English rule began in Jamaica in the year 1655. Between 1700 and 1786, more than 600,000 African slaves were brought to Jamaica.
Slaves were abducted from various regions of Africa (West Africa & Kenya) and brought over to the New World in large boats, packed to the teeth with the Africans. This is the climate that existed in colonial Jamaica (as well as throughout the New World) when African and European music first met. Slave traders, when crossing the Atlantic noticed that music was very heavily engrained into the African people. Music from Africa was extremely different from the European style of music, and slave traders noticed these differences immediately.
African music is nonnotated. It is passed on through oral tradition, and this accounts for much of the improvisational techniques that can be found in the music as well. European music, excluding some folk music is usually written down in the accepted form of musical notation. That way it can be repeated exactly the same way over and over again. Music with no notation is left for the performer to remember and perform in a different manner each time.
African music also features drums, which are in most cases central to the music. Use of drums either accompanies songs using the call and response pattern, or makes up its own song.
The music of the African was based on a completely different set of ideas, and all of these ideas came over to the New World with the captive slaves in the boat.
Plantation masters encouraged dancing, and as a result many African forms of dance entered the New World. An example of a dance form that probably came from the coast of Guinea, and from the Kingdom of Arda is the Calenda, or Kalenda , the Chica, which eventually evolved into the Rumba, or Mambo in Cuba, and the Banboula a Jamaican dance that was named after a drum used in the Calenda dance.
The Slaves had a lot of interaction with the whites, and began to learn some European traditions from them. Slave musicians brought European traditions to their own people and the result of this was an intermingling of African and European tradition.
The European roots of Jamaican music and dance are still very strong to this day good things have arisen out of this mingling of African and European music and dance.
Jamaica is the birthplace of Reggae music, which comes directly from African, European, and other musical forms of the West Indies that have similar influences. Reggae music employs many different philosophies and opinions.
African music is incorporated into Reggae music. For example, the call and response patterns are still there. Many reggae artists make use of repeating phrases and interact with a larger group singing in harmony. Also, Reggae music is frequently based on a repeating melodic and rhythmic patter which remains steady throughout the song. These are African attributes that can be traced directly to African music.
A feature of the music that is uniquely African is the heavy role of percussion in the music. There are usually multiple drummers in Reggae performances, playing different and overlapping rhythms. Another African tradition is the use of sliding pitches, and untempered scale tones. Often a Reggae artist will use their voice to create these effects, or in some cases horns will assume this role (as well as the role of instrumental call and response).
Most Reggae songs are based on scales that the Europeans used. Also, there is a very strong presence of tempered pitches. Most of the instruments are tempered, including guitar, piano, organ, etc. Some reggae tunes are loosely based on traditional European melodies, however reconsidered, they still come from that European tradition.
There can be no argument that this music came out of struggle.
Reggae music is an optimistic answer to the history of oppression that draws upon the past, and uses it as a resource. In order for there to be a good future, the past must be considered and accepted. There is no way to right the wrongs of history, but there is a way to promote awareness of these wrongs in the hope they will not be repeated.
The harmony that exists in reggae music between African and European tradition is a symbol for how it should exist in the world.