Ahead of our teacher Mike’s Reggae Music Workshop this week, we asked him to write a short post about what he loves about this musical genre, and to give us a brief history of the music while also introducing us to some of the lesser known reggae artists ! Scroll down to the bottom for a great other than Bob!
“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” “Hit me from the top, you crazy motherfunky.” (Bob Marley)
If you’ve got a bit of free time, travel to any far-flung corner of the globe you like, as remote as you like. Mention Queen Elizabeth or David Cameron and you may be met by looks expressing a deep lack of interest or complete incomprehension. Mention Bob Marley though, wherever you may be, and you will see a spark of recognition in someone’s eyes and a spark becomes a flame. You will find people who, over 30 years after his death, love Bob Marley and what he stood for. Probably the one face of Reggae everybody knows. Who hasn’t sung along to “Three Little Birds” at one time or another? (“Don’t worry about a thing. ‘Cos every little thing’s gonna be all right”). Maybe even in one of my classes? But if that’s all you know of Bob Marley, you’re missing out on some of the deepest, most philosophical, spiritual, angry, mellow, passionate, reflective not to mention deep down funky and harmonic music you’re ever likely to hear. And that goes for Reggae as a whole in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Reggae was more than music. It was a way of life. Music that set out to change the world and to give people a good time doing it. Just check out the lyrics of Bob Marley songs such as Babylon System – “We refuse to be what they wanted us to be…tell the children the truth” or Talkin’ Blues – “Who’s gonna stay at home when the freedom fighters are fighting?”.
Reggae came out of Ska, which was a Jazz-influenced fast dance style music epitomised by tracks such as The Ethiopians, “Train to Skaville” and then, 20 years on, British bands like the Specials who gave it a whole new lease of life re-working classics such as “A Message to You Rudi”. Reggae in the early stages was all about wondrous harmonies over a funky bass rhythm. Try “Queen Majesty” by the Techniques. Rock Steady style put the emphasis on love and heartbreak. Try Susan Cadogan, “Hurt So Good”. Roots Reggae style turned the focus to political and social questions and the religious message of Rastafarianism in a climate of poverty and oppression. Try Gregory Isaacs, ”Jailer” or Burning Spear, ”Slavery days”. In fact, try everything.
Why not try the Reggae test? Listen to the opening bars of one of the classics, the impossibly deep riff of “Unite” by Little John or the mellow smoky horns of Wolves and Leopards by Dennis Brown and answer Reggae’s most basic question; do you feel me? Then take the adventure further, look out for the great singers like Delroy Wilson, whose “Better Must Come” spoke for a whole generation, Horace Andy, who went on to work with Massive Attack in the nineties but had a whole lifetime of good sounds before that, Dennis Brown, possibly the greatest, even at the Montreux Jazz festival he hit them from the top and above all Gregory Isaacs, the Cool Ruler, the Frank Sinatra of Reggae, definitely the greatest, whether with songs of yearning and heartbreak or blistering social comment, just listen to “Live at Brixton Academy” to see how he could hold the room. All of this good stuff is available on Youtube.
Anybody who likes Rap, listen to the Reggae DJs like U Roy and Big Youth “toasting”, which was the beginning of Rap. Reggae both took and gave deep influences to the movement of Soul and Funk music in the U.S. In Britain artists like Steel Pulse expressed widespread disaffection with a racist society in songs like “Handsworth Revolution” and above all look out for the mighty dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Dub is where the Reggae is stripped down to the essentials. As with the great Jazz pioneers such as John Coltrane, Reggae looked to Africa, with artists like Burning Spear, the mighty seer, who envisioned a better world and Augustus Pablo, who made a plastic harmonica sound out of this world. Reggae also crossed over into Punk where bands like the Clash re-did seminal songs such as “Police and Thieves”. Last, but not least, there is Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Upsetter, the Mozart of Reggae. The word “genius” can be over-used but not in this case. His fingerprints are all over a lot of Reggae’s greatest tunes, the early Bob Marley and the Wailers for example. Cow bells, roast fish and corn bread, he could work anything you like into a blistering tune with a sense of mischief and a sense of dread, which is a good thing by the way.
“Mellow mood has got you. Let the music rock you.” (Bob Marley)
Here’s a criminally short list of some Reggae favourites:
The Right Time – Mighty Diamonds
Burn Babylon – Sylford Walker
Words – Anthony “Sangie” Davis and Lee Perry
Java / Vibrate On – Augustus Pablo
Blood and Fire – Niney the Observer (so-called because he lost a finger)
Slaving – Lloyd Parks
Wolf Out Deh – The Upsetter
Glory Glory – Sister P and Full Experience
Natty Rebel / Chalice in the Palace – U Roy
Zion – The Flames
Skylarking / Government Land – Horace Andy
Better Must Come / I’m Still Waiting / I’m in a Dancing Mood – Delroy Wilson
Lawless Society / Something funny – Wailing Souls
Soul Fire / Black Vest / Dreadlocks in Moonlight / I Am A Madman – Lee Perry
Make Up Your Mind / Crying Over You – The Heptones
Dreadlocks the Time is Now / Sweet So Till – The Gladiators
Much Smarter – The Meditations
War in A Babylon – Max Romeo
Police And Thieves – Junior Murvin
There She Goes (With the Pieces of my Heart) / Duppy Conqueror / Rat Race / Rebel Music / War / Concrete Jungle / Jamming / Ride Natty Ride / Chances Are / Caution / Lively up yourself – Bob Marley
Here I Come (love and hate can never be friends) / Africa / Yagga Yagga / Money in my Pocket / Cheater / Wolves and Leopards – Dennis Brown
Social Living / Give Me / Invasion (wa da da) / Live Good / Tradition – Burning Spear
Throw Away Your Gun / Message from the King – Prince Far I
Sonny’s Lettah / It Noh Funny / Bass Culture / Making History – Linton Kwesi Johnson
Loving Pauper / Raving Tonight / Soon Forward / Poor and Clean / The Fugitive / Love Is Overdue / The Border / Night Nurse – Gregory Isaacs
Good thing Going – Sugar Minott
Check out the Mike’s Reggae ultimate playlist here on our Youtube Channel