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24 Jul 2016


Jamaica's original rural folk music, called mento, will be the grandfather of reggae music and had significant influences about the formation of the genre. Jamaica's "country music" was inspired by African and European music as well as by American jazz and featured acoustic guitars, banjos, bamboo saxes, hand drums and marimbula (large thumb pianos) also known as rhumba boxes, which were sufficient to sit on and play. There was also a various hand percussion instruments like maracas. Mento's vocals stood a distinctly African sound and the lyrics were usually humorous and happy. Everywhere people gathered you could find a mento band there were many mento and calypso competitions during the entire island. Mento also gave birth to Jamaica's recording industry in the 1950s if this first became positioned on 78 RPM records. Mento remains to be today.

Before World war 2, calypso from Trinidad and Tobago had made its distance to Jamaica's music and, although quite different, both were often confused. Jamaica's own calypso artists performed alongside its mento artists throughout the island, for locals and tourists alike. A calypso craze swept the U.S. and U.K. inside the late 1950s as Harry Belafonte came on the scene. Many of his songs were actually mento but they were more frequently called calypso. 

As soon as the war, transistor radios and jukeboxes had become widely accessible and Jamaicans were able to hear music from the southern U.S., particularly jazz and rhythm and blues from many of the greats like Fats Domino and Jelly Roll Morton, and records flooded in to the island. 

And after that, in early 1960s, came American R&B. With a faster and much more danceable tempo, the genre caught on quickly in Jamaica. Wanting to copy this sound with local artists, Jamaicans added their own twists, blending in elements of their Caribbean heritage, fusing it with mento and calypso and jazz, to create a unique genre heavily driven by drums and bass and accented with rhythms about the off-beat, or "upstroke". This purely Jamaican genre dominated the Jamaican music scene at that time and was generally known as ... ska. 


Coinciding with the festive mood in the air when Jamaica won its independence from your U.K. in 1962, ska stood a sort of 12-bar rhythm and blues framework; a guitar accented the next and fourth beats in the bar, essentially flipping the R&B shuffle beat, and gave rise to the new sound. 

Because Jamaica didn't ratify the Berne Convention to the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works until 1994, Jamaican musicians often created instrumental ska versions of songs by popular American and British artists; copyright infringement has not been a problem! The Skatalites re-made Motown hits, surf music and also the Beatles in their own style. The Wailers' first single Simmer Down was obviously a ska smash in Jamaica at the end of 1963/early 1964 they also covered I Love Her by the Beatles and Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan.

Even though audio system concept had taken root in Jamaica from the mid 1950s, ska triggered its explosion in popularity also it became a major, uniquely Jamaican, industry that is constantly on the thrive today. Enterprising DJs with U.S. sources for the latest records would group passenger trucks which has a generator, turntables, and large speakers, and drive across the island blaring the latest hits. Essentially these sound systems were really like loud mobile discos! DJs charged admission and sold food and alcohol, enabling these to profit in Jamaican's unstable economy. Thousands would sometimes gather and sound systems became big business. Amidst fierce competition, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Duke Reid surfaced as gadget star DJs during the day. Dependent on a steady source of audio, those two superstars began to produce their very own records, ultimately becoming Studio One (Dodd) and Treasure Isle (Reid). 

Other important ska producers were Prince Buster, whose Blue Beat label records inspired many Jamaican ska (and later reggae) artists, and Edward Seaga, who managed free airline Indies Records Limited (WIRL) in the 1960s but continued for being Prime Minister of Jamaica and leader from the Jamaican Labour Party in the 1980s.

As Jamaicans emigrated in thousands to the U.K., the head unit culture followed and have become firmly entrenched there. Minus the efforts of your white Anglo-Jamaican named Chris Blackwell, the rest of the world mightn't have arrive at know this Jamaican label of music. Blackwell, a record distributor, moved his label on the U.K. in 1962 and commenced releasing records there on various labels, like the Island label. His early artists included the Skatalites, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. Blackwell's international breakthrough were only available in 1964 when his artist Millie Small hit the U.S. airwaves with My Boy Lollipop.

Back Jamaica, as American R&B and soul music became slower and smoother within the mid-1960s, ska changed its sound and developed into... rocksteady.


Songs that described dances were popular now from the U.S. and U.K, in addition to Jamaica. In the U.S., there was The Twist, The Locomotion, The Hanky Panky and also the Mashed Potato. One such dance-song in Jamaica was The Rock Steady by Alton Ellis. The reputation for this entire genre could have been based on that song title.

The only noteworthy among ska and rocksteady was the tempo. Both styles had the famous Jamaican rhythm guitar complemented by drums, bass, horns, vocals plus a groove that kept for your feet moving, nevertheless the drum and bass are played with a slower, more stimulating, pace as well as the rhythm is more syncopated.

Rocksteady arose during a period when Jamaica's poverty-stricken youths became disillusioned regarding futures after Jamaica gained independence from Britain. Turning into delinquents, these unruly youths became generally known as "rude boys". Rocksteady's themes mainly managed love along with the rude boy culture, together catchy dance moves which were a lot more energetic compared to earlier ska dance moves. Many bass lines originally made for rocksteady songs carry on being used in today's Jamaican music.

Being a musical style, rocksteady was short-lived, and existed for just about a couple of years. Many of the more well-known rocksteady artists were Alton Ellis, Justin Hinds as well as the Dominos, Derrick Morgan, The Gaylads, The Kingstonians, Delroy Wilson, Bob Andy, Ken Boothe, The Maytals along with the Paragons. 


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