Reggae | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Caribbean music genre. Reggae's introduction, in Jamaica, is dated to the song 'Do the Reggay' (1968) by Toots (Hibbert) and the Maytals, but its pre-history lies in a fusion of the indigenous calypso form 'mento' with US rhythm and blues, jump blues and shuffles, emerging first (ca 1957) as the upbeat, largely instrumental, horn-dominated 'ska' and then (ca 1966) in the slower, subtler songs of 'rock steady.'

Caribbean music genre. Reggae's introduction, in Jamaica, is dated to the song 'Do the Reggay' (1968) by Toots (Hibbert) and the Maytals, but its pre-history lies in a fusion of the indigenous calypso form 'mento' with US rhythm and blues, jump blues and shuffles, emerging first (ca 1957) as the upbeat, largely instrumental, horn-dominated 'ska' and then (ca 1966) in the slower, subtler songs of 'rock steady.' The keyboard player and composer Jackie Mittoo was one of many important figures in the evolution of ska through rock steady to reggae.

The etymology of the term 'reggae' is apocryphal - perhaps a verbalization of the music's trademark rhythmic guitar scratch ('reggae-reggae'), or a derivation of 'streggae' (patois for 'rudeness'), 'regular,' or 'raggamuffin' (a reference to the downtrodden youth of Kingston).

Recordings 1968-72 by Desmond Dekker & The Aces ('Israelites'), Jimmy Cliff, Bob (Andy) & Marcia (Griffiths), Greyhound, and Dave and Ansel Collins carried reggae's buoyant rhythms (with their singular emphasis on the third beat of 4/4 metre), prominent bass pulse, and melodic and soulful vocals beyond the Caribbean. These recordings in turn set the stage for The Wailers, whose LP Catch a Fire (1972) launched the international career of the singer Bob Marley (1945-81), the first pop 'superstar' to emerge from the Third World. Marley's 'Jah music,' which spoke for the dispossessed, honoured African culture and upheld the political and theological tenets of his Rastafarian faith, had both great popularity and inestimable influence throughout the world.

Reggae Pioneers in Canada

Canada's reception and acculturation of reggae followed the same pattern as that of the United Kingdom and the US, where Jamaicans also settled in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At first they imported music from Jamaica for entertainment and recreation, and then began to promote and record their own music in competition with - and eventually for the appreciation of - the established Jamaican culture. Pioneers in the 1960s included Toronto's first ska and rock steady groups, the Rivals, the Sheiks, the Cougars, and the Cavaliers, who took their place alongside Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and other visiting bands. Favoured venues at this time in Toronto, which became the centre of reggae in Canada and indeed one of its hotbeds in North America, included the WIF (West Indian Federation) Club, Club Jamaica, Tiger's Den, and the Blue Angel. The first artist to record reggae in Canada was Jackie Mittoo, followed by Stranger Cole, Tony Eden, Audley Williams, the Webber Sisters, Leroy Brown, and Joe Issacs.

In 1976, Toronto's Ishan People made the first of two albums for GRT. In the next 15 years, however, Messenjah, Sattalites, and Leroy Brown were the few reggae artists to record for a major Canadian label. Sibbles, who sang rock steady with the Heptones in Jamaica during the mid-1960s, moved to Toronto in 1973 and made albums for Micron, Boot, A & M (the reggae-rock Evidence, with the participation of Bruce Cockburn, whose own 'Wondering Where the Lions Are' showed a reggae influence), and Attic. With the world-wide demand during the late 1970s for reggae, recording activity in Canada also increased; Nana McLean, One Love (featuring the guitarist Tony Campbell), Ital Groove, Winston Hewitt, and Earth, Roots and Water, were among the performers heard at this time.

Canadian Reggae Scene

During a period of intense political and social turbulence 1972-82 in Jamaica, a number of then-current and future stars took up self-imposed exile in Toronto and elsewhere in southern Ontario, bringing a measure of visibility and creative vitality to the domestic reggae scene. Among them: the singer and songwriter Ernie Smith (whose Roots Revival evolved by 1980 into the integrated group Bloodfire), Carlene Davis, Ken Boothe, Willie Williams, Fabienne Miranda, Joe Cooper, and the comedic singer Lovindeer (who wrote songs for Ishan People). The 'roots rocker' Johnny Osbourne sang for Ishan People under the name Bumpy Jones before returning to Jamaica in 1980, after the band's demise. The record producer Prince Jammy (Lloyd James), whose 'sleng teng' computerized 'riddim' launched the 'DJ-style' (or 'dancehall') reggae variant (toasting or 'talkover,' to sparse rhythm tracks) in 1985, lived in relative obscurity in Toronto during the 1970s.

From the 1980s, a number of prominent Canadian reggae artists have dominated the music scene in Vancouver (Mango Dub, Chester Miller, and Ras Lee), Montreal (Kali & Dub) and Toronto (R. Zee Jackson, Lazo, Noel Ellis, Truth & Rights, Mojah, Adrian Miller, 20th Century Rebels, Jimmy Reid, Nana McLean, Blessed, Sattalites, and Snow). Messenjah, an influential group recognized as one of Canada's leading roots-reggae bands, was formed in Kitchener, Ont, in 1981. Along with Nana McLean in the 1990s, Tanya Mullings was a pioneering female reggae artist based in Brampton, Ont, who won multiple Canadian Reggae Music awards 1991-7. Sonia Collymore, who began her career by providing background vocals for Nana McLean, also won Juno awards in 2003 and 2005 for best reggae recording of the year.

Jamaica's major artists toured to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal; in Toronto a club circuit that has included the Soul Palace, Karib Tavern, Pirate's Cove, BamBoo, the Silver Dollar, and the Real Jerk Pit has served local reggae performers. Many of these artists were interviewed by Ottawa DJ Junior Smith, who won the Peter Tosh Memorial Award for his radio program "Reggae in the Fields" in 2002.

Style and Influence

One hallmark of Canadian reggae is the melodicism of its songs, and the relative absence of confrontation, a legacy of the country's conservatism and placid social ambience. Another is the rise of integrated bands, most prominently Chalawa (led 1977-82 by the producer John Forbes), Bloodfire 1980-4, the Sattalites (formed in 1981 by the flugelhorn player Jo Jo Bennett and the singer Fergus Hambleton), and Boncongonistas, One, Fujahtive, Revelation, and Sunforce.

Reflecting the continuing evolution of reggae internationally, several dub poets - poets inspired by the example of Britain's Linton Kwesi Johnson to read their verses to the rhythms of electronically altered, instrumental 'dub' tracks - emerged in the mid-1980s from the literati of Toronto's black community, including Lillian Allen, Clifton Joseph, and Devon Haughton. The dominant influence of hip hop (rap) on black music encouraged Carla Marshall, Devon Martin, Special Ice, and others in Toronto, to work in the 'raggamuffin' or 'ragga' style. Meanwhile, ska made a comeback in the early 1990s as played by such young, white groups as the Skatterbrains in Ottawa and Skaface and the eclectic King Apparatus in Toronto, whose efforts, however, evoked less the Jamaican original than the British revival ca 1980.

Two other musicians, the guitarist and record producer Carl Harvey and the singer Glen Ricketts (also known as Glen Ricks), members in the 1970s of the Toronto funk band Crack of Dawn, moved easily between reggae and rhythm and blues. Harvey toured with Jackie Mittoo and Toots Hibbert and produced recordings by Messenjah, the rhythm and blues singer Kim Richardson, and the Toronto pop trio Sway ('Hands Up,' a hit in 1988). Ricketts recorded soul and reggae albums in Jamaica, England, and Canada.

Reggae Awards

Canada's reggae performers have been honoured by the Canadian Reggae Music Awards, established by Winston Hewitt in Toronto in 1985, and by a Juno award for reggae recording of the year (originally titled best reggae/calypso recording), introduced the same year. The latter was won by Lillian Allen (1986, 1989), Leroy Sibbles ( 1987), the Sattalites (1990, 1996), Snow (1994), Carla Marshall (1995), Nana McLean (1997), Messenjah (1998), Frankie Wilmot (1999), Lazo (2000), Lenn Hammond (2001), Blessed (2002, 2006), Sonia Collymore (2003, 2005), and Leroy Brown (2004).

Selected Discography

Errol Blackwood Chant, Chant. (1987). Blade CCR-9240

Blessed Love (African Women). (2002). Spragga Roots Records

- Reggae Time. (2006). Explorer Universal

Leroy Brown Rent A Tile. (2004). Dakarai

Sonia Collymore You Won't See Me Cry. (2003). Fiwi/XeS

- WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). (2005). XES Music Nuff Entertainment/IndiePool

Horace Faith Fly High Anansi. (1981). Rio RIO-1014

Ishan People Roots. (1976). GRT 9230-1064

- Ishan People. (1977). GRT 9230-1071

R. Zee Jackson Seat Up. (1980). Rio RIO-1006

Lazo Satisfaction Guaranteed. (1987). Spynn CCR-9999

Nana McLean Dream of Life. (1979). G Clef GCLP-101

- Nana McLean. (1997). Penthouse

Adrian Miller Empty Promises. (1985). Bridge BR-1

Ojiji [Rupert Harvey] The Shadow. (1979). Ultra URN-2-101

One Love One Love. (1981). Generation GEN-3016

Ras Lee Moonlight Lover. (1985). Reggae Vibes CCR-9016

Sattalites Sattalites. (1985). Axe AXS-525

- Miracles. (1989). Risque Disque/WEA CD-56996

- Now and Forever. (1996). Childsplay

Leroy Sibbles Now. (1979). Micron MICCAN-0031/Generation GEN-3012

- Evidence. (1982). A & M SP-9075

- On Top. (1983). Micron MICCAN-0052

Ernie Smith To Behold Jah. (1979). Generation GEN-3011

Snow Informer. (1994). East/West/Warner

- Two Hands Clapping. (2003). Virgin/EMI

Truth & Rights Metro's No. 1 Problem. (1981). Rhythm Discs RD-500

Further Reading