Reggae through the years
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A map locating Jamaica

Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. After this, national pride soared to new levels, and anything uniquely Jamaican was embraced.

Before the 1960s, Jamaica was copying the music style of America. Soon it became obvious that the r&b imitations were not as good as the originals. Ska, the first truly commercial Jamaican music, was developed to reflect the new-found optimism of the time. It was developed by the working classes and was popularly considered to be the music of the people. At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the Jamaican government sent ska entertainers to export this music to the United States.

Ska was never a hit in America but gained much popularity in England. After World War II and the collapse of the British Empire, England started an unlimited immigration policy for all of its former colonies. The policy, which was developed to import labor, led to a rise in the Jamaican population in England. This aided the impact of ska music on the British.

Trenchtown, a Jamaican ghetto

For some people ska was only the music of the Kingston ghettos. In the 1960s, many young people moved to the ghettos searching for work that did not exist. This group included youths, known as the “rude boys,” who did not share the optimism of the early ska roots. The term “rude” was a way to tell people that they were important, while society was saying that they were not. The rude boys, who wore shaved heads and stylish clothing, expressed themselves through their dress and their dance.

Since the rude boys could not find work in Kingston, many turned to violence and crime as a source of income. After a while, public opinion turned against the rude boys. A gun law was passed stating that anyone found in possession of an illegal firearm would be detained for an unlimited amount of time. Artists and producers supported or challenged the rude boys' actions through ska music.

Rude boys regained popularity again in the mid-1960s. Ska was very up-tempo, with a quick beat. It required lots of energy from its dancers, but the rude boys refused to move that fast. The ska beat eventually slowed down to accommodate the rude boys' dance style. Rock steady, a new type of music, evolved from this transformation. The rock steady phase lasted about a year. People got tired of the slow tempo and needed a change, so the music sped up again. The word reggae was first used in a 1968 dance single, Do the Reggay, by Toots and the Maytals.

My Boy Lollipop, by Millie Small climbed to #2 on the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1964. Listen to a clip from www.fye.com.

Copyright © 2004 Chantal A. Raymond. All rights reserved.