The term "Reggae" is, in a proper sense, only supposed to cover the period in Jamaican music from 1969 to 1979 or 1985 (depending on how you look at it). However, in today's vernacular the term has come to refer to all Jamaican music from the development of Ska in the early sixties up until today. Rather than create a more confusing "List of Genres of Jamaican music but not R&B or Mento" article it is therefore pertinent to keep everything under the Reggae name whether it warrants it or not.
Reggae, being predominantly confined to a small island, tends not to have too many different genres flourishing at once. Rather than in alphabetical order, therefore, the genres are presented roughly chronologically.
Ska is the first major local Jamaican genre, flourishing from 1961 or 62 to around 1966. It is characterised by a fast, syncopated rhythm guitar stroke, driving horns and boogie-style stand-up bass. Many people associate the term mainly with 1980s British Two Tone ska revival, which was a mixture of ska and punk attitude. Major Ska artists include Laurel Aitken (The Godfather Of Ska), Derrick Morgan, Prince Buster and The Skatalites.
Rocksteady is a slower musical style, in time between Ska and Early Reggae (ie. between 1966 and 68). Besides the low pace its main feature is the electric bass, which takes on the position of lead instrument with intricate melodies and a high position in the mix. Rocksteady is also known for its Impressions-styled vocal harmonies. Major artists include Alton Ellis, The Paragons and Desmond Dekker.
Early Reggae is generally considered to be the period before Rastafarianism entered mainstream Jamaican music. It can be distinguished from Rocksteady by the slightly faster beat marked out by the drummer using the hi-hat, lower mixing of the bass and electronically doubled rhythm guitar stroke. Major artists include John Holt and Toots and the Maytals.
Dub is an instrumental genre built around the application of electronic equipment on existing recorded tracks. Its sound (built around individual instrumental tracks changing volume, appearing, dissapearing, all while various effects and filters are applied to them) has proven very influential on modern dance music. Major artists include King Tubby, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Scientist.
DJ is the Jamaican precursor to hip hop, based on Deejays (Jamaica's emcees) 'toasting' (talking) over instrumental tracks or riddims. Famous deejays from before the dancehall era include U-Roy, Big Youth and King Stitt.
Roots reggae is perhaps the best-known form of reggae today, with its Rastafarian message. Early reggae production is futher developed with electronics and influences from contemporary western music. Although largely supplanted in the popular imagination by Dancehall in 1979, the style continues even today as a minority underground genre. Bob Marley is the internationally most famous exponent of the style, but Horace Andy, Black Uhuru and The Abyssinians are also well known.
Nyahbingi is a Roots subgenre related to the Rastafarian grouping of the same name. It's characterised by hand-drumming derived from religious ceremonies. A well known group is Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus.
Dancehall, starting in 1979, is characterised by stripped-down, spacious productions, prominent basslines and the inclusion of dub-style effects, often coupled with bawdy 'slackness' lyrics. The genre spawned a new generation of Jamaican stars, including Barrington Levy, Yellowman and Eek-a-Mouse.
Ragga, or Raggamuffin, is electronic dancehall music. Beginning under producer Prince Jammy in 1985, the genre originally was produced on simple casio keyboards but eventually other synthesisers have been added. Super Cat, Shabba Ranks and Charlie Chaplin are some of the well-known artists of the eighties and early nineties.
Modern Dancehall is today's Ragga music, with advanced synthesisers and hip-hop influences. Major artist include Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Sizzla.
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