Magic Music: The Reggae Connection

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Want to know how reggae music is connected to magic? Check out our latest blog post to find out!

Reggae’s Origins

The music of Jamaica, particularly that of the Afro-Jamaican community, has long been a source of inspiration for many other genres of music. Reggae, a style of music that developed in the late 1960s, is one of the most well-known examples of this. But where did this style of music come from?

Ska and Rocksteady

The earliest form of Jamaican popular music was ska, an uptempo, marching beat influenced by Caribbean mento (a rural folk-style of song and dance) and by American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska developed in the 1950s at the same time as rhythm and blues was growing in popularity in the United States.American R&B recordings were played on Jamaican radio stations, and these influenced local musicians like Clement Dodd, who started up the Studio One label in Kingston. At first Dodd produced ska records like those being made in America, but he gradually developed a more distinctive Jamaican sound, with jazzier horns and a more propulsive rhythm.

The Birth of Reggae

Reggae is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, “Do the Reggay” was the first popular song to use the word “reggae”, effectively naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican danceable music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.

Reggae’s Influence

Reggae has been a guiding force in the development of other genres of music. It has been especially influential to rock, punk, and hip-hop. Reggae has also been an important source of inspiration for electronic dance music. Let’s investigate how reggae has influenced other genres of music.

Reggae in the UK

Reggae’s popularity in the United Kingdom began with the release of Bob Marley’s album Catch a Fire in 1973. The album’s success was followed by a series of UK hits, including “No Woman, No Cry,” “Stir It Up,” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” Reggae’s popularity in the UK was further bolstered by the rise of punk rock in the late 1970s. Punk bands such as The Clash and The Police incorporated elements of reggae into their music, and many punks were also fans of Marley and other reggae artists.

In the 1980s, UK-based reggae artists such as Madness and UB40 achieved mainstream success with their fusion of reggae and pop. In the 1990s and 2000s, a new generation of British reggae artists, such as Ms. Dynamite and Dizzee Rascal, emerged on the scene. These artists fused reggae with other genres such as grime, hip hop, and drum & bass to create their own unique sound.

Today, reggae is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds in the UK. It remains one of the country’s most popular genres of music.

Reggae in the US

In America, reggae commanded a significant following throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly among African Americans and other people of color. The music was often used as a form of resistance against the struggles faced by minority communities, such as police brutality, poverty, and racism. In addition to its social function, reggae also served as a vehicle for spreading the Rastafari message of peace, love, and unity.

One of the most influential American reggae bands was Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, which was fronted by Bob Marley’s eldest son. The group’s positive, uplifting lyrics and infectious rhythms helped to popularize reggae throughout the US and beyond. Today, reggae continues to be an important part of American culture, with many artists drawing inspiration from the genre’s rich history.

Reggae in Jamaica

The origins of reggae can be traced to the early 1960s in Jamaica. Ska, a precursor to reggae, was developed by Jamaican musicians such as Prince Buster and Millie Small. Reggae owes its name to a 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, “Do the Reggay,” which was a hit in Jamaica.

Reggae is a style of music that developed from ska and rocksteady. Reggae is characterized by a strong backbeat, accents on the off-beat, and often features lyrics about social issues such as protests against political corruption and racism.

Reggae music has been popularized by artists such as Bob Marley, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Jimmy Cliff. The genre has also been influential outside of Jamaica, with artists such as Sublime, the Beastie Boys, and Craig David incorporating elements of reggae into their music.

Reggae’s Legacy

The legacy of reggae music is one that is still being felt today, decades after the music first came out of Jamaica. Reggae has influenced many other genres of music, and its influence can still be heard in modern music. Let’s take a look at how reggae has left its mark on the music world.

The Death of Reggae

The death of reggae--and, indeed, the end of magic music--came with the assassination of Bob Marley on 11 May 1981. Reggae’s top star and flagship artist was gunned down in his Jamaican home, just as he was about to embark on a world tour. A few days later, the tour began without him. The last concert Marley ever played was in Pittsburgh; he died in a Miami hospital two days later, at the age of 36.

The Resurgence of Reggae

In the late 1970s, reggae began to make inroads in America thanks to the success of British bands like The Clash and The Police, who incorporated reggae sounds into their own music. At the same time, Jamaican-born singer-songwriter Bob Marley became an international star with his brand of conscious “roots” reggae. Marley’s music and message transcended race and nationality, and he is now widely considered one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

After Marley’s untimely death in 1981, other reggae artists continued to find success in America, including Jamaican dancehall performer Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg) and American rapper Matisyahu, who blended reggae with his own brand of Jewish-themed spiritual music. Reggae’s influence can also be heard in the music of popular American artists like Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz, and Sublime.

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