The Good, The Bad & The Ofay: A History of White Musicians Playing Reggae

Canadian band Magic! had a smash hit and viral sensation this year with their single “Rude.” Its melody and lyrics are pure pop but it’s music and title reference a genre with origins in a far sunnier climate, Jamaican reggae. They are far from the first white musicians to experiment with reggae’s offbeat rhythms and seductive grooves. Since the late 1960’s, some of music’s biggest acts have tried their hand at the style with varying degrees of musical (and chart) success.

Reggae evolved from previous indigenous Jamaican musical styles, slowing down the pulsing rhythms of early ‘60s ska, turning up the bass and often dealing with the spiritual themes of the Rastafarian religious movement. Under the guidance of superstar Bob Marley, it went global and made inroads into popular music, especially in the United Kingdom with its large Jamaican population. Its atypical rhythmic reliance on the offbeat and subtle instrumental complexity is one of the trickier musical idioms to master, especially for white rock n’ roll musicians who tend to play flat out. Many have tried, usually when using it more as an influence than a template, and many more have failed. Let’s stroll down musical memory lane and see which musicians have tried their hand at reggae “riddims” and see how they did.

See Magic! discuss their hit reggae-influenced song “Rude” and discuss their favorite fan cover versions.
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