Roots Reggae

Roots reggae is a subgenre of reggae that deals with the everyday lives and aspirations of the artists concerned, including the spiritual side of Rastafari and with the honoring Jah by Rastafarians. It also is identified with the life of the ghetto sufferer, and the rural poor. Lyrical themes include spiritualitypovertyBlack pride, social issues, resistance to government and racial oppression, and repatriation to Africa.

The increasing influence of the Rastafari movement after the visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica in 1966 played a major part in the development of roots reggae, with spiritual themes becoming more common in reggae lyrics in the late 1960s. Important early roots reggae releases included Winston Holness's "Blood & Fire" (1970) and Yabby You's "Conquering Lion" (1972). Political unrest also played its part, with the 1972 election campaign of Michael Manley targeting the support of Jamaica's ghetto communities. Increasing violence associated with the opposing political parties was also a common lyrical theme, with tracks such as Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves" and Culture's "Two Sevens Clash".

The heyday of roots reggae is usually considered the latter half of the 1970s – with artists such as The AbyssiniansJohnny Clarke,Cornell CampbellBob MarleyPeter ToshBurning SpearDennis BrownMax RomeoHorace AndyHugh Mundell, and Lincoln Thompson, and groups like Black UhuruSteel PulseIsrael VibrationThe Gladiators and Culture – teaming up with producers such as Lee 'Scratch' PerryBunny LeeJoseph Hoo Kim and Coxsone Dodd. The experimental pioneering of such producers within often-restricted technological parameters gave birth to dub, and is seen by some music historians as one of the earliest (albeit analogue) contributions to modern dance music production techniques.

Roots reggae also became very popular in Europe in the 1970s, especially among left-wing white youths in Western Europe. The Wailers' popularity in Europe opened the door for other artists, and roots reggae artists became popular with punk rock fans. When Jamaicans turned to dancehall, a lot of black, white and mixed roots reggae bands were formed in Europe. Later on roots reggae also made its way into the United States with the mass migration of Jamaicans to New York. This took place with the reforms made to American immigration laws in the early 1960s. Along with localized traditions and food, reggae music was inevitably brought as well, contributing to the New York City soundscape.

While roots reggae was largely overtaken in popularity in Jamaica by dancehall, several artists from the original era, such as Culture, Burning Spear, and Israel Vibration continued to produce roots reggae and artists like Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor continued the use of roots reggae, as a musical style and thematically, through the 1980s. In the 1990s younger Jamaican artists became interested in the Rastafari movement and began incorporating roots themes into their music. Most notable among the new generation of "conscious" artists was Garnett Silk, who's positive spiritual message and consistent use of roots and rocksteady riddims gave him cross generational appeal with Caribbean audiences. While other notable dancehall stars like Capleton and Buju Banton became devout Rastas and changed their musical direction as a result. Other modern roots artists and bands also emerged at this time, including LucianoJunior KellyMorgan Heritage, and Protoje.


The term "rockers" refers to a particular sound of roots reggae, pioneered in the mid-1970s by Sly & Robbie, and very popular in the late seventies. Rockers is best described as a somewhat more mechanical and aggressive style of playing reggae with a greater use of syncopated drum patterns.

Lovers Rock

Lovers rock is a style of reggae music noted for its romantic sound and content. While love songs had been an important part of reggae since the late 1960s, the style was given a greater focus and a name in London in the mid-1970s.

The roots of lovers rock lies in the last days of the rocksteady era and early days of reggae, with Jamaican and American singers such as Ken BootheJohnny Nash and John Holt enjoying international hits with versions of well-known love songs.

A style suited to the London reggae scene, lovers rock represented an apolitical counterpoint to the conscious Rastafarian sound dominant in Jamaica at the time, a continuation of the soulful and commonly love-themed rocksteady style, based on singers like Alton Ellis. It combined the smooth soul sounds of Chicago and Philadelphia soul with rocksteady and reggae bassline rhythms.Rooted in the sound systems of South London, the style had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars including Carroll ThompsonLouisa Mark was aged 14 when she had a major lovers rock hit with her version of Bobby Parker's "Caught You in a Lie" in 1975. This spawned the distinctive young girl female sound associated with early lovers rock. Simplicity formed in 1975 and released their first hit "To Be in Love" produced by Coxson; the B-side was the Emotions classic, "A Feeling is a Feeling". They were headhunted by Neville King who produced their hits "Loving Kind", "Waiting" and "Black is our Colour". This was followed by the husband and wife production team of Dennis and Eve Harris who then had a big hit with T.T. Ross's "Last Date". Dennis Harris then set up a new record label, Lover's Rock, at the south east London premises on Upper Brockley Road along with John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell, which gave the new genre a name.

South London trio Brown Sugar (including a young Caron Wheeler, later of Soul II Soul) pioneered a subgenre, 'conscious lovers', with songs such as "I'm In Love With a Dreadlocks" and "Black Pride". Others who released records in this subgenre included the Battersea songstress Winsome and Kofi. Lovers rock became a staple of London's sound systems such as Chicken Hi-Fi, Success Sound, and Soferno B. Neil "Mad Professor" Fraser would be a key lovers rock producer, working with Deborahe Glasgow, while Bovell would produce one of the genre's biggest hits, Janet Kay's "Silly Games", which reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1979. Although noted for the preponderance and youth of its female exponents, the new style produced male stars as well, notably Trevor WaltersHoney Boy, and Winston Reedy. The trend also saw the emergence of many male groups, including Tradition, The Investigators and the Birmingham group Beshara, who in 1981, had the emotive reggae chart hit "Men Cry Too".

Subsequently, numerous well-established Jamaican acts came to try their hand at the new sound. Most successful among these were Gregory IsaacsDennis BrownSugar Minott, and later Freddie McGregor. Brown's "Money In My Pocket" (#14 in 1979) and Minott's "Good Thing Going" (#4 in 1981) were both big hits in the UK Singles Chart.

Seminal punk/rock/ska/reggae crossover band The Clash popularised the term, introducing it to a wider mainstream audience, by including a song called "Lover's Rock" as the last but one song on their 1979 signature double LP, London Calling.

The popularity of lovers rock has continued, and in the 1980s the Fashion label was successful with UK audiences, and the Revue label had a major hit in 1986 with Boris Gardiner's "I Wanna Wake Up With You". In the 1990s, the likes of Mike AnthonyPeter Hunnigale and Donna Marie enjoyed success with the genre, and several British stars have performed at Reggae Sunsplash. The 21st century has seen lovers rock being exposed to more audiences by impresario Orlando Gittens who has pioneered the 'Giants of Lovers Rock' series of concerts at London's O2 arena.

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