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Reggae Music's Illustrious Ancestors - Mento, Ska & Rocksteady

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Jamaica's original rural folk music, called mento, could be the grandfather of reggae music together significant influences on the formation of the genre. Jamaica's "country music" was inspired by African and European music in addition to by American jazz and featured acoustic guitars, banjos, bamboo saxes, hand drums and marimbula (large thumb pianos) otherwise known as rhumba boxes, which are big enough to sit on and play. There was and a number of hand percussion instruments like maracas. Mento's vocals were built with a distinctly African sound and also the lyrics were usually humorous and happy. Everywhere people gathered you could learn a mento band there were many mento and calypso competitions through the entire island. Mento also delivered Jamaica's recording industry from the 1950s if it first became entirely on 78 RPM records. Mento is still around today.


Before World war 2, calypso from Trinidad and Tobago had made its way into Jamaica's music and, although quite different, the two were often confused. Jamaica's own calypso artists performed alongside its mento artists through the island, for locals and tourists alike. A calypso craze swept the U.S. and U.K. in the late 1950s as Harry Belafonte came on the scene. Lots of his songs were actually mento but they were more often identified as calypso. 


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


Then, noisy . 1960s, came American R&B. Having a faster and far more danceable tempo, the genre caught on quickly in Jamaica. Trying to copy this sound with local artists, Jamaicans added their own individual twists, blending in portions of their Caribbean heritage, fusing it with mento and calypso and jazz, to produce a unique genre heavily driven by drums and bass and accented with rhythms around the off-beat, or the "upstroke". This purely Jamaican genre dominated the Jamaican music scene during the time and it was called ... ska. 




Coinciding with all the festive mood in the air when Jamaica won its independence from the U.K. in 1962, ska were built with a type of 12-bar rhythm and blues framework; your guitar accented the second 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 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 wasn't a problem! The Skatalites re-made Motown hits, surf music and in many cases the Beatles in their own personal style. The Wailers' first single Simmer Down would have been a ska smash in Jamaica at the end of 1963/early 1964 they also covered And I Love Her by the Beatles and Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan.


Although audio system concept had taken root in Jamaica in the mid 1950s, ska led to its explosion in popularity plus it was a major, uniquely Jamaican, industry that continues to thrive today. Enterprising DJs with U.S. sources to the latest records would group trucks with a generator, turntables, and big speakers, and drive across the island blaring out the 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 two star DJs for the day. Dependent upon a steady way to obtain new music, these two 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 then reggae) artists, and Edward Seaga, who owned and operated the West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) inside the 1960s but took for being Prime Minister of Jamaica and leader with the Jamaican Labour Party inside the 1980s.


As Jamaicans emigrated in good sized quantities to the U.K., the head unit culture followed and became firmly entrenched there. Minus the efforts of an white Anglo-Jamaican named Chris Blackwell, the rest of the world may possibly not have arrive at know this Jamaican brand of music. Blackwell, an archive distributor, moved his label to the U.K. in 1962 and began releasing records there on various labels, like the 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.


In Jamaica, as American R&B and soul music became slower and smoother from the mid-1960s, ska changed its sound and developed into... rocksteady.




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


The only noteworthy contrast 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, though the drum and bass are played with a slower, more relaxed, pace and also the rhythm is more syncopated.


Rocksteady arose during a period when Jamaica's poverty-stricken youths became disillusioned about their futures after Jamaica gained independence from Britain. Changing into delinquents, these unruly youths became called "rude boys". Rocksteady's themes mainly addressed love as well as the rude boy culture, together catchy dance moves that have been a lot more energetic compared to the earlier ska dance moves. Many bass lines originally created for rocksteady songs continue to be used in today's Jamaican music.


As a musical style, rocksteady was short-lived, and existed for less than about 2 yrs. Some 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 along with the Paragons. 



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Last updated 337 days ago by reggaebeat462