Music Appreciation: Reggae Music and Classical Music

Category: Music Appreciation
Last Updated: 28 Feb 2023
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The impact of music on listeners varies greatly depending on the style and genre being played. Each musical category has its own distinct features and affects audiences in different ways, making it an essential part of people's lives. This paper explores two musical genres, reggae and classical music, investigating their histories, unique characteristics, and prominent figures. Additionally, the paper examines the relationship between these two genres, with a particular focus on their similarities.

Reggae music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and was originally used to describe a type of dance music with a syncopated beat rooted in New Orleans rhythm and blues. The term "reggae" later came to signify a style of music that evolved from ska and rocksteady.

The music was influenced by North-American rhythm and blues and Trinland Calypso, and its roots can be traced back to the African rhythms, songs, and dances of rural Jamaica. The ideology of Jamaican descendants of African slaves also played a significant role in shaping the reggae style. Reggae music is characterized by a particular rhythm style featuring regular chops on the off-beat, known as the skank.

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Verena Reckord's investigation of Reggae, Rastafarianism, and Cultural Identity identifies three components of reggae mechanics: "riddim," which refers to the polyrhythmic overlays in the percussive weave; melody; and voice. The music is known for its emotionalism, spiritual vitality, and gnomic function.

In this paper, we also explore classical music, a genre that originated in Europe during the Medieval period and is characterized by its complexity, formal structure, and use of orchestral instruments. Classical music has a long and rich history, and many famous composers, such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, have contributed to its development.

Although reggae and classical music may seem like vastly different genres, they share some similarities. Both genres have deep roots in history and have evolved over time, reflecting changes in society and culture. Additionally, both genres have their own unique styles and characteristics that set them apart from other types of music.

Overall, this paper aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of reggae and classical music, exploring their origins, unique features, and the relationships between them.

With reggae music gaining increasing popularity as a genre in Jamaica, it was widely viewed as a representation of the historical experiences of the country's working-class, unemployed, and peasant people.

During his 1972 election campaign, Michael Manley appealed directly to Jamaica's Rastafarian community, adopting the biblical name Joshua and displaying a walking stick that was said to have been given to him by Haile Selassie during a previous visit to Ethiopia. To tap into the island's thriving popular culture, Manley hired reggae musicians to perform at political rallies, according to Stephen A. King (1998).

Despite Manley's reforms, the position of Jamaica's underclass did not improve, and reggae remained a significant voice of protest. However, as with many politically charged genres, reggae was less commercially viable.

Its global fame came in the 1970s and 1980s with the rise of reggae stars like Bob Marley and his Wailers, who were instrumental in making reggae commercially successful for the first time. The fusion of reggae and Rastafari was a critical factor in the spread of the genre worldwide, according to King.

While the marriage of movement and music helped popularize reggae music, it also created tensions within the Rastafarian movement. Increasingly divorced from the poor Rastafarians in the Jamaican ghettos, the movement became more political and secular, with critics arguing that it became preoccupied with superficial symbols rather than genuine religious practices.

Reggae's international popularity attracted middle-class intellectuals and spawned pseudo-Rastafarian groups worldwide, both a blessing and a curse for the movement.

Critics praised the new international sound of reggae, and musicians worldwide began to imitate the style. Blues artists recorded famous reggae songs, and Paul Simon was the first white American musician to record a reggae-influenced song. Eric Clapton's cover of the Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff" became an international hit and helped popularize reggae music in the United States.

Even the punk movement was influenced by the themes explored in reggae music, with bands like the Clash incorporating reggae numbers into their sets.

In 1977, Bob Marley recorded the song Punky Reggae Party, which explored the meeting of cultures in reggae music. In this paper, we will closely examine the contributions of Marley, who introduced reggae to the world as a completely new brand of music.

Marley's unique style combined traditional African rhythms and drumming techniques with exaggerated backbeats, black Caribbean musical innovation, and 1950s and 1960s black American soul, all while conveying themes of freedom from economic exploitation, physical degradation, and moral debasement in his works.

According to Farred, Marley was not only the first musical superstar from the Third World but also a highly regarded spokesperson for the region in the second half of the 1970s. Marley's music played a significant role in popularizing the real issues in the African liberation movement, as noted by Eusi Kwayama.

In fact, when Zimbabwe achieved independence from imperial Britain in 1980, Marley was not only the headline musical act but also an honored guest of Mugabe's incoming black majority government. He was so highly regarded that the first words spoken in Zimbabwe after the British flag was lowered and the new nation's flag was raised were "Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers!"

Unfortunately, cancer began to spread through Marley's body in 1980, just as Zimbabwe was gaining independence. Despite being treated at the clinic of Dr. Joseph Issels in Bavaria, Marley's condition eventually deteriorated. He left Germany for his home in Jamaica in May 1981, but he never completed the journey.

On May 11, 1981, Marley died in a Miami hospital, and his official funeral was attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition. Marley's body was taken to his birthplace at Nine Mile, where it now rests in a mausoleum. In April of that year, Marley was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit, the nation's third-highest honor, in recognition of his contribution to Jamaican culture.

Since Marley's death, his music has become increasingly popular, and he has become a mythical figure in 20th-century music history. Marley remains a legend, and the roots of his influence are still not fully understood.

Defining Classical Music

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music (2007), classical music is a type of music that originates from Western ecclesiastical and concert music traditions, pning from the 9th century to present day (1234). The norms of the ecclesiastical traditions were codified during the common practice period, which lasted from 1550 to 1900.

Classical music comprises a diverse range of styles, forms, genres, and historical periods, making it challenging to provide a comprehensive overview. To understand classical music, we can examine its instrumentation, form and technical execution, complexity, and significance in society.

Classical music is characterized by the use of a variety of instruments, most of which were invented before the mid-19th century. These instruments can be categorized into those used in an orchestra and those used in solo performances. For medieval music, the instruments used at that time can be classified into two categories: loud instruments used outdoors or in churches and quieter instruments used indoors.

Classical music can take various forms, such as concerto, opera, symphony, suite, dance music, and etude, among others. The technical execution of classical music pieces varies depending on the performer. Musical development, a process by which an idea or motif is repeated in different contexts or in different forms, is a common technique used by artists.

Classical works are characterized by musical complexity that is achieved through the composer's use of development, modulation, variation, length, counterpoint, polyphony, and harmony. Classical music is often seen as distinct from popular music, but this assumption is unsubstantiated.

Although classical music is stereotypically associated with the upper-class society, many working classical musicians represent the middle-class. Furthermore, it is not a rule that classical music concert-goers and buyers of classical music belong to the upper class. The history of classical music comprises seven periods: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Early Romantic, Late Romantic, and Post-Great War years.

The Medieval period of classical music ranges from 1150 to 1400, during which the earliest written secular music appeared, with most manuscripts still having a religious basis.

During the medieval period, Gregorian chant and plainsong evolved into organum, which featured two or three lines moving independently and marked the beginnings of harmony. However, these compositions were still subject to strict rules governing melody and rhythm (History of Classical Music).

The Renaissance period can be divided into two parts: the first half of the 16th century and the second half. During the 15th century, choral writing was the main focus, but composers began to have more freedom in their use of harmony. Works from this time are distinguished by their textual variety and contrast. Four influential composers from this period are Dunstable, Ockeghem, Despres, and Dufay.

In the second half of the 16th century, classical music began to take on its distinctive features, with composers gradually moving away from the prevailing principles of harmony that had lasted for over 300 years.

Each piece now had a definite tonal center, and works were organized into major and minor scales. Notable composers from this period include Dowland, Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Frescobaldi, Palestrina, Victoria, Lassus, Lobo, Cardoso, and Gesualdo (History of Classical Music).

The Baroque period pned from 1600 to 1750 and saw the emergence of the modern orchestra, as well as the development of opera, the concerto, sonata, and modern cantata. Choral music no longer dominated during this time, and there was a greater emphasis on color and variety in instrumental works.

Classical music served various functions, including being played at social gatherings, in opera, or on a domestic level. Famous composers from the 17th century include Scarlatti, Schutz, Buxtehude, Purcell, and Lully. The first half of the 18th century saw the emergence of Bach, Handel, Telemann, Rameau, Scarlatti, and Vivaldi (History of Classical Music). The classical period, which lasted from 1750 to 1830, introduced sonata form, which has dominated instrumental composition to the present day.

The Classical period is characterized by an emphasis on structural clarity, a trait exemplified by well-known composers such as Haydn and Mozart, as well as lesser-known ones like Schobert and Honnauer.

In the Early Romantic period (1830-1860), composers were preoccupied with originality and individuality in their expression, while still striving for a balance between the formal and expressive aspects of their works. This period saw an increase in harmonic vocabulary and variety of instruments used, leading to a wider emotional range in music. The leading composers of the period included Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt, among others.

The Late Romantic period (1860-1920) saw a shift towards prioritizing emotional content over structural growth, and the emergence of national schools in various countries such as Bohemia, France, Great Britain, and Hungary.

The Post-"Great War" period (1920 onwards) was marked by a diverse range of styles and contradictory directions, making it difficult to define any particular characteristics of the period or individual composers. However, the use of winds and keyboard instruments was common in both classical and reggae music, and both genres emphasized the importance of harmony and rhythm.

In conclusion, while each musical style has its own unique features, there is also a significant degree of overlap and interconnection between different genres, demonstrating the importance of music in human life.


  1. “His Story. The Life and Legacy of Bob Marley.” BobMarley. 2008. Web. “History of Classical Music.” Naxos Digital Services Ltd. 2008. Web.
  2. Davis, Stephen. “Reggae Bloodlines: In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica.” Easy Star. 2002. Ipcar. Web.
  3. Farred, Grant. What’s My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  4. Johnson, Linton Kwesi. “The Reggae Rebellion.” New Society 10 June 1976: 589. Kennedy, Michael. “Classical.” The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music. 2 vols. Oxford, 2007.
  5. King, Stephen A. “International Reggae, Democratic Socialism and the Secularization of the Rastafarian Movement, 1972-1980.” Popular Music and Society 22.3 (1998): 39.
  6. Reckord, Verena. “Reggae, Rastafarianism, and Cultural Identity.” Reggae, Rasta, Revolution: Jamaican Music from Ska to Dub. Ed. Chris Potash. New York: Schirmer, 1997. 3-13.

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Music Appreciation: Reggae Music and Classical Music. (2023, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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