PenDragon - the official magazine of Lyford Cay International School PenDragon Vol 5, Spring 2019 - Page 14
Through the music of artists like Bob Marley and
Peter Tosh, Reggae became the international
voice of Jamaica and a visible representation of
Jamaican pride. It also became a vehicle for social
and political commentary, conveying harsh truths
and advocating action.
By Breia Brown, Grade 12 Student
History of America and the Roots of Hip Hop
America has its own legacy of slavery and
colonialism. In addition, waves of migrants built
an increasingly multicultural environment. The
Civil Rights movement worked to remove barriers
and the conditions of discrimination. From this
centuries-long struggle sprung musical genres like
Jazz and the Blues and the Black Arts Movement,
reflecting the African-American community’s
refusal to be marginalised. The roots of Hip Hop
are in the 1970’s Bronx, mired in recession and high
rates of crime and poverty. The genre grew to be a
global phenomenon, more than just music but also
a style of dress, a dialect and an entire subculture.
Breia is a Bahamian student
with a passion for music.
She plays in the LCIS Steel
Orchestra and loves Bob
Marley. These interests inspired
her to explore the intersection
of music and history. This
paper provides a condensed
summary of the research and
analysis she conducted for her
Extended Essay. The Extended
Essay is one of the key components of the
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
Breia will attend Dalhousie University this fall to
pursue a degree in Communications.
The popular music genres Reggae and Hip Hop
are modern forms of oral tradition that mirror
the historical and social conditions from which
they sprung. These genres provide a platform
for voices that often go unheard in historical
narratives. Reggae and Hip Hop offer voice
and a sense of identity to individuals and
communities whose struggles may otherwise
History of Jamaica and the Roots of Reggae
During his second voyage to the “New World,”
Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in
1494 and met the Tainos, the first inhabitants
of the island. Later, colonists brought enslaved
Africans to the New World in one of the largest
migrations in history. Slaves in Jamaica endured
harsh conditions. While the Slave Trade Act
(1807) outlawed the buying and selling of slaves
in the British empire, the hardship of those
already enslaved continued. It was not until the
Abolition Act of 1833 that slavery itself ended.
Slaves in Jamaica represented many African
tribes and found a sense of unity in their shared
hardship and common heritage. Music was one
aspect of their culture not taken from them by
force. Enslaved Africans sang of horrors, with
lyrics that expressed their desire to return home.
From this history emerged music in which the
emotional effects of slavery can still be heard,
both the pain and the dreams of a better life.
Into the 20th century, Jamaica continued
to struggle with the effects of slavery and
colonialism and a society divided by race and
class. Kingston-born Marcus Garvey was one
source of musical inspiration, creating a “Back to
Africa” movement. Garvey inspired a message
of pride in African culture and faith in an African
“Redeemer.” Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
was crowned in 1930; this event was perceived
as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prophecy and the
Emperor became a symbol of salvation.
Reggae music in the 1960s evolved from the local
genres of Ska and Rocksteady. When Jamaica
claimed independence in 1962, Rastafarianism
gained acceptance and political parties used its
symbols to capture “the voice of the people.”
Reggae lyrics explored the experience of
poverty, brutality and discrimination. Many
Reggae artists practised Rastafarianism and
Reggae music appeared in campaigns for
candidates for opposing political parties.
Reggae music became increasingly political, a
platform against oppression and injustice.
Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” (1973) advises
that the promise of life after death should not
make people passive in the face of current
mistreatment. Marley’s “Burnin’ and Lootin’”
(1973) expresses his perception of the police:
“dressed in uniforms of brutality.” The song also
describes “burning all illusion and pollution:”
“illusion” was the pretense of equality among
all races and classes and “pollution” was the
toxicity forced upon those of African descent.
Peter Tosh’s “Equal Rights” was for Jamaica,
South Africa and any other country facing
government oppression. The song was Tosh’s
appeal to the oppressed to take back their
power, “crying out for justice.”
Creative Commons 3.0 license. Photo credit: Paul Weinberg"
DJ Kool Herc is considered the originator of Hip
Hop, channelling his Jamaican roots and musical
heritage into this new art form. Reggae music
features ‘toasting’, the act of speaking over music.
Toasting was imported as a feature of Hip Hop and
the spoken lyrics rapped about the tensions of
urban life. As Hip Hop grew more popular, it kept
its gritty message and gained political relevance.
The music offered a vision of unity and solidarity.
Many of the earliest examples of Hip Hop
adopted positive messages: the importance of
education, the value of justice. A shift occurred
in the early 1990s. From positive messages about
the possibility of change, Hip-Hop lyrics turned
to darker realities. Ice-T’s ‘Cop Killa’ (1992) was
among the first Hip-Hop songs that stoked rather
than merely reflected the anger and resentment
of many African-American communities. N.W.A.’s
“F*** the Police” (1988) was another anthem against
police brutality and marks Hip-Hop’s embrace of a
long history of music as resistance.
People around the world sing Reggae and Hip
Hop songs and adopt slang words from the music,
creating a popular subculture that defies race and
nationality. The global popularity of these genres
demonstrates that the message against oppression
and equality endures. An enduring message
delivered in an internationally popular way is a
powerful form of political voice and protest.
The popular appeal of Reggae and Hip Hop
transformed these genres into weapons for
change with significant political impact. Music is
empowering; it gives a sense of community and
belonging, letting people know that their voice is
important. The evolution of Reggae and Hip Hop
show that music continues to be a tool to unify
and to challenge the system.
Photo credit: Ricky Flores, 1984