Reggae Without Lyrics

“One good thing about music is when it hits you feel no pain”


Reggae is…. Indescribable. It is a musical language born from a people who had no voice, people who were the downtrodden of society and cast aside. In the history of Jamaica, you will find Reggae has a prominent part to play as both a symbol of unity and peace where its lyrics held sway over the ambitions of many a youth who sought the spotlight in the good ol’ Sound System days where the One Drop ruled supreme.

Fast forward to present day where Reggae’s younger sibling, Dancehall has been dominant for the last few years and where Reggae is seen as something for the more mature crowd who are not necessarily into the raunchy and outspoken nature of Dancehall, where it is more celebrated in Europe and Japan and you wonder about the allure that Reggae has on these predominantly white/Asian cultures. You see Reggae for us (Jamaicans, Caribbeans and African races) is built in, the drums are our heartbeat, the guitar resonates with the tingles in our skin. For persons not in black culture, it is almost a rare sensation, almost like watching an eclipse and then feeling the sun on your skin again after a cold morning. Its warmth spreads and there is this feeling of calm in your body. For us, it is natural.

Lately I have been listening to to Reggae instrumentals, a strange habit I know yet it has let me have a new appreciation for where the genre is today. In the past musicians were expensive and to keep costs down, you had to keep the beat to the minimum. You had your pianist, rhythm guitarists, the drummer who was the heartbeat of the riddim with the One Drop and then of course the bassist who is the soul with the rhythmic, resonating thumm thumm in the background . Then there was one additional sound to add, whether this was a horn or a harmonica or the mento box but something to “sweeten the beat.” This of course meant that your lyrics in a sense were front and center. Think of Dub Poetry as Reggae’s other cousin with the beat helping to tell your story but can also tell a story BY itself. Dancehall as a pop variant of Reggae is a slave to the whims of its younger audience, having to move to trends and fads remember the auto tune (computer voice) phase that almost every genre went through? Exactly.


Reggae’s deliberate and sometimes unconscious simplicity is what gives it that ability to transcend cultural borders and norms. It’s one of the reasons why long after his death Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds even without its lyrics feels like a song that one can wake up to, “Redemption Song’s” instrumental has a feeling of deep thought, sadness and hope, “Is This Love?”  has a joyous and questioning feel to it. Reggae’s roots in simplicity and the earnestness of its everyday practitioners in the ghetto who valued togetherness and had a certain honest nature to them is welcomed even more so that it is so rare these days. After all if you do Reggae these days, you do it for the love not the likes.

Contributed by Patrick Lawson from

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