When reggae artist Tarrus Riley entered the stage, the
screams of the full house were deafening, and the fervor
persisted throughout his performance.
A musical and social roots movement called "Reggae Revival" is
on the rise in Jamaica, where the raunchier dancehall genre has
been king for the last two decades. The revival evokes music
from reggae’s golden era of the 1970s, dominated by the late,
laid-back legend, Bob Marley, who put reggae on the global map
with his catchy tunes and spiritual and socially conscious
"Reggae is bouncing back," said Chris Blackwell, the founder of
Island Records who introduced the group Bob Marley and the
Wailers to the world. "It got lost somewhat in a negative and
violent direction (but) I think it's finding itself again," he
The revival of traditional "roots reggae" also stands as "a
peaceful revolution in a nation that is often typecasted as
violent," said Dutty Bookman, a Jamaican writer who has been
documenting the movement which he says goes beyond music,
likening it to the Arab Spring.
"Love, unity, positivity, truth-seeking, these things form the
basis of the movement," he said.
Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, which became an
international phenomenon thanks to Marley who died of cancer in
1981 at age 36.
"Reggae is the heartbeat of Jamaica," said Ziggy Marley, one of
Bob Marley's reggae-playing sons, currently on tour for his “Fly
"I think Jamaica misses it,” added the younger Marley. "In the
past years a lot of the younger artists have been trying to move
away from it with dancehall, but reggae is something that is
needed because music affects our society deeply."
DANCEHALL TAKES OVER
After reggae’s golden age, the music degenerated as artists
moved from marijuana, considered a spiritual drug by Jamaica’s
Rastafarian Christian sect, to harder drugs like cocaine, Herbie
Miller, Jamaica Music Museum’s director, said.
“Slackness,” a catch-all term for bad behavior, including
explicit sexuality and violence, became the norm, and with it
came the rise of dancehall.
Dancehall is an offshoot of reggae with a hyper-energetic sound
and often violent, misogynistic as well as sexually explicit
In 1991, dancehall artists famously upstaged roots reggae
performers at the popular annual Reggae Sunsplash music festival
and dancehall artists such as Shabba Ranks, Yellowman, Buju
Banton and Ninjaman became all the rage.
Dancehall moved reggae closer to the American gangster rap
scene, led by artists like Snoop Dogg, one the biggest selling
But dancehall was rocked by a series of scandals involving some
of its stars. The Grammy-winning singer Buju Banton was
convicted in 2011 on cocaine conspiracy and trafficking charges
and is serving a 10-year sentence.
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In April dancehall star Vybz Kartel was sentenced to life in prison
in Jamaica for the murder of a former associate.
Despite fading, reggae's influence can still be heard in mainstream
American pop, including the Bruno Mars 2012 hit "Locked Out of
Mars performed a rousing reggae tribute to Bob Marley at the 2013
Grammys alongside Sting, Rihanna and two Marley sons, Ziggy and
Damian, singing a cover of his 1980 song "Could You Be Loved."
In a sign of the times, Snoop Dogg changed his name in 2012 after a
trip to Jamaica and announced a conversion to the Rastafari movement
and a new alias, Snoop Lion. His 2013 chart-topping,
Grammy-nominated album, "Reincarnated", put reggae firmly back on
the map, featuring a fusion of reggae and dancehall.
BACK IN THE CHARTS
For the week of Aug. 23, Billboard ranks Chronixx’s “Dread &
Terrible” the fourth bestselling reggae album. Ziggy Marley’s “Fly
Rasta” ranks third and Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated” ranks sixth.
The new crop of artists in the reggae revival include Protoje,
Tarrus Riley, Chronixx, Jah9, and Kabaka Pyramid, who all play music
with messages rooted in Rastafarianism.
What you have and how you look and what you don't have, that's
dancehall," said Kabaka Pyramid, who was ranked at the top of
Billboard's Next Big Sound chart last year. In the reggae revival,
"ego is being taken out of the music," he said.
The revival is being fostered by Billy Wilmot, a Jamaican surfing
legend the vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the Mystic
Revealers, a Jamaican reggae band that formed in the late 1970s.
His surf camp, Jamnesia, became a seminal place where Reggae Revival
artists cut their teeth on live performance.
"Reggae is always socially conscious music and socially relevant,"
said Wilmot. "It might not be what you want to hear, but it's what's
going on in society."
Roots reggae and dancehall may have very different sounds and
messages, but they’re not mutually exclusive. Some reggae artists
have incorporated rap elements of dancehall, including Damian Marley
and Tanya Stephens.
“Both can exist and live,” says Ziggy Marley. "The roots revival can
bring things back into balance without being judgmental of one or
(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)
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