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REGGAE IN THE STUDIO: THE BROAD INFLUENCE OF BOB MARLEY TO SEAN PAUL TO MATISYAHU!

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In the late 1960’s, a genre emerged in Jamaica that would revolutionize the music industry forever. When Bob Marley laid down his anthem to Jamaica, “One Love,” who knew that reggae music would be where it is today — with the studio playing a major part in the creative process.

Jamaica is the undisputed original source of reggae.

Jamaica is the undisputed original source of reggae.

According to Marley, the term “reggae” is translated from Spanish to mean “the king’s music.” This genre has been the language of the soul for decades now and prevails to this day, influencing many artists.

If you are aware of the genres of ska and rocksteady, then you have known reggae before it even began because it was developed out of these two styles. Rocksteady had a slow and soft feel that was best demonstrated by bands like The Maytalsand The Wailers. Ska, with a more disorganized, upbeat quality, fused styles like Caribbean calypso with American rhythm and blues. It is this Caribbean influence that gives reggae that island music feel, one that’s still going strong and today even fuses with punk rock in many instances.

And so reggae became a genre on its own. One that was more organized, complex and a little faster, all the while giving off a relaxed and soothing vibe.

The Beltones

The Beltones

Reggae Roots

The Beltones were an early group that are said to have recorded the first reggae single titled “No More Heartaches” at Harry J Studios, which was owned by the noteworthy Jamaican producer Harry Johnson, who just recently passed.

 

In addition, it was the famous hit single by Johnny Nash titled “Hold Me Tight” that is still to this day known as the song that introduced America to reggae music in 1968. Nash, along with The Wailers(formed by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer) are known as the genre’s pioneers, but many more lesser-known musicians also emerged as reggae artists, all of whom played the same way: by utilizing a 4/4 time signature, an uptempo “skank” guitar groove, and both accented and energized rhythms.

As with all genres of music, the producer, engineer and artist relationship is extremely important. A few key Jamaican producers that were directly involved in the transition of ska and rocksteady into reggae include, but are not limited to: King TubbyDuke ReidLeslie KongLee “Scratch” PerryJoe Gibbs and Coxsone Dodd.

It was Chris Blackwell, the founder of Jamaica’s Island Records (1960), who promoted Jamaican music abroad after moving to the UK where he partnered with Lee Gopthal of Trojan Records.  Together they released reggae music in England. Bands like UB40 then emerged with well-known smash hits like “Red, Red Wine.” Songs like that are still played on repeat everywhere in the Caribbean, from cruises to vacation resorts.

Foundations of Production

The latest production techniques are bringing out the best in "Legend".

The latest production techniques are bringing out the best in “Legend”.

The techniques used to approach reggae in the studio have always been streamlined, the end products of which is always crisp and tight around the edges. Recent mastering and remastering of older albums like Bob Marley’sLegend have shown how newer technology has been beneficial to the genre by providing for a cleaner and more intense playback on the highest of volumes via compression techniques.

In the studio, reggae should be approached as simple as a blues track, but with the focus on creating a high-fidelity finished product. The snare and bass should be honed in on and brought forward; each instrument should be given its space; and those very quiet, but crucial pauses should not be filled in. Artists are careful not to use too much delay or reverb. Some of the best producers in the world have put out some unbelievably timeless reggae music using these simple guidelines.

The genre is so notable for its lasting affect and influence in the music industry. Styles like dancehall reggae have emerged to include artists like Buju Banton, along with ska blending with punk rock, and popular artists like Sean Paul singing with a heavy Jamaican accent and using computerized reggae beats more on the pop end of the spectrum.

Sean Paul

Sean Paul

Along the same lines, reggae punk rock bands like Bad Brains have been innovative by turning reggae hardcore. It may also be a stretch to say, but rap and even computer-generated styles (like dubstep’s heavy bass beat) have been at least somewhat influenced by reggae’s techniques.

Newer reggae artists like Collie Budz and Tribal Seeds take directly from the pioneers with a slightly cleaner studio sound. We even have Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jewish man performing traditional reggae, entertaining a primarily jam band crowd. The Wailers, who still often play live, have also collided with the jam band approach. It’s amazing that the music industry provides all with talent the opportunity to prove themselves within a genre, however unconventional.

A Global Island

Jamaica takes pride in its reggae artists and producers, who are some of the most wealthy and influential members of that society. Bob Marley’s children DamianStephen and Ziggy Marley have also taken after their father by becoming reggae musicians in this ever-changing era of music.

Damian Marley told The Guardian in July, 2012, “A lot of my first album was collaborations with my brother Stephen. We’ve always done it together as brothers – there are a lot of professionals in my family, with production and so on.” He has also incorporated rap and hip hop into his music, collaborating with artists like Nas.

Matisyahu

Matisyahu

Reggae’s lasting influence has brought music lovers around the globe joy, good times, and many new genres of music that would have never been possible without it. As a famous Bob Marley quote reads, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Reggae did exactly that and with the genre still going strong, we only have more beautiful music to look forward to.

What new styles can emerge – live and in the studio — as a result of this broad genre with its wonderfully talented musicians? Will the Marley legacy continue for generations? Regardless of what the future may hold for reggae, we can be sure that its classics will never sound old.

– Michael Haskoor is a freelance music writer with a passion for music.  He currently enjoys writing for Live For Live Music and will focus this series (done exclusively for SonicScoop) around the effect that studio production has had on different genres of music.

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