Beginner's Guide to Reggae

Posted: Monday 27 June 2016

Beginner's Guide to Reggae
Can’t tell your Raging Fyah from your Katchafire? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Get to know your dancehall from your dubplates courtesy of Vibes FM's Sarah C and her quick-fire guide to red, gold and green. You'll be reggae-ready in no time.

Where does reggae come from?

Originally Jamaica, but reggae is now being made, loved and listened to all over the world.

What is reggae?

Musically, it's all about the offbeat… In a larger sense, it is intended to inspire the way you live your life (your livity as Bob Marley would describe it). It's a lifestyle, you have to live it.

What is it all about?

The main themes are giving thanks and praise; freedom and justice for all; equality and respect. There's also huge elements of humour, bravado and old-fashioned good advice.

So that’s reggae, what about dancehall?

Jamaicans love to party, it is one of their favourite ways to express themselves. While reggae is all about living consciously, dancehall is about living like a rockstar.

As Beenie Man explains it, 'dancehall is about modelling, showing off what you have' be it clothes, cars, women, jewellery, dancing skills or anything deemed to raise your status'.

Which reggae heroes would make the perfect playlist?

By no means exhaustive, but any good reggae playlist would definitely include Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Joseph Hill, Winston Rodney, Bob Andy, Leroy Sibbles, Don Drummond, Flabba Holt, Sly & Robbie, Horace Andy, Augustus Pablo, John Holt, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, Sugar Minott and many more.

Tips for the names on everyone's lips right now?

You’ll go far to search out Chronixx, Protoje and Jah9 and in dancehall, Vybz Kartel, Alkaline and Spice.

What should I wear to the dance?

The most enduring article of clothing in the dancehall is the Clarks shoe. Thanks to their comfort, quality and durability, Clarks shoes have been wholeheartedly adopted by Jamaicans and feature heavily in the dancehall. Pair them with diamond socks and add a mesh merino and you'll be an instant hit in the dancehall.

What else is big in the dancehall?

The soundsystems are big… they are lovingly built, bespoke speaker boxes, miles of cables, amplifiers, laptops, CD players and an ear to ensure that the bass, mid-range and treble, are perfectly balanced. Almost every corner has a soundsystem and Jamaicans, being playful and competitive, do love to clash…

What's a clash?

This is where two soundsystems and their associated DJs compete against each other. They are judged on sound quality and selection (choice of song). You can improve your status further if your songs are played as dubplates.

Dubplates are personalised songs where the singer includes the name of the DJ or sound, implying that the DJ has a connection based upon respect with the singer. Crowd response is huge in deciding who wins the clash and if the crowd cheers loudly enough, the DJ has to start the tune again. This is called a ‘rewind’.

Remember the battle is a musical one and as Bob Marley said, ‘When the music hits, you feel no pain.

If you like this, come and get some reggae vibes...

Mr Eazi at O2 Forum Kentish Town on Friday 29 July
Beres Hammond tours the country during August
Dancehall vs. Soca at O2 Ritz Manchester on Friday 12 August
Julian Ju Ju Marley at O2 Institute2 Birmingham on Wednesday 17 August
Katchafire at Arts Club Liverpool on Wednesday 17 August and O2 Academy Islington on Thursday 18 August
UB40 tour the country during September and October
The Wailers tour the country during November
Dub Inc. at O2 Academy Islington on Thursday 24 November

Header image by Michael Thompson.

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