start by listening to them. And if you are a fan of rap, then you would love Dancehall and Reggae.

I was introduced to these forms from quite an early age. If you want to listen to these songs, you can tune in to different streaming platforms. I sing songs from different genres, and I hope you find them according to your taste.

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