February 6, 2024 -Reggae is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. Reggae shares its roots with jazz and rhythm and blues music, and has been hugely influential in the evolution of many modern genres including dub, hip hop, and drum and bass. As we celebrate reggae month here are some of the best reggae artistes of all-time, each of them having helped to define and popularize the genre around the globe.
No list of reggae icons is complete without Bob Marley in the top spot. Bob Marley rose to fame with his backing band, The Wailers, starting in 1963.
Bob Marley’s lifetime of creativity originated in Jamaica and became the foundation of inspiration that spread messages of hope, justice, and understanding around the world. Marley’s songs sounded peaceful but were often political, with popular themes of love, redemption, and struggle. Bob Marley released countless timeless singles including One Love, I Shot the Sheriff, Redemption Song, and No Woman No Cry. Perhaps the most iconic Bob Marley album is ‘Exodus’, released in 1977
Bob Marley and the Wailers also held one of the most legendary reggae concerts in history in the One Love Peace Concert, in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1978. The concert was held during a political civil war in Jamaica between the opposing parties, the Jamaica Labour Party, and the People’s National Party.
Marley’s music continues to be loved all over the world. In his lifetime, he has been awarded Rolling Stone’s Band of the Year and posthumously he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement in music and was placed at No.11 on the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artistes of All Time
Toots and the Maytals
Toots Hibbert, a prolific reggae hitmaker from Jamaica broke out in the 1960s to become a global success with his breakthrough album, Funky Kingston. His tenor voice had a raspy tone that made him sound familiar to listeners across the globe. Toots, a two-time Grammy winner, is credited as the inventor of the coinage, reggae after using the word on his 1968 single, Do the Reggay with his group the Maytals. Toots was serious about the message and legacy he wanted to establish. He said in an interview in 2010, “A hundred years from now, my songs will be played, because it is logical words that people can relate to.”
Hits, like Bam Bam from 1966, made Toots and his group among the decade’s biggest stars in Jamaican music.
Peter Tosh was the fieriest of the famous Wailers, the others being Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. Even on the group’s early albums with Island Records, he wrote the most provocative songs — 400 Years and Get Up, Stand Up. After leaving The Wailers, he continued to take on the establishment or as he called it, “the sh.itsim.” Peter Tosh exemplified reggae culture, as a proud Rastafarian with strong ties to Jamaica. Two of Tosh’s greatest statements were the albums Legalize It and Equal Rights, released in 1976 and 1977, respectively. The former called for the legalization of marijuana (also known as ganja in Jamaica) for which he was a passionate advocate.
In the year of his death, Tosh’s last studio album, No Nuclear War, was released. It won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1988.
Burning Spear, whose given name is Winston Rodney, is no doubt one of the most enduring reggae artistes of all time. He is still recording and giggling today, over 40 years on. Burning Spear’s first landmark album was 1975’s Marcus Garvey, which extolled the politics of the activist of the same name. The album includes both the title track as well as another underground hit, Slavery Days, two of Burning Spear’s most popular hits of all time which still get regular airplay on the radio.
Burning Spear spent decades touring extensively, and several live albums have been released including Burning Spear Live, Live in Paris, Live in South Africa, Live in Vermont, Peace and Love Live, Live at Montreux Jazz Festival and (A)live 1997. Touring the world time and time again, the band’s live sound matured and grew more sophisticated while remaining firmly rooted in reggae.
was a Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician. Together with his backing group The Aces (consisting of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard), he had one of the earliest international reggae hits with Israelites. Dekker introduced the UK to Jamaican rude-boy culture and paved the way for the likes of Bob Marley with his songs about the daily struggles of Jamaican people. Dekker recorded his most famous hits with Leslie Kong, who produced his music from 1963 on. Together, they recorded some of his most seminal albums including 007 Shanty Town and Action! both of which paved the way for reggae music both in the UK and abroad. In 1970 Dekker released You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff, which reached No. 2 on the UK charts.
Miguel Collins is the famous reggae/dancehall star known professionally as Sizzla Kalonji. His illustrious career in the music industry is well served as he continues to enjoy over two decades as a bonafide reggae ambassador.
Attempting to dissect his amazing and consistent body of work is a tedious task at hand. The deejay has released 90 studio albums to date, with 21 of such charting on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums music chart, with some of the most important being 1997’s Praise Ye Jah and 2013’s The Messiah, which brought Sizzla his first Grammy nomination. Some of his most loved tracks include Thank U Mamma and I’m Living. No other contemporary artiste has managed to recreate the popularity of reggae throughout the 70s and 80s as Sizzla has today.
Steel Pulse was formed in Birmingham in 1975. They are a roots reggae band whose songs often focused on themes of social injustice and racism. Despite rising popularity in the UK, Steel Pulse were often banned from playing live gigs in the UK due to their controversial Rastafarian beliefs, and yet they still rocketed to international fame and became the first reggae band to ever play on The Tonight Show in the US. They also became the first non-Jamaican band to win a Grammy award for the Best Reggae Album, with their landmark album Babylon the Bandit in 1987.
One of Jamaica’s most beloved vocalists who was as pertinent in dancehalls as he was in bedrooms, Gregory Isaacs’ career stretched over 30 years. From the heady days of reggae through lover’s rock, a genre he virtually invented, his talent reached into the modern age.
Isaacs first found fame after performing for The Concords, who broke up after a few years. His steady rise to fame started in 1978 when he signed to Virgin Record’s Front Line.
Isaacs released timeless classics such as My Only Lover and Night Nurse.
He attributed his unique style to R&B artistes such as Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke, and Alton Ellis, among many others.
Jamaica-born James Chambers, also known by his stage name Jimmy Cliff, is the only living reggae artiste to have received the Jamaican Order of Merit.
Known as a consistent hit maker, Jimmy Cliff has released classic hits since the 1960s. His world-renowned songs include masterpieces, such as Waterfall, Many Rivers to Cross, The Harder They Come and Sitting Here in Limbo.
He introduced millions of people to reggae music after performing in the landmark movie The Harder They Come in 1972.
Throughout his career, Cliff has enjoyed particularly high popularity in South America and Africa. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.
Born in Kingston, Dennis Brown grew up in a street that had a lot of recording studio activity.
Brown began his recording career at the tender age of 11 and released more than 75 albums during his all too short 42 years on earth. Although the reggae legend passed away in 1999, his music and legacy live on.
In his prolific career, Brown was able to work with major producers like Joe Gibbs and Derrick Harriott. His rise to fame intensified after Bob Marley declared him as his personal favorite.
Known as Jah B or Bunny Livingston, Wailer was the youngest of the three original Wailers. The other two band members were Bob Marley (1945 – 1981) and Peter Tosh (1944 – 1987).
His album Blackheart Man was well received by fans when he released it after going solo.
Throughout his solo career, Wailer released over ten albums. He won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1991 for the album Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley, 1995 for Crucial! Roots Classics, and 1997 for Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary. Up until today, he is considered one of the most popular reggae legends of all time.
Dubbed the empress of reggae music, long time musical sensation Marcia Griffiths began her professional singing career in 1964 at age 15, with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires band.
She released her debut song, Feel like jumping in 1978 under Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label. While there, she released several duets including Young, Gifted, And Black in 1970 and The Pied Piper in 1971 as half of the duo, Bob and Marcia.
She toured with Bob Marley as a member of I-threes and made the billboard charts with Electric Boogie Song. She’s also credited with creating the electric slide dance.
Jamaican reggae singer Beres Hammond’s soulful voice has made him a major figure in the lover’s rock movement.
Over the years he has blessed us with timeless hits such as A Little More Time featuring Buju Banton, What One Dance Can Do, Tempted to Touch, Putting up a resistance and more recently God Is Love featuring Popcaan.
Over the span of his three-decade career, the legendary singer has obtained 8 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Reggae Chart, including “In Control,” “Love From A Distance,” “A Day in the Life,” “Music is Life”’ and “The Ultimate Collection: Beres Hammond.”
As the eldest son of Bob Marley, it comes as no surprise that Ziggy Marley has thrived in the reggae scene.
After Bob Marley’s passing, Ziggy began performing in his place alongside the Wailers at various shows around Jamaica, and in 1984 the group went on tour in support of the year’s Bob Marley Legend compilation album release.
Shortly after his father’s death, he and his siblings formed the Melody Makers. In 1998, their album Conscious Party helped them become mainstream.
Marley has now won five Grammys for Best Reggae Album and two Grammys for Best Reggae Recording. That category is no longer awarded.
He also won a Grammy in 2009 for his album Family Time, which won in the Best Musical Album for Children category.
He has also won as a member of the Melody Makers
Born Orville Richard Burrell in 1968, Shaggy is known for emerging as the most successful crossover artiste in dancehall reggae in the 90s.
A quick and talented writer, Shaggy created a style that was rooted in Jamaican dance traditions but displayed a pop sensibility and a sense of humor that endeared him to ordinary music fans in the United States and beyond.
During this time, he became one of the most internationally recognizable artistes, sustaining his success through hits such as Boombastic, Angel, and It Wasn’t Me.
While Shaggy may be unique from traditional reggae artistes this characteristic has made him one of the most well-loved reggae artistes in the US.
Winston Foster also known as King Yellow or Yellowman was initially shunned by the industry because of his albinism.
However, that did not stop him from displaying his talent and building a lasting musical career.
His first album release was in 1982 titled Mister Yellowman followed by Zungguzungguguzungguzeng in 1983 earning instant success. Some of his hits include Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt, and Them A Mad Over Me.
Buju Banton is a living legend and the genre’s quintessential reggae artiste. Banton is unequivocally the greatest reggae artiste to have ever commanded a microphone. The man born Mark Anthony Myrie is a living legend, world class deejay, breaker of records set by the honorable Robert Nesta Marley, revolutionary and ambassador of the Jamaican sound called dancehall. Born in the Kingston slum of Salt Lane, he’s made a career of teaching music lovers how to love and be loved. “Reggae music’s mission is to uplift, educate and eradicate negativity from the minds of the people globally,” says Banton. “I won’t let that change.” Banton is one of the most loved and celebrated Jamaican reggae artistes of the 1990s and beyond. In 2010, he released Before the Dawn, winning a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
Freddie McGregor began his musical career when he was seven years old and earned the nickname Little Freddie. McGregor spent many decades navigating the musical high seas, releasing classics, thrilling fans, and picking up numerous accolades for his contribution to reggae.
He had a string of hit songs during the 1980s including Big Ship, All in The Same Boat, Push Come to Shove and Just Don’t Want to be Lonely.
Freddie’s music always understood what was happening throughout the world and never made songs that discriminated against anyone.
Some people may not consider Luciano as one of the greatest reggae artistes of all time, but many fans credit him for reviving roots reggae at a time when digital dancehall had taken over.
When he released Where There Is Life, it was the first time reggae enthusiasts thought he was the artiste capable of stepping into the somewhat oversized shoes of Bob Marley. Instead, Luciano has a brand of music that one can only describe as poetic, uplifting, and thought-provoking.
By 2001, Luciano had released two live albums as well as two compilation albums alongside Sizzla and Anthony B after the split with Xterminator. That year saw the release of two new albums of material, Great Controversy on Jet Star and A New Day on VP Records. The latter received a nomination for Best Reggae Album at the 2002 Grammy Awards.