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

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Jamaica’s original rural folk music, called mento, may be the grandfather of reggae music coupled with significant influences for 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 referred to as rhumba boxes, that have been just right to take a seat on and play. There was also a various hand percussion instruments like maracas. Mento’s vocals were built with a distinctly African sound along with the lyrics were almost always humorous and happy. Everywhere people gathered you could find a mento band there were many mento and calypso competitions through the entire island. Mento also delivered Jamaica’s recording industry within the 1950s when it first became on 78 RPM records. Mento holds today.

Before Wwii, calypso from Trinidad and Tobago had made its distance to Jamaica’s music and, although quite different, the 2 were often confused. Jamaica’s own calypso artists performed alongside its mento artists during the entire island, for locals and tourists alike. A calypso craze swept the U.S. and U.K. from the late 1950s as Harry Belafonte came on top of the scene. Lots of his songs were actually mento nonetheless they were often described as calypso.

Following your war, transistor radios and jukeboxes had become accessible and Jamaicans could actually hear music from the southern U.S., particularly jazz and rhythm and blues from a number of the greats like Fats Domino and Jelly Roll Morton, and records flooded in to the island.

And then, in the early 1960s, came American R&B. With a faster and a lot more danceable tempo, the genre caught on quickly in Jamaica. Attempting to copy this sound with local artists, Jamaicans added their own individual 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 the “upstroke”. This purely Jamaican genre dominated the Jamaican music scene during the time and it was referred to as … ska.


Coinciding using the festive mood in the air when Jamaica won its independence from the U.K. in 1962, ska stood a kind of 12-bar rhythm and blues framework; the guitar accented the 2nd and fourth beats inside the bar, essentially flipping the R&B shuffle beat, and gave rise for this 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 was not a worry! The Skatalites re-made Motown hits, surf music and even the Beatles in their own personal style. The Wailers’ first single Simmer Down would have been a ska smash in Jamaica in late 1963/early 1964 in addition they covered And that i Love Her by the Beatles and As being a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan.

Even though sound system concept acquired root in Jamaica in the mid 1950s, ska led to 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 to the latest records would stock up passenger trucks with a generator, turntables, and huge speakers, and drive round the island blaring out your latest hits. Essentially these sound systems were 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 of the day. Reliant on a steady way to obtain tunes, both of these superstars began to produce their unique 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 on reggae) artists, and Edward Seaga, who owned and operated the West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) inside the 1960s but took being Prime Minister of Jamaica and leader in the Jamaican Labour Party inside the 1980s.

As Jamaicans emigrated in large numbers towards the U.K., the head unit culture followed and have become firmly entrenched there. Devoid of the efforts of a white Anglo-Jamaican named Chris Blackwell, the rest of the world mightn’t have visit know this Jamaican brand of music. Blackwell, a record distributor, moved his label for the U.K. in 1962 and commenced releasing records there on various labels, such as Island label. His early artists included the Skatalites, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. Blackwell’s international breakthrough arrived 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 from the mid-1960s, ska changed its sound and evolved into… rocksteady.


Songs that described dances were very popular now from the U.S. and U.K, as well as Jamaica. In the U.S., we’d The Twist, The Locomotion, The Hanky Panky as well as the Mashed Potato. One popular dance-song in Jamaica was The Rock Steady by Alton Ellis. The reputation for this whole genre was based on that song title.

The only noteworthy distinction between 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 relaxed, pace and also the rhythm is much more syncopated.

Rocksteady arose at any given time when Jamaica’s poverty-stricken youths had become disillusioned regarding futures after Jamaica gained independence from Britain. Starting to be delinquents, these unruly youths became generally known as “rude boys”. Rocksteady’s themes mainly dealt with love and the rude boy culture, and had catchy dance moves which were much more energetic as opposed to earlier ska dance moves. Many bass lines originally made for rocksteady songs continue to be utilized in today’s Jamaican music.

As a musical style, rocksteady was short-lived, and existed for only about a couple of years. Many of the more well-known rocksteady artists were Alton Ellis, Justin Hinds along with 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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