Uncover the History of Reggae Music in Jamaica

Reggae music is a genre that has its origins firmly rooted in Jamaican culture. It originated in the island’s capital, Kingston, during the late 1960s and has since become one of the most popular styles of music all over the world. Its unique sound was born out of a combination of musical genres, such as Ska, Mento, and Rocksteady, all of which have had an impact on the development of reggae.

Reggae was created by heavily relying on these other genres while adding elements of its own. It is often characterised as having a laid-back feel with powerful lyrics, melodic layering and skanking or strumming guitar riffs. Reggae was initially developed by experimenting musicians looking to create a unique sound from their Jamaican heritage.

The genre soon gained traction at home and abroad and had a steady presence throughout the 1970s and 80s. Over the years, many new sub-genres have been created, such as Dancehall, Dub, and Reggaeton, which have helped spread the sound and influence of reggae music to corners around the world.

More Reggae Music

The roots of reggae music began with the musical genres of Ska, Mento and Rocksteady. These rhythms combined with African rhythms to form a uniquely Jamaican sound. It was in the early 1960s that reggae truly came to the fore and is thought to be largely attributed to Jamaican artist, Bob Marley. Ska, which developed in Jamaica in the late 1950s, was greatly influenced by rhythm and blues music from the United States. The style combined fast-paced rhythms and jazz influences to create an entirely new type of music.

Mento, Jamaica’s traditional folk music, was also an important influence. It inherited its rhythms from African and European folk music and featured a unique instrumentation of banjo, fiddle, guitar, bongo and maracas. Like ska, it had a strong focus on the drums.

Finally, rocksteady developed as a slower version of ska, before eventually giving way to the rise of reggae. It featured a slower tempo and its lyrics were often more lyrical and meaningful than those of ska or mento.

Early Reggae

Reggae music has its origins in the early musical influences that were present in Jamaica from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Before the birth of reggae, Jamaican music was almost exclusively a mix of Caribbean calypso, American R&B and the Jamaican folk style Mento. However, with ska, rocksteady, and finally reggae, Jamaican music evolved into something new, unique and distinctive.

In order to fully understand how reggae has impacted the Jamaican music scene throughout the years, it is essential to explore the early sounds and influential players that shaped reggae. Ska, mento, and rocksteady are three genres of music which influenced the sound of reggae and have contributed greatly to its development.


Ska emerged in Jamaica in the late 1950s as an upbeat twist on the traditional sounds of rhythm and blues, resulting in a slower tempo and more melodic sound. It was especially popular among the younger generation who would often gather in clubs and dance to the emerging musical style. The music was heavily featured on the radio and had its first UK hit in 1964 with Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’.


Mento is a traditional Jamaican folk style that has been around since the late 19th century. It is a mixture of African and European musical elements, including intros and improvised, yet structured, vocalizations. Mento was popular amongst rural Jamaicans who often gathered for picnics and dances. Despite its early popularity in Jamaica, it did not gain international recognition until the late 1940s, when Lord Flea and his Calypsonians released the first mento singles.


Rocksteady began in the mid-1960s and was a reaction to ska’s increasing commercial success. Musicians began to slow down the tempo and rework the lyrics, creating a slower, smoother sound. The genre became popular in the Jamaican clubs and was used as a basis for the development of reggae music. Some of the most influential early rocksteady artists include Alton Ellis, The Melodians, and The Royals.

Reggae Foundation

The roots of reggae music can be traced back to the early 1960s in Jamaica, as a combination of musical genres like ska, rocksteady and mento, which led to the emergence of this versatile and rhythmic genre. This period saw the birth of iconic artists such as Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Jacob Miller and The Wailers, as they melded together these different influences into a unique sound which resonated with Jamaicans.

Throughout the 1960’s, reggae continued to grow in popularity on the island, with the help of radio DJs, producers and record labels. It ventured out from its initial Jamaica-based fandom and started to spread its influence around the world. By the late 1960s, reggae had gained global recognition and soon it became a genre cherished by many, from the Caribbean islands to the United Kingdom.

Reggae Expansion

The 1970s and 1980s saw reggae music become an increasingly central part of Jamaican culture and spread throughout the world. This period saw many different musical movements and sub-genres emerge, including Dub, Dancehall, and Lovers Rock. As popular Jamaican music genres began to influence those abroad, reggae began to also gain recognition internationally.

Throughout this period, the Jamaican government took steps to make reggae more accessible, including establishing Reggae Sunsplash in 1978 – an annual festival dedicated to Jamaican music which was broadcast across the world. Reggae Sunsplash offered a platform for performers to showcase their skills and creativity along with highlighting wider social issues.

The genre’s expansion can also be seen in the number of internationally renowned artists who released their music during this period, such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Yellowman and many more. This period in reggae’s history provided an opportunity for the music to reach a wider audience, leading to the genre’s increasing popularity within world culture.

Reggae Innovations

Tracing the evolution of reggae music from its beginnings to its introduction into the international music scene, it’s impossible to overlook the numerous sub-genres that have developed and thrived in the genre. Although reggae is almost exclusively associated with Jamaica, a variety of musical influences from other genres have been fused together to create a unique sound that has contemporary relevance.

The most popular sounds that have come out of the island include Dancehall and Dub. Originating as two distinct styles within reggae, these genres are now closely linked with modern Jamaican music and the culture that comes along with it.

Dancehall is a type of reggae that is heavily influenced by electronic, pop, hip hop and rap music, often combining lyrical repetition with heavy basslines and beats. It has become incredibly popular in recent years, taking over the clubs and radio airwaves and producing stars such as Sean Paul, Shabba Ranks and Beenie Man.

Dub, on the other hand, evolved out of more traditional reggae sounds and is based around extended remixes or “”versions”” of existing songs. Its signature features include heavy layered rhythms and sound effects that accentuate the traditional reggae instrumentation and vocals.

In Jamaica, both Dancehall and Dub continue to be at the forefront of the music industry, combining to create a sound that is uniquely Jamaican. As well as being immensely popular on the island, the genres have had a major influence on international reggae music, firmly establishing Jamaica’s reputation as the home of reggae.

Reggae’s Impact Internationally

Reggae has made its mark on the global music scene; it has been embraced throughout the world even though it originated in Jamaica. In the last fifty years, reggae has grown in popularity and influence, crossing cultures and boundaries.

The earliest days of reggae saw a small following outside of the Caribbean, with a few artists gaining recognition in Europe and America. This grew into a wider acceptance, as Jamaican immigrants and diaspora brought reggae music to their new homes across the world.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, reggae began to make headway in Europe, with explosive success in the United Kingdom, where the genre remained popular for many years. This period saw classic albums by Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, and Burning Spear being released.

The influence of reggae continued to spread in the ’80s and ’90s, with an increasing popularity in the United States and Japan. Reggae also inspired genres such as dancehall, dub and ragga, cementing reggae’s place in the international music scene. It has also been used to express various social, political, and economic issues, making it an important tool for cultural expression.

Today, reggae continues to be enjoyed all over the world. Artists like Sean Paul, Shaggy, and Beenie Man have revived reggae for the modern age. There is also an ever-growing list of new reggae artists emerging, such as Chronixx, Protoje, and Etana, bringing an exciting energy to the genre.


Since its emergence, reggae music has caused controversy due to its lyrics and message. From its earliest stages, reggae artists have used their music to discuss gender roles, social politics and religion in Jamaica. In the mid-1960s, when reggae was beginning to gain mainstream recognition, artists like Bob Marley were publically criticising the government and advocating for social change. This prompted a lot of outrage from those in power and, in turn, encouraged other artists to join him and spread messages of their own.

Reggae has also been criticised for contributing to the idea of a ‘hypermasculine’ culture that glorifies violence and sexism. In recent years, there has been an increase in female reggae artists challenging these stereotypes and bringing more equality into the genre. In particular, artists such as Sister Nancy and Lady G are using their music to fight for women’s rights and tackle the longstanding issue of inequality.

While controversial, it is important to note that most reggae lyricists use their music as a platform to raise awareness and bring about positive change. Reggae still carries significant cultural importance in Jamaica and around the world and continues to inspire generations of musicians and fans alike.


Reggae music in Jamaica is currently undergoing a period of growth and development, with up-and-coming artists pushing the genre to new heights. Reggae has been used to express feelings of joy and pride in Jamaica for years, and its popularity is still strong today. New genres such as Dancehall, have also been embraced all over the world and have become a big part of popular culture.

The current generation of reggae artists are challenging the status quo in many ways, exploring concepts and ideas that had not been seen before. They are also pushing the boundaries of creativity, experimenting with different sounds and rhythms. Reggae is no longer just a genre of music, it is a symbol of pride and identity in Jamaica and beyond.

This new wave of reggae music has a lot to offer to listeners, both in terms of its lyrical content and its unique musical styles. Its fresh sound, with its roots firmly planted in both traditional and modern styles, is one that will hopefully continue to grow and evolve over the coming years.

Gender in Reggae Music in Jamaica

The evolution of reggae music in Jamaica over the decades has been heavily influenced by the roles that women have played. Female musicians and singers have long been valued within the genre, contributing to its growth and success in various ways.

In the early days of reggae’s development, musical pioneer Sister Nancy was a major driving force in defining the sound of Dancehall, with her hit single ‘Bam Bam’ becoming a classic within the genre. This track proved to be an iconic moment for female representation in dancehall music and helped to spearhead a period of greater inclusion of female artists.

In later years, even more female stars would rise to prominence in the world of reggae music. The likes of Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Erphaan Alves and Etana all enjoyed huge successes in their own right, further cementing the importance of women’s voices in the genre.

There was also the emergence of an equal number of male artists who had a significant impact on reggae’s direction. From Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, Jamaican culture was represented well in the world of reggae and dancehall.

The influence of gender in Jamaican reggae music cannot be understated. Both men and women have had an integral role in helping the genre to evolve over the years and continue to shape its future.

Popularity – Acknowledging Artists and Producers

Reggae is considered one of the most popular forms of music in Jamaica, with many artists gaining international recognition. From Bob Marley to Shaggy, artists have consistently pushed the envelope and re-defined reggae beyond its original scope, creating a lasting impression.

Bob Marley is by far the most famous and influential artist in reggae history. His iconic music and powerful lyrics earned him global recognition as the “King of Reggae” and his influence is still felt today. His albums, such as Catch a Fire and Exodus, are considered some of the best in the genre and contain some of Marley’s most famous tracks, including “No Woman No Cry” and “Get Up Stand Up”.

Other widely celebrated reggae artists include Shaggy, Maxi Priest, Sean Paul, Beenie Man, Sizzla and Bounty Killer. These artists have all achieved success through their unique takes on the genre, exploring sounds from dub to dancehall and keeping the spirit of reggae alive. Other producers such as Sly & Robbie, Fatis Burrell and King Jammy, have also had a major influence on the development of reggae and contributed to its immense popularity throughout the world.


Reggae has been an integral part of Jamaican culture for many years, bringing together elements from a variety of musical genres and diversifying into several subgenres in the process. The genre has garnered international popularity, inspiring artists around the world and captivating listeners with its unique style and sound. Additionally, its lyrics, which often cover sensitive topics such as gender roles, religion and social politics, have sparked debates and reminded us of the power of music.

The guide has explored the history of reggae music in Jamaica, from its origins to its current state. We have discussed the various influential musicians and musical genres that led to the rise of reggae, charted its expansion and development, examined the different sub-genres that have evolved and discussed their influences, highlighted the debates that have been brought up within reggae’s lyrics and reflected on the role that women have had to play over the years.

Overall, it is clear that reggae has had an immense impact on Jamaican culture and continues to reach further afield, bringing together people of different backgrounds and cultures. It has provided a platform for expression and stands as a testament to the power of music.


When it comes to writing a guide on something as large and influential as the history of reggae music in Jamaica, the inclusion of reliable sources is essential.

In this guide, we have drawn from a variety of sources including written books, spoken interviews with artists, and online resources. When providing a source, we have included the name of the author or artist, as well as the year of publication or release.

Below is an extensive list of sources used to back up facts and claims in this guide:

  • Chevannes, B. (1995). “”Rastafari: Roots and Ideology””. Syracuse University Press
  • Bradley, M. (1997). “”Black Music in Britain, 1930-1960s””
  • Garvey, M. (2013). “”The Rise of Reggae from Jamaica”
  • Davis, L. (2007). “”Reggae’s Global Impact””
  • Hebdige, D. (2012). “”Subculture: The Meaning of Style””
  • Sanchez, M. & Johnson, J. (2008). “Jamaica’s Reggae History”
  • Campbell, H. (2015). “Women in Reggae”
  • Miles, L. (2016). “Reggae’s International Reach”
  • Marley, B. & Wailers (1973). “Catch a Fire”

FAQs About the History of Reggae Music in Jamaica

  • Q: What are the origins of reggae music within Jamaican culture?
    A: Reggae music has its roots in traditional African rhythms, which were then fused with elements of Protestant Christian music, Jazz, R&B, and Mento. The earliest form of reggae was known as Ska, which emerged in the early 1960s.
  • Q: What are some of the influential musicians and musical genres that led to the rise of reggae?
    A: Jamaican artists such as The Wailers, Toots & the Maytals, Jacob Miller, King Tubby and Prince Buster helped to establish and popularize the sound of reggae in the mid-1960s. The earliest form of reggae was known as Ska, which emerged in the early 1960s, followed by rocksteady and then reggae, influenced by R&B, Jazz, Mento, African rhythms and Protestant Christian music.
  • Q: How did reggae spread across Jamaican culture in the 1970s and 1980s?
    A: Reggae gained mainstream recognition in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it spread across Jamaica through its influence on pop culture, gaining wide popularity among both young and old generations.
  • Q: Who are some of the artists, bands and producers that have made the biggest impact on reggae’s success?
    A: Artists including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry have all made significant contributions to the success of reggae music. Additionally, producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Joe Gibbs, King Tubby and Bunny Lee, have helped shape the sound of reggae to make it one of the most globally recognized genres of all time.
  • Q: What is the current state of reggae music in Jamaica and what does it represent for a new generation?
    A: Reggae remains a major musical influence in Jamaica, with many new artists emerging to create a fresh take on the genre. The music is appreciated by both younger and older generations, representing aspects of Jamaican identity and culture.
  • Q: How have debates around gender roles, social politics and religion been brought up within reggae’s lyrics?
    A: Reggae lyrics often address issues surrounding gender roles, social politics and religion in Jamaica and around the world. Reggae songs have frequently highlighted female empowerment, criticized government and explored different religious practices.
  • Q: What role have women had to play over the years in the history of reggae music in Jamaica?
    A: Women have had an essential role to play in the history of reggae. Female artists such as Marcia Griffiths, Lady Patra, Sister Nancy, and Lady G have successfully broken down traditional gender barriers, making an indelible mark on reggae’s success.