Reggae Music’s Illustrious Ancestors – Mento, Ska & Rocksteady

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Mento

Jamaica’s original rural folk music, called mento, is the grandfather of reggae music along significant influences around the formation of these genre. Jamaica’s “country music” was inspired by African and European music and also by American jazz and featured acoustic guitars, banjos, bamboo saxes, hand drums and marimbula (large thumb pianos) also called rhumba boxes, which are large enough by sitting on and play. There was also a variety of hand percussion instruments like maracas. Mento’s vocals stood a distinctly African sound as well as the lyrics were usually humorous and happy. Everywhere people gathered you could find a mento band and there were many mento and calypso competitions through the entire island. Mento also gave birth to Jamaica’s recording industry inside the 1950s if this first became entirely on 78 RPM records. Mento holds today.

Before The second world war, calypso from Trinidad and Tobago had made its way into Jamaica’s music and, although quite different, both the were often confused. Jamaica’s own calypso artists performed alongside its mento artists through the entire island, for locals and tourists alike. A calypso craze swept the U.S. and U.K. within the late 1950s as Harry Belafonte came onto the scene. Many of his songs were actually mento nonetheless they were more often identified as calypso.

As soon as the war, transistor radios and jukeboxes became 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 to the island.

Then, noisy . 1960s, came American R&B. Using a faster and far more danceable tempo, the genre caught on quickly in Jamaica. Attempting 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 make a unique genre heavily driven by drums and bass and accented with rhythms for the off-beat, or “upstroke”. This purely Jamaican genre dominated the Jamaican music scene at that time and was called … ska.

Ska

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

Because Jamaica didn’t ratify the Berne Convention for 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 had not been a worry! The Skatalites re-made Motown hits, surf music and in many cases the Beatles in their own individual style. The Wailers’ first single Simmer Down was obviously a ska smash in Jamaica at the end of 1963/early 1964 in addition they covered And I Love Her by the Beatles and As being a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan.

Even though the sound system concept procured root in Jamaica from the mid 1950s, ska generated its explosion in popularity also it had been a major, uniquely Jamaican, industry that will continue to thrive today. Enterprising DJs with U.S. sources for the latest records would stock up pickups which has a generator, turntables, and big speakers, and drive across the island blaring out 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 two star DJs of the day. Just a few a steady supply of new music, these 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) from the 1960s but continued being Prime Minister of Jamaica and leader with the Jamaican Labour Party in the 1980s.

As Jamaicans emigrated in vast quantities towards the U.K., the speakers culture followed and became firmly entrenched there. Minus the efforts of an white Anglo-Jamaican named Chris Blackwell, all of those other world might possibly not have visit know this Jamaican label of music. Blackwell, an increasing distributor, moved his label towards the U.K. in 1962 and began releasing records there on various labels, including 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 in Jamaica, as American R&B and soul music became slower and smoother within the mid-1960s, ska changed its sound and evolved into… rocksteady.

Rocksteady

Songs that described dances were extremely popular now from the U.S. and U.K, as well as Jamaica. In the U.S., we had The Twist, The Locomotion, The Hanky Panky along with the Mashed Potato. One such dance-song in Jamaica was The Rock Steady by Alton Ellis. The reputation for this complete genre might have been based on that song title.

The only noteworthy difference between ska and rocksteady was the tempo. Each style had the famous Jamaican rhythm guitar complemented by drums, bass, horns, vocals plus a groove that kept your body on its feet moving, however the drum and bass are played with a slower, more enjoyable, pace along with the rhythm is more syncopated.

Rocksteady arose at any given time when Jamaica’s poverty-stricken youths became disillusioned with regards to their futures after Jamaica gained independence from Britain. Changing into delinquents, these unruly youths became known as “rude boys”. Rocksteady’s themes mainly dealt with love and also the rude boy culture, along catchy dance moves that had been much more energetic compared to the earlier ska dance moves. Many bass lines originally suitable for rocksteady songs continue to be found in today’s Jamaican music.

Being a musical style, rocksteady was short-lived, and existed only for about couple of years. A number 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 as well as the Paragons.
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