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An Examination of Three Different Styles of Reggae And Their Possible Unique Rhetorical Messages
Mike Turk


       There are a number of different musical sub-styles, or genres, that have each had a significant and unique influence on the development of the bigger umbrella category of music known as Reggae.  This paper will examine the musical similarities and differences between several selected sub-styles of Reggae. First, musical style itself will be defined, and some general characteristics that serve to delineate one style from another will be highlighted. Then, the general characteristics of all Reggae music that separate it from other styles will be discussed.  The paper will go on to describe the chosen sub-styles and analyze the unique roles the instruments play in each one.  Finally, some of the possible rhetorical devices used by each genre will be explored and some of their possible connotative meanings suggested. 

       The selected styles were all originally considered Roots Reggae styles.  They're names are: Nyabingi Reggae, One Drop Reggae, and Rockers Reggae.  All of these genres reached their greatest popularity in the 1970s, but were later versioned in both dub and dancehall, and a variety of lyrical topics were applied.


       The dictionary defines style as the following: [1]

style n. 1.    The way in which something is said, done, expressed, or performed: a style of speech and writing.  2. The combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.  3. A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one's actions and tastes: does things with style.  4. The fashion of the moment, especially of dress; vogue.  5. Mode of expressing thought in language, whether oral or written; especially, such use of language in the expression of thought as exhibits the spirit and faculty of an artist; choice or arrangement of words in discourse; rhetorical expression.  6. Mode of presentation, especially in music or any of the fine arts; a characteristic of peculiar mode of developing in idea or accomplishing a result.


       The definition of Genre is as follows: [2]

Genre\ (zh[aum]N"r'), n. 1. (Fine Arts) A style of painting, sculpture, or other imitative art, which illustrates everyday life and manners. 2. a kind of literary or artistic work  3. a style of expressing yourself in writing [syn: writing style, literary genre] 4. a class of artistic endeavor having a characteristic form or technique


       Roget's Thesaurus offers these synonyms for genre:

type, brand, category, character, class, classification, fashion, genus, group, kind, school, sort, species, style


            The following quotes might help to further define style. [3]

High style, as when that men to kings write. --Chaucer.

Style is the dress of thoughts. --Chesterfield.

Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style. --Swift.

It is style alone by which posterity will judge of a great work. --I. Disraeli.

The ornamental style also possesses its own peculiar merit. --Sir J. Reynolds.


What is a Musical Style?

       Musical styles are often difficult to precisely define.  The website known as MP3.com has a home page, (http://genres.mp3.com/music/genres.html), that offers over 150 different genres of music to choose from, including the following subcategories under the reggae umbrella: Dancehall Reggae, Dub Reggae, and Roots Reggae.  Even though many more styles and sub categories exist that are not listed here within the category of Reggae, the length of the overall list suggests the incredible amount of different types of music that are available in the modern world. This fact makes defining any genre of music for purposes of examination, an inexact science.

       What makes a single musical style or genre unique and identifiable? In order to properly define a style of music, a person must look at both the style's history, as well as its physical characteristics.  Specific aspects of the music such as: singing style, lyrical subject matter, rhythm, meter, tempo, dynamics, instrumentation, the prominence or roles of the individual instruments, and other musical nuances, must be examined in order to try and make generalizations about any single category of music. Making it even more difficult to identify any given example is the fact that there are often more examples of, so called, crossovers or fusions, that incorporate elements of several styles, than there are examples of the pure form of any given style.  

So, how does a musical style grow to become unique?  Musical styles are not born, in the same sense that a human or animal can have an exact moment of birth.  They evolve gradually over time and as a result of many influences acting upon and shaping their development.  Just as it is difficult to precisely classify a single musical example, it is also equally hard to identify exactly which songs are a style's first historical examples that are officially and authentically that style.  Before they earn a new label, a fledgling genre resembles the styles that most influenced them just preceding their emergence as a brand new style.  Afterwards, they usually follow a natural progression towards being more or less autonomous and independent from other styles, although many original seed elements may remain.  Later, as a style reaches maturity, it begins to further evolve and incorporate new influences that either help to define its uniqueness, or stretch the definition of that style, until once again a new name is warranted. 

       In the 1950s in the U.S. for example, Rock and Roll developed and had many influences that helped bring about its creation. So called, Race Music, later referred to as Rhythm and Blues of the late 1940s and early 1950s, represented by artists such as Louis Jordan and Big Mama Thorton, sounded a lot like Rock and Roll would eventually sound.  However, it was not until this sound combined with certain country, hillbilly, and folk elements, that Bill Haley first used the words "Rock and Roll."

       In Jamaica, early Reggae was still called Rock Steady, which was influenced by the Ska music that came before it, which in turn was influenced by Mento prior to that.  It was not until Rock Steady underwent certain significant changes that it was officially called Reggae for the first time in The Maytals' 1968 hit entitled, "Do the Reggay." [4]   This is true even though other songs preceding the use of the word are often cited as examples signaling the change to Reggae.  Besides speeding up the tempo from most Rock Steady tunes, the highly identifiable guitar "chop," or "skank," or "chukka chukka" sound became prominent. From there, many other different sub-styles of Reggae began to emerge. Some of these sub-styles, such as Dub and Dancehall versions, had characteristics that were created by economic forces that encouraged the producers to try to do as much as they could with little resources.

       A multitude of factors can influence a style's evolution, not the least of which are new performers and musicians with different backgrounds trying out the musical style.  Newcomers to any given genre, usually begin by emulating a favorite artist, but often later give the style a particular personal twist.  For example, DJ Style reggae artist Dillinger imitated Alcapone, and the Roots Style singing group Culture imitated Burning Spear. [5]   Each of them went on to contribute their own uniqueness to the music, establishing themselves as innovators in their own right and helping to stretch the boundaries of what Reggae music is.


What Defines Reggae as a Unique Style?

regágae [6]   n. [Jamaican English, ultimately from rege-rege, ragged clothing, probably from rag1.] Popular music of Jamaican origin having elements of calypso and rhythm and blues, characterized by a strongly accentuated offbeat.

Reggae [7]   n : popular music originating in the West Indies; repetitive bass riffs and regular chords played on the off beat by a guitar


         It is interesting to note that Ragtime music used the same root word as Reggae to refer to the ragged or chopped up rhythms utilized by the interplay of the left hand stride bass and the right hand melody as exemplified in the early 1900s by artists like Scott Joplin. [8]  This could be indicative of the African rhythmic influence on both styles.

         As stated previously, any musical style is difficult to define.  Even if both the history and certain musical characteristics of a style are clearly identified, there is still often ambiguity amongst critics.  This is true within a huge umbrella style like Reggae, and more so with subcategories and genres such as One Drop, or Rockers.  Specific individual examples may have some of the identifying characteristics of Reggae and not others, thereby making labeling a matter of subjective opinion. 

       When a White group such as "Ace of Base" covers a reggae tune such as "Don't Turn Around," with mostly electronic instruments, is it still considered Reggae?  When Bob Marley writes and performs any song, is it automatically Reggae because it is Bob?  One may consider "Redemption Song" and "Reggae on Broadway" for example, to be Reggae, while both of those songs have a number of characteristics that would not be considered associated with the style.  "Redemption Song" is more like a Folk song in its instrumentation and it's rhythm, (acoustic guitar and vocal), while "Reggae on Broadway" sounds almost like Disco. 

       There are many characteristics that constitute Reggae, but a majority of these musical aspects working in conjunction with each other would have to be present in order to call a given example Reggae. There generally isn't any one, absolute element that signals Reggae.  However, there are elements that could be considered necessary requirements. For example, all Reggae is in 4/4 time or Meter. One might be inclined to say, that any given example needs to have a majority of the definable characteristics in order to be considered within the boundaries of that style.  Purists might argue that it has to be all or nothing.  I tend to agree with the former method of assessment in that I accept the use of words like reggaish or reggae like to describe crossover or fusion music. 



Reggae's African Roots

No study of any modern, western, Black cultural music would be complete without a mention of the tremendous influence the remembering of African drum rhythms had on the slaves in North America and the subsequent Black cultural styles of music that developed afterwards.  If the roots of African drum rhythms in the United States were being traced, then a logical strategy might be to look at Work Songs, Gospel, Cake Walks, and Ragtime, followed by Country Blues, Urban Blues, Dixieland, and Big Band Jazz, and lastly the more recent, Rock and Roll, Funk, and Hip Hop.  In Jamaica, the examination of Work Songs and Chants, Nyabingi Drumming, Gospel and Denominational Church music, followed by Mento, Calypso, Ska and Rock Steady, eventually arriving at the many sub genres of Reggae would be appropriate. All of the styles that will be examined in this essay are no exception to this in that they too have their roots in African drum rhythms.  

      To consciously or unconsciously utilize these African rhythms is to make a rhetorical statement about Black cultural roots.  That is to say, the presence of distinctly African influenced rhythms suggests a pride in the heritage of that culture.  What are some distinctly unique characteristics that set Reggae apart from other African influenced styles such as Jazz, Blues or R&B?


Reggae's Eight Main Identifying Characteristics


1) Vocal Style - As the definition says, Reggae music is a style of music that originated in Jamaica.  As such, it is fair to say that a Jamaican accent, or what is known as Patois, is one characteristic of original Reggae.  This alone, however, is not enough to identify a given example as Reggae.


2) Lyrical Content - This is a broader characteristic in that so many topics have become acceptable, as Reggae has matured.  Roots topics such as the religious philosophies of Rastafarianism, Garveyism and the need for Social Reform have always been prevalent.  Rudie topics, and the concern of lovers have also been prominent topics in Reggae, as well as songs about dancing and topics concerning the goings on at dancehalls. Toasters have the reputation of bragging about themselves and putting down the opposition, a characteristic that has also influenced rap and Hip Hop.


3) Meter - All Reggae styles and genres are always found in the meter known as 4/4 time.  This is probably the one most essential defining musical characteristic of the style.  Although many other styles other than Reggae utilize 4/4 time, a 3/4 time, or 6/8 time song simply could not be considered Reggae, even if that song had all of the other characteristics of Reggae. 

       On the Albums, "Fire On The Mountain, Reggae Celebrates the Grateful Dead," [9] and "Deadicated, A Tribute to The Grateful Dead" [10] two Dead songs which are originally in 7/4 time are covered by Reggae artists.  "Uncle John's Band," is covered by Joe Higgs on the former album, and "Estimated Prophets" is covered by Burning Spear on the latter release.  In each case, in order to make these songs into Reggae versions, the artists had to force the song into 4/4 time.  In both cases the transformation is successful in that the songs are now clearly in the Reggae style.


4) Instrumentation - Most Reggae has the same basic instrumentation as many Rock, R&B or Blues bands in the U.S.: Drums, Electric Bass, Electric Guitars, and Keyboards, are almost always present and form the rhythmic structure of the Reggae music.  A variety of additional instruments have come to be considered acceptable Reggae instruments.  Some of them include: horn sections consisting of any or all of the following, trumpet, trombone, and sax, (an element perhaps left over from the Ska era and having influences from American R&B, Soul and Jazz), and other solo instruments such as melodica, (Augustus Pablo), and less often, flute, sax and others. 

       There are a variety of percussion instruments that can be acceptably used in Reggae such as the traditional Nyabingi drums, like the repeater drum, as well as traditional Afro Cuban drums, like congas and bongos.  Many of the popular Latin and African hand percussion instruments like wood blocks, scrapers, claves, quiccas, shekeres, djembes and others, are often heard playing a lesser role in the rhythmic structure but are used to spice up a song.


5) Tempo - Reggae music is usually considered on the slower side of generally popular music, often falling between the range of 80 and 120 BPMs, (beats per minute), with some exceptions.


6) Dance-ability - Although this characteristic may be extremely subjective, I would have to say that it is still an essential defining quality.  Dancing to Reggae is inseparably interwoven into its history.  Reggae has always been first and foremost, music that was tested on the dance floor before being released for listening and radio airplay.  The Jamaican phenomenon of street dances and sound systems were used to test out new releases to a live, and ready to dance audience.  The irresistible beat of Reggae is one of the qualities that have contributed to its continued success and longevity.  This quality has mostly been achieved by a combination of the dominant rhythmic structure of the music and by the emphasis of drums and bass in the mix.


7) Rhythm - This characteristic is perhaps the most important and is inexorably linked with three of the previous characteristics: dance-ability, instrumentation and meter.  Reggae is a music that tends to use what I call the "Less is More" philosophy of rhythmic and instrumental structure.  This is in opposition to what has been referred to as the "Wall of Sound" philosophy that has become so familiar to American music. 

       In the "Wall of Sound" philosophy, as first labeled for the production techniques of Phil Specter in the 1960s, every moment of music is being filled with layers of sound and harmony, often by studio overdubs of multitudes of instruments.  In Rock music, such as the music of bands like "The Who," the drums, bass and guitar are attempting to overwhelm the listener with an a virtual avalanche of notes and the sheer power of the layered effect.  An attempt is made to fill up every available beat with extra layers on the strong beats. In Rock, the second and fourth beats, usually where the snare drum is heard, are emphasized and are given extra amounts of sound and power. 

       In Reggae, as in many African influenced forms of music, the attempt is made to do what musicians might call "listen and fill holes."  This technique is a different method of creating a large sound by intermeshing the instruments into the various beats so that fewer of the instruments can be heard on any give beat.  Syncopation, another technique that musicians use to emphasize beats that are normally the weak beat in a rhythm pattern, is often employed.  To a Reggae musician, it is as important, (or more), to know where not to play as it is to know where and when to play. 

       For example, in the style known as One Drop, the drums will kick and snare on the third beat, and the guitar will chop on the two and four, leaving the first beat open, (thus the name).  This has the effect on the listener of experiencing a pulsing of the beat, where different instruments are coming in and out of attention creating the space for various poly rhythms to be heard as they overlap, a distinctly African quality.


8) Dynamics - Dynamics, or the change in volume of a piece of music, is essentially linked to the emotional force that a piece of music has on the listener.  In Reggae music, there is generally a more even, consistent, and softer dynamic than Rock throughout the song, but there are often dynamic changes within a song to aid and support in the emotional allure of the lyrics.  This is especially true of "Dub" style where the remixes are often achieved by pulling out certain instruments and having them come in again momentarily before once again receding to the background.


The Chosen Styles and their Similarities and Differences


Taking into consideration what has been stated about musical styles, and the difficulty in defining them precisely, the categories of characteristics that have previously indicated will be used as a guide to describe each of the three chosen genres of Reggae.  The intention will be to clarify their unique qualities and help to differentiate them.  Since all of the styles being examined are considered some form of Reggae, they would necessarily need to have some, or most of the above characteristics that have been assigned to all Reggae music.  The focus will mostly be on the nuances that make each of them unique. 


Nyabingi Reggae

Leonard Barrett says that "Anyone who listens to Rastafarian music, be it the ritual Nyabingi or the popular Reggae will detect in the lower beats, deep structural dissonance which mirrors the social conflicts within the society." [11] Nyabingi, which is a ritual that includes drumming and chanting, came from Africa and had an influence on the development of Reggae music.  As Barrett accurately describes, the lower beat itself has rhetorical implications.  In addition, since the beat is associated with Africa and with the Rastafarian ritual, its use in a commercially released Reggae song would naturally suggest both the dissatisfaction with current conditions and the suggestion of repatriation as a solution. 

       In "The Rough Guide to Reggae," the authors describe Nyabingi like this, "The drumming style originally included the use of a large bass drum, beaten with a padded stick, and smaller "funde" and "repeater" hand drums.  Nyabingi drumming formed the basis of the musical form for "Count Ossie's Mystic Revelation of Rastafari" and "Ras Michael and the sons of Megus," but every now and then appears on a commercial Reggae record. [12]

       The beat of Nyabingi is sometimes described as a heartbeat.  In original Nyabingi drumming, the bass drum defines the "" familiar to all of us, while the smaller hand drums fill in the holes or spaces created in between each group of two bass strokes with specific rhythmic answers. This style of drumming is in agreement with the rhythmic quality of sparseness and filling holes I described earlier as being typical of all Reggae.  Chanting, in Patois, such as the famous Rastaman chant, "Fly Away Home," is usually used to accompany the drumming.  Other instruments were rarely added in original Nyabingi.

       After Reggae music started to gain popularity, Nyabingi was sometimes adapted to the instrumentation of the more typical reggae styles.  A good example of this combination of Reggae and Nyabingi is Bob Marley's "Babylon System." [13] The website, bobmarley.com had this to say about the song:


Marley illustrates his view of the system in a casual voice.  The wine press serves as a visual metaphor of Babylon.  A reminder for current and future generations that without equal opportunity in society, it is "sucking the blood of the sufferer," making it easier to lose hope for unity, peace, and freedom.  "Got to rebel."



Babylon System

(Lyrics by Bob Marley)


We refuse to be

What you wanted us to be

We are what we are

That's the way it's going to be, if you don't know

You can't educate I

For no equal opportunity

Talking about my freedom

People freedom and liberty


Yeah, we've been trodding on

The winepress much too long

Rebel, Rebel

We've been trodding on the

Winepress much too long, Rebel


Babylon System is the Vampire

Sucking the children day by day

Me say the Babylon System is the Vampire

Sucking the blood of the sufferers

Building church and university

Deceiving the people continually

Me say them graduating thieves and murderers

Look out now

Sucking the blood of the sufferers


Tell the children the truth

Tell the children the truth

Tell the children the truth right now

Come on and tell the children the truth




We've been taken for granted

Much too long, Rebel



From the very day we left the shores

Of our father's land

We've been trampled on, oh now

Now we know everything we got to rebel

Somebody got to pay for the work

We've done, Rebel


            As is evident from these lyrics, a particularly Rastafarian viewpoint is being expressed which coincides very well with the rhetorical connotations inherent in the Nyabingi musical style.  The themes of dissatisfaction with the current conditions and the suggestion of repatriation as a solution are evident.

       Musically, some of the traditional Nyabingi drums are present on the album recording, although they have taken a back seat to the more modern, standard Reggae instrumentation of bass, guitars and keyboards. 

In traditional Nyabingi the bass drum plays the heartbeat on the first two eighth notes of the one beat of the 4/4 time, (or the one and), as well as on the first two eighth notes of the third beat, (three and), leaving the second, and fourth beats available for the improvisational answers of the hand drums.  In the example of Marley's song, these beats can also be heard.         

In Nyabingi Reggae, there can be traditional Nyabingi drums without the drum kit of modern reggae, (known as the trap set), or a trap set can be included.  In the album version of "Babylon System" there is no trap, but on some live versions, and on the traditional Nyabingi song "Fly Away Home," as performed by Marley and the Wailers, the trap player is heard playing the kick drum on the first two eighth notes to support the bass drum heartbeat, and clicking the snare, (using a technique known to drummers as side-stick), on the second and fourth beats, thereby helping to support the Nyabingi rhythm while maintaining a definite Reggaeish feel. 

       The bass guitar in the studio recording is also supporting the downbeat of the heartbeat, (alternating between hitting just the first eighth note and hitting both), but then continues the pattern with a more Roots Reggae-like line, leaving some space to be filled by other instruments. 

       The rhythm guitar has chosen one of the few empty beats left, the eighth note on the and following beat four, or the up beat just before the down beat of the one.  The keyboard has chosen a very reggae-like role of chopping on the second and fourth beats.  A picture of the notation would look something like this:


Nyabingi Notation Example

As is evident in this except, instruments play on the same beats less often than Rock Music or other forms of modern western music.

One Drop

One Drop is a style of Roots Reggae that dominated the music of most of the Reggae Artists in the 70s, (especially early to mid 70s), including many of the most familiar Bob Marley songs like, "Three Little Birds" and "One Drop".  It was subsequently very often versioned, dubbed, and toasted to, thereby merging or helping to create new crossover styles.  As previously mentioned, the name refers to dropping out the first beat of a measure and not emphasizing it. In most other forms of music, the downbeat, or first beat of a measure, is the strong beat, which is followed by three weaker beats. 

       This method of de-emphasizing a traditionally strong beat, (a subcategory of a musical technique known as syncopation), is loaded with rhetorical connotations.  If the traditional beat has lost its power, than a symbolic statement is being made that the down-pressers are not as important as the massive, or the average people.  The lyrics were most often Roots and Culture topics, but occasionally might be on other subjects such as lover's interests, rude boy exploits, and dancehall lingo.  

       One musical dead give away signaling the One Drop style is that the drummer always uses the side-stick snare method, (mentioned in the Nyabingi section), on the third beat of the measure with the additional emphasis of the kick on the same beat.  In this method, the drummer places the fat end of the drumstick on the snare head and slaps the side of the upper portion of the stick against the metal rim of the snare drum.  The effect is that of a metallic, clicking sound that when combined with the kick drum, creates a huge span of pitch frequency from high to low, coming down simultaneously on the third beat.  The side stick is also used in combination with the Hi-Hat cymbals to create complex improvised rhythmic patterns within the other available beats.

       The use of the Hi-Hat cymbals is very important, and makes up some of the most intricate and difficult patterns that the One Drop drummer uses.  Typically there is a 6/8 feel to the Hat, with occasional sixteenth notes and triplet fills.  The toms and timbales are also used for fills and are often hit as rim shots for extra accents in the music.  A rim shot is another sticking technique involving slapping the tip of the stick against the skin of the drum at an angle that allows the side of the stick to strike the metal rim of the outside of the drum, at the same time.  The resulting effect is that of a loud pop, or sometimes a series of gun like rat-a-tats.

       The bass guitar, which is always equalized to favor very low frequencies, will often start on the first beat, but then leave it out every other measure, as exemplified in the notation for "Three Little Birds."  The bass usually has a specific, repetitive bass line that leaves holes in the pattern for other musicians to fill. As a result, a listener who is unfamiliar with the style could easily get confused as to where the measures begin. 

       The rhythm guitar player usually plays a double, down-up, eighth note chop either on the two-and, and the four-and beats with the accent on the upstrokes, or just single strokes on the two and four alone.  Bob himself would often take this role with the Wailers. 

       Another guitar technique that is also an important rhythmic element to help identify One Drop is the percussive strum.  This unique sound of the rhythm guitar is accomplished by slightly lifting the fingerboard hand from the strings, thereby emphasizing the percussive aspect of the instrument.  Sometimes a guiro with reverb is substituted for the guitar in the same position in the measure, having an almost identical effect. A guiro is a Latin Percussion instrument, made of wood, usually shaped like a fish with ribs or ridges along its back, and is played with a metal forklike object which is scraped along the ridges, creating an effect much like a guitar pick scraping across the strings.

       There is often a second guitar player who doubles up on the bass line notes, while muting the strings with the heel of his or her picking hand.  This method, sometimes referred to as the perc, helps to more clearly define the upper pitches of the bass line, while adding a percussive effect to it that sharpens the definition of where each bass note begins and ends. 

       The second guitar player could also play more traditionally rock type of improvised leads, sometimes with distortion and other effects.  This position in the band would have previously been taken up by written out horn lines in Ska and Rock Steady, but was absorbed from the influences of American and British Rock musicians and producers such as the production techniques of Chris Blackwell.  In the Wailers, Junior Marvin took up this role with exceptional poise.

       The keyboards are also very important in One Drop style.  They most often take the place of what used to be horn lines, as in the song "Three Little Birds," where they are heard answering Bob's lyrics, "Don't' Worry," with a little melody of its own.  They are also often used to support the second and fourth beats that the rhythm guitar is emphasizing, either with a piano sound or a perc-organ tone.


One Drop Notation Example



       The similarity to the Nyabingi style is evident in this example.



The style known as Rockers began in the mid 1970s created mostly by the then Studio One, house band called "The Revolutionaries." [14] What became known as the Rockers Rhythms were essentially modernized versions of Rock Steady classics from Studio One from the previous decade.  Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the bass player and drummer, went on to perfect the Rockers as a more militant style than the popular One Drop. Soon others were copying this harder, more militant and more mechanical sonding rhythmic style.  The dynamic duo of Sly and Robbie continued to build their fame by backing artists like Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru with their aggressive rhythmic style.  They eventually formed their own record label known as Taxi Productions. [15]

       The Rockers style was accompanied by a variety of lyrical subject matter, but tended to be more militant and direct than most One Drop lyrics, to go along with the harder feel.  The team also had quite a few commercial hits including the Mick Jagger/ Peter Tosh hit, "Walk and Don't Look Back."

       The hard style also lent itself very well to dub versions, and riddims that were eventually to become classic Dancehall riddims for DJs and toasters to rap over, thereby helping to further evolve those styles.

       The drums are played harder in Rockers with a full regular snare drum clap instead of a side stick.  The snare was often played with the drumstick upside down, with the fat side of the stick hitting the skin of the drum with a full smack on the third beat.  The availability of microphones on each drum gave the live sound engineer the freedom to add a variety of effects to the snare drum, effectively dubbing a band live.  The kick drum is most often covering both the first and the third beats and sometimes, for an even more militant effect, on all four, quarter note beats.  The Hi-Hat is more often played as straight eighth notes or even sixteenths, but sometimes with a 6/8 feel. 

       In Rockers, the drums work directly with the bass creating a unique riddim that drives the song forward with insistence on every beat and usually at a faster tempo than most One Drop songs.  The bass player still usually covers the first and second beats with steady quarter and eighth notes and usually leaves some beats open, which fits in with the characteristic of open space rhythm that works for all types of Reggae.

       The rhythm guitar player, like in One Drop style, is chopping on the second and fourth beats, sometimes with a double stroke but more often with a single stroke.  The lead guitarist often has the freedom to riff improvisationally around the empty spaces.  The result of all the insistent rhythms is that Rockers are driving dance beats, which also contributed to their success.

       The keyboard plays an important role in Rockers as well.  It can sometimes skank or chop on the second and fourth beats along with the rhythm guitar.  A piano voice is usually used here.  Other times it can be used with a synth sound instead of horns, (saves money).  It can even play bass lines, especially in dancehall. 

       Another unique rhythm that is strictly for keyboards is referred to as The Bubble.  The Bubble seems to say "The Bubble," (or a-bubble).  Usually the keyboardist will be playing the bubble in such a way as to appear to be hitting the keys like you would a hand drum, with a left-right-left staccato motion.  The strongest beat is the middle one, or the high, triad chord which lands on the second and fourth beats like the guitar.  It can be counted, and-two-and, and-four-and.  This rhythm acts like another layer, taking its position, slightly apart from the other instrument roles.

       If the One Drop, with the usual strong first beat left out, suggests that the Babylon system has no real power, than Rockers seems to suggest that the oppressed people themselves are beginning to have equal power to the oppressors, by having more of the beats almost equal to each other.  Giving each beat equality and strength represents the newly found confidence in Jamaican independence and the worldwide growing acceptance and respect for Reggae and The Rastafarian culture.

         Peter Tosh's Bush Doctor is a good example of the militant Rockers style.  Demanding that Marijuana be legalized in Jamaica and claiming himself as the Bush Doctor, you can hear the confidence and pride that goes well with the Rockers style.  You can also hear the use of some electronic sounds on the keyboards, which fit in well with Sly and Robbie's style, which was often perceived as almost mechanical sounding.  They later began to incorporate electronic drums, which led the way towards Ragga and other electronic Dub styles.


Rockers Notation Sample



       Evident in this example is a movement towards regimentation and more notes than the previous two while maintaining the necessary requirements for the Reggae definition.

       Reggae music, and the wide variety of sub-styles and genres that fall under the Reggae umbrella, is indeed a multifaceted form of music and self-expression.  The Jamaican culture that gave birth to Reggae has played an important role in allowing the development of the tremendous variety of sub-styles in this hot bed of musical creativity.  The cultural atmosphere of the island has always been supportive of the ever changing, yet always prolific, sheer output of musical expression.  The examining of the three sub-styles of Nyabingi Reggae, One Drop, and Rockers, can only scratch the surface of the intricacies and musical nuances in all of the sub-styles of Reggae coming from Jamaica, let alone the rest of the world.  In attempting to define and describe these three styles, this essay has tried to put under a microscope, just some of the intricacies out of the vast array of details that make Reggae music what it is. 

Likewise, in attempting to suggest some of the rhetorical meaning behind the three genres, this report has merely scratched the surface of possibilities.  Indeed, each genre, artist, song, or even individual musician in a group, might be intending some particular message, aimed at some particular goal that is either hidden or unique to the individual artist.  What has been accomplished is to reveal some general connotations that are inherent in these styles, which may serve to further suggest the infinite possibilities, which may arise on a case-by-case analysis.

Finally, in illuminating some of the details of the technical musical interplay of instruments in each of these styles, the essay has suggested that a listener might try to listen more deeply to a variety of genres with a more discerning ear.  Like a philosopher, we can all benefit from experiencing the world from many viewpoints, and to hear something not with just one, but with many pairs of ears.

[1] SOURCE: The American Heritage¨ Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[2] Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

[3] Source: WordNet ¨ 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

[4] Source: The Rough Guide to Reggae Pg.93 Barrow and Dalton© 2001 by Penguin

[5] Source: The Rough Guide to Reggae by Barrow and Dalton© 2001 by Penguin

[6] Source: The American Heritage¨ Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[7] Source: WordNet ¨ 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

[8] Source: The American Heritage¨ Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.


[9] © 1996 by Pow Wow Records

[10] © 1991 by Arista Records

[11] The Rastafarians by Barrett © 1997 by Beacon Press Books pg. 167

[12] Source: The Rough Guide to Reggae Pg.451 Barrow and Dalton©2001 Penguin

[13] © 1979 from "Survival" Tuff Gong records

[14] Source: The Rough Guide to Reggae Pg.167 by Barrow and Dalton©2001by Penguin

[15] Source: http://slyrob.3va.net/