Some of the best reggae groups and singers are The Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Black Uhuru, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Cultura Profética, among others. Reggae is a musical genre that emerged in Jamaica in the 60s, with a style that can be similar to ska and rocksteady but that developed its own characteristics.
One of its distinguishing features is the accentuation of the off-beat or pulse, also called skank, in which the tonic is set on the second and fourth beat of each measure, while the guitar accentuates the third.
It has a slower pace than the genres that inspired its beginnings. In addition, its themes were related to an entire ideological trend linked to Rastafarian culture, which was its definitive impulse. You may also be interested in seeing the 71 best reggae and rastafarian phrases .
List of reggae bands and singers
1- The Wailers
Formed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1963 by Bob Marley, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, Bunny Livingston (better known as Bunny Wailer), Winston Hubert McIntosh (Peter Tosh) and Cherry Smith, it was the most significant band in reggae.
With a particular sound, lyrics representative of their life experiences and a certain ideological approach to Rastafarian culture, this group gave life to great individual talents, who would later continue their solo careers.
It underwent an extensive series of modifications in its line-up, but since its debut album, The Wailin in 1965, it set a precedent in music. With sporadic performances, the group continues to perform live.
2- Bob Marley
Born in 1945 in Jamaica, Robert Nesta Marley Booker, began his musical career as a guitarist and singer for The Wailers, a band that accompanied him throughout his career.
After the initial success, Bob began to take center stage for the quality of his compositions and his charisma and from 1974 he began his solo career.
With 18 albums to his credit, numerous books and films with his history, a militant of Rastafarian culture and an advocate for the legalization of cannabis, Marley passed away in 1981 leaving an enormous musical legacy.
3- Peter Tosh
Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known as Peter Tosh, was another member of The Wailers, a group he left in 1974 to begin a prolific solo career.
He was the creator of a choppy strumming style of the guitar, which marked the genre, and was a militant of human rights, the fight against the system, the war and defender of the legalization of marijuana, which marked his work.
In addition to the eight albums with The Wailers, Tosh signed another 12 solo albums until his death in 1987.
4- Bunny Wailer
Another of the founders of The Waliers, who left the band in 1974 to launch his solo career. Wailer and Peter Tosh resented Marley’s use of the group.
Born in 1947 under the name Neville O’Riley Livingston, he was not as successful as his partner as a soloist, devoting more time to faith and music production. Even today he continues giving concerts.
5- Toots and the Maytals
Popularly known as The Maytals, this group emerged in 1962 as a vocal trio consisting of Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, Henry “Raleigh” Gordon, and Nathaniel “Jerry” McCarthy, who sang on musical bases from The Skatalites.
With various interruptions and modifications, the band, which was one of the forerunners of the genre, is still giving some concerts.
6- Black Uhuru
Considered one of the great bands of the second generation of reggae, this group was born in 1970 with Ervin “Don Carlos” Spencer, Rudolph “Garth” Dennis, and Derrick “Duckie” Simpson.
The latter and Andrew Bees keep the group alive today, after several modifications in their line-up and interruptions in their production. They have more than 30 albums to their credit.
Born in 1978 by the union of eight childhood friends Alistair Campbell, Robin Campbell, James Brown, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Brian Travers, Michael Virtue and Astro, this ensemble is still in business today.
With 24 albums and a long list of hits throughout their career, this English band owes its name to the form of the UK strike.
8- Inner Circle
Founded by brothers Ian and Roger Lewis in 1968, it was one of the precursor bands of the genre in Jamaica.
During its more than 40-year career, this group underwent numerous changes in its formation. It has 23 studio albums, the last one from 2004, but it is still active.
9- Jimmy Cliff
James Chambers was born in 1948 in Jamaica, but quickly took Jimmy Cliff as his stage name, being a contemporary of the founding fathers of the genre.
With a score of albums under his belt, his song was undoubtedly I Can See Clearly Now , one of the biggest hits of his prolific musical career.
10- The Abyssinians
Another of the founders of the genre. This group was formed in 1969 in Jamaica with Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and Linford Manning.
The three musicians remain active to this day with their Rastafarian militancy intact. They recorded 10 albums.
The Abyssinians should not be confused with The Ethiopians, another musical group, despite their names having the same meaning in many languages.
11- Alpha Blondy
Seydou Koné was born in 1953 in the Ivory Coast. He became known as Alpha Blondy in 1982 and is considered the heir to Bob Marley.
His lyrics express his ironic and defiant look at political reality, especially in Africa, and he has the peculiarity of singing in five languages: Dioula, French, English, Arabic and Hebrew.
He has 21 studio albums, numerous hits and is one of the most influential reggae artists today.
12- Gregory Isaacs
Born in 1951 in Jamaica, he emerged on the music scene dazzling with his talent in competitions in his country and is defined as the most exquisite reggae artist.
After an extensive career, with more than 50 records as a musician and producer, Isaacs passed away in 2010 in London.
It could be considered one of the bands that renewed reggae in the last 20 years and did it from a special place: Brazil.
The formation arose when Alexandre Carlo gathered his soccer companions Luis Mauricio and Bruno Dourado. Then Izabella Rocha and Kiko Peres would join. Since then they have recorded 12 albums.
Emerged in 1964, this Jamaican group could be considered the soundtrack of reggae and the creators of ska.
With their particular style they were the main influence of musicians such as: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Toots and the Maytals. They are still active.
15- Steel Pulse
Formed in 1975 they are the band that started the reggae movement in England, followed by UB40. Its members were the children of Caribbean immigrants on the island, so their lyrics expressed the difficult situation of their families in that country.
16- The Pioneers
Sydney and Derrick Crooks and Winston Hewitt formed this vocal trio in 1962, being another of the precursors of the genre with a unique style. It had two reforms but is still active.
17- Prophetic Culture
As a voice of protest in Puerto Rico, Cultura Profética has been in business for 21 years. With only five albums and 14 members, this band gained popularity for its tributes to Bob Marley.
18- Os Paralamas do Sucesso
Herbert Vianna, Bi Ribeiro and João Barone were a sensation when they burst onto the music scene in 1977 as one of the most important groups in South America.
Despite the plane crash that left their leader, Vianna, in wheelchairs, the band did not stop production and their legacy continues to expand.
19- Laurel Aitken
Born in Cuba in 1927, he was raised in Jamaica and was the first reggae musician to achieve success in Europe, even before Bob Marley.
Considered a pioneer of reggae and ska, with nine albums and a career based on his live performances, Aitken passed away in 2005.
20- Prince Buster
While he was never considered a reggae musician, the influence on the genre’s forerunners was such that he deserves the place on this list.
Maximum figure of ska and rocksteady, who gave life to reggae years later, Buster stood out both as a singer and as a producer, leaving two dozen albums until his death in 2016.
This band emerged in Jamaica in 1976 as a vocal trio and over the years it was transformed, but it always maintained its style and its commitment in the fight for peace.
22- Israel Vibration
From 1970 to the present, this harmonic group caused a sensation for their compositions and social commitment to their country, Jamaica. Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin and Cecil “Skeleton” Spence are still in the band, Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig began his solo career in 1997.
23- Derrick Morgan
It is another of the living stories of reggae, born in 1940, he worked with Desmond Dekker, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, and is still in force with records and live performances.
His great success was Forward March in 1962 to celebrate the independence of Jamaica and Great Britain.
24- The Aces
Although the great artist of this group was Desmond Dekker, the group had one of the first Jamaican hits in the world with Israelites . Dekker was one of the first stars of reggae.
This Italian born in 1977, dazzled the world with his virtuosity and even came to live in Jamaica, to better understand the origins of the genre. Year after year his music evolved and his success grew.
26- Barri Biggs
Biggs rose to fame for a cover, Sideshow of the Blue Magic song, but slowly he found his place in the reggae scene and is still alive. His cover albums were always his best success.
Soldiers Of Jah Army (Soldiers of the army of Jah) are one of the last appearances of reggae. Formed in the United States in 1997, they express their concern for today’s world, especially on issues such as love and environmental problems.
28- Read “Scratch” Perry and The Upsetters
It is not a band but a solo artist, one of the pioneers of dub and reggae. Born in 1936 in Jamaica, he started in music due to the poverty of his family and built an extensive career.
At the age of 80, he continues to work as a musician, inventor, producer and sound engineer and from the beginning he was the promoter of numerous groups.
29- Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
Lee is another of the pioneers of Jamaican music. He was born in 1935 and passed away in 2008, leaving an immense musical legacy, but he will always be remembered for being the one who introduced the electric bass to the island.
30- Musical Youth
The pairs of brothers Kelvin and Michael Grant and Junior and Patrick Waite formed this group in England in 1979. But the formation would be completed with Frederick Waite, father of the two musicians, as singer and Denis Seatton.
After some successes, it was a participation with Donna Summer that finished consolidating them, but in 1985 the band dissolved. In 2001 they returned to the scene, but as a duo with Michael Grant and Dennis Seaton.
Its name, reggae, has different etymologies. The expression “rege” was used in England as a synonym for rags or tattered clothing, but also to describe a street brawl.
Musically its origins are even more diffuse. According to some records it was Desmond Dekker, who first coined it in 1968, because he did not like the name rocksteady.
Other versions attribute to Clancy Eccles the denomination for the sort. Who, after a deformation of the terms patois streggae (easy woman) and reggay (ragged), began to call this style reggae.
But Bob Marley also made his own interpretation of the name, which he defined as “music of the king.” Whatever its origin, this genre has a rich history of artists, which we will develop in this article.
- Reggae: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton, Rough Guides Limited, England, 1997.
- Bass Culture: the history of reggae, Lloyde Bradley, Antonio Machada, Spain, 2014.