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Celebrating raggae music and musicians

By Michelle Liew Tsui-LIn


Reggae. The music conjures images of relaxation and calm joy.

The musical form also tends to make anyone listening want to do a slow dance. It definitely puts one on the beaches of Waikiki, in front of a luau.

The uniqueness of the harmonic and melodic structure of this genre of music also give it great listening pull.

Reggae deserves a little of the spotlight and so do the famous artists who gave it its shape.


Instruments used in reggae music

The reggae sound is built on a relatively small number of instruments that play what is affectionately known among reggae artists as ‘riddim.”

  • Bass guitar
  • guitar
  • Drums - a standard drum kit, congo and bongo drums
  • Horns-the saxophone,trombone and trumpet
  • Keyboards

Characteristics of the reggae sound

Bob Marley, who was reggae’s number one maestro until he passed away in 1981, has attributed what gives reggae its nature to the feel of the music.

The sound can be described as high, big, round, slow and yet incredibly beautiful.

Syncopated or off beat nature

Reggae’s downbeat is played on the second and fourth beats of a bar of four counts, instead of being introduced at the beginning of the bar. The slow, offbeat nature gives it its “feel”.

Strong bassline

Reggae has a strong bassline, which is memorable and makes it what it really is. It is usually what people would remember about a reggae number, and is played repetitively, is thick, and pronounced. In a reversal of roles, the bass has musical prominence in reggae music.


Reggae keyboardists call their technique ‘the bang”. The bang essentially means that they play the keyboards on the second and third beats of a four beat bar, synchronizing with other instruments.


The reggae guitar complements the keyboard to help it sound fuller. For those familiar with guitaring, the chucking or chopping technique is used. For those interested, please follow this link for more on reggae guitaring.


Reggae usually has a strong brass section. The saxophone, trombone and trumpet are used in many reggae numbers.One horn may be tuned higher than the others.


A Jamaican form of music, congo and bongo drums are the percussion instruments mostly used. The percussive style of nyah bingi drumming is a strong stylistic feature. The snare drum is usually tuned to a much higher pitch, which gives it a sound that replicates timbales.


Reggae vocals are usually repetitive, crisp and leave a “chanting” feel. They involve singing, deejaying or a combination of both.

Reggae colors

Singing reggae comes with its colors! Rock the songs with red, green, black or gold.


Some inspirational reggae musicians and songs

Reggae, as with other musical genres like jazz, rock, and rhythm and blues, has a fair share of outstanding musicians who have contributed to its growth.

Here are a few must-haves on the reggae list, though there are many others worthy of mention.


Bob Marley No Woman No Cry

Bob Marley

Die hard reggae fans will be up in arms if I did not include Marley on a reggae music list.

Influenced heavily by the Rastafari movement and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, Marley’s early messages were for the repatriation to Zion of those of African descent who had been dispersed worldwide due to slavery. He sang songs such as Babylon System and Survival.

He and childhood friend Bunny Wailer began playing music together. Later, through a collaboration with Joe Higgs, they met up with Peter Tosh, who also had musical aspirations and formed The Wailers. With the Wailers in 1963, he released early reggae records with producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.

The group disbanded in 1974, which pushed Marley into a solo career. He released the album Exodus which established a worldwide reputation.

I include “No Woman No Cry,” a must listen of Marley’s.


Blackheart Man

Bunny Wailer

We have remembered the influence of Marley, and must not forget songwriter and percussionist Bunny Wailer Aka Neville O’Riley Livingston, Bunny Livingstong and Jeh B. Together with the other two Wailers, Marley and Tosh, he is a standard bearer of reggae, and was named by Newsweek as one of the 3 most important musicians in music. He identified with the Rastafari movement, as did the other Wailers.

He began by singing some of his own compositions like “Who Feels It Knows It,” “I Stand Predominant” and “Sunday Morning” . Probably the most forgotten Wailer, Bunny sang lead in but in a few songs, like Riding High and Keep On Movin. He also sang lead on Reincarnated Souls.

He and Tosh felt marginalized in the group as Marley started getting more attention. The band broke up and each member began operating under its own label.


I Am That I Am

Peter Tosh

A core member of the band, The Wailers, the reggae musician had a successful solo career and was an active advocate of Rastafari as well.

The Wailers, disliking up tempo ska, reduced their music to a rock steady pace and infused it with social messages of their new found faith. Together with the rest of The Wailers, he wrote songs for Johnny Nash and released the earliest reggae numbers, including Soul Rebel, Duppy Conqueror and Small Axe.


Wild World Maxi Priest

Maxi Priest

A British reggae musician of Jamaican descent, Priest performed reggae with an R and B influence, making reggae fusion popular. He has since become one of the most successful reggae fusion acts of all time.

He was one of only two British reggae acts (the other being UB40) to have a number one song on the American Billboard charts. The number was Close To You. Another of his popular numbers was Set The Night To Music, performed with Roberta Flack.


The Lion Sleeps Tonight Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff

The only Jamaican musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honor bestowed by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences, Cliff performs not only reggae well, but is a versatile with pop and rhythm and blues.

Cliff, also an actor, starred in the reggae film The Harder They Come, the soundtrack of which was a huge success and helped to introduce reggae to the world. He also won a Best Reggae Album grammy for the album, Cliff Hanger.


Fly Sugar Ray Featuring Super Cat doing a little deejaying.

Super Cat

Deejay Super Cat, also known as Wild Apache, became famous for using his deejaying skills with reggae numbers. He had a few number one hits, including Don Dada, Ghetto Red Hot and Dem Don’t Worry We in 1992. His remake of Fats Domino’s My Girl Josephine was included in the soundtrack of the film Pret A Porter. He collaborated with artists like The Notorious B.I.G and was featured on the B Side Remix of the album, Dolly My Baby. Teaming up with Sugar Ray on the album Floored, he contributed deejaying skills to the number one hit, Fly.


Reggae music may have spiritual leanings, but its eclectic sound and syncopated “riddim” is easily binds all.

Copyright Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

All rights reserved



Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on November 07, 2013:

Thanks, Glim!

Claudia Mitchell on November 04, 2013:

It's funny, I like almost all types of music, but I don't listen to reggae all that much. I really should. Thanks for the inspiration.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 24, 2013:

Thanks, Jackie!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 24, 2013:

Thanks, Elias!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 24, 2013:

Thanks, Audrey!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 23, 2013:

Great music and the Lion one maybe about my favorite of all time. No matter when I hear it that toes a tapping at the very least. Winner hub! ^

Elias Zanetti from Athens, Greece on October 22, 2013:

Absolutely wonderful hub! Great presentation and informative! Voted and shared!

Audrey Howitt from California on October 21, 2013:

Loved this Michelle--such life affirming music!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Reggae would not be the same without them, tebo!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Thanks, Janet!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Hi Jo! Fascinating music indeed!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Yes, it calms the spirit, kidscrafts!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Hi Jamie! Love this music indeed!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Really cool music that was, DDE, and I love Jimmy Cliff's music!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

True, Bill! It is fun indeed!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on October 21, 2013:

Wow! You went to the Bahamas! That must've been neat. Thanks for sharing with us!

tebo from New Zealand on October 20, 2013:

An informative hub on Reggae music. I was interested in your details regarding the way various instruments are played with this style of music. Bob Marley and the Wailers were popular in my day and I enjoyed remembering the music.

Janet Giessl from Georgia country on October 20, 2013:

Very interesting to read all the background information about raggae music which is a very enjoyable music. Thank you for sharing this interesting, useful and awesome hub!

Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on October 18, 2013:

Oh yes, this is most definitely one to keep. Up all the way and sharing. :)

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on October 18, 2013:

Raggae music has a great feel to it :-) It has something quite relaxing for me!

I love the song of Jimmy Cliff, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"; it brings me back to the broadway show of Lion King!

Thanks for sharing this great hub, Michelle! Have a great weekend!

Voted up, interesting and awesome!

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on October 18, 2013:

I love reggae music and you did an excellent job describing its artists and its culture. Thank you. Jamie

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 18, 2013:

Celebrating raggae music and musicians, an interesting insight to this aspect of music. I remember songs of Jimmy Cliff from the eighties

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 18, 2013:

Raggae music is fun music...no other way to describe it. I learned a lot in this article; thank you!

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on October 18, 2013:

I love reggae music and so reminds me of the Bahamas and out honeymoon. This is seriously what they played all day long at the swim up bar pool at Sandals. Great memories and truly loved learning more here today about this!

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