Rock Steady Music

For a very short period, Rock Steady Music was the prevailing sound in Jamaica, the successor of ska and the precursor of reggae. The fast beat and energetic sound of ska reached its height in 1966. The optimism of newly independent Jamaica was fading.

Kingston's ghettos were swimming with unemployed youths who had come to the city in search of work and advancement. The majority remained disappointed, and often became disillusioned. Struggling to achieve respect from a society in which they were viewed as insignificant members, they formed groups in their communities. Often associated with the wrong side of the law, they were called "rude boys" or 'rudies".

Songs poured out of the ghettoes. Many of them addressed and glorified the rude boy way of life. Take a listen to "Shanty Town", by Desmond Dekker.

A slower, more sober beat reflected the mood of the times. The dance moves became more relaxed and measured. The notes of the bassline were delivered with breaths in between, unlike the unrelenting walking bass of ska.

Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, whose rivalry had started from the early days of the sound system in the 1950's, continued to compete against each other as record producers in the 1960's. In the era of rocksteady music, Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Records spewed out hit after hit, always a step ahead of Sir Coxsone's Studio 1. 

The music was promoted even further by the establishment of a national Festival Song competition to commemorate Independence. The whole Jamaica got involved as the top singers and groups of the day vied for the national crown.

"Ba Ba Boom" by The Jamaicans, produced by Duke Reid, was the winner in 1967.

The singers in rock steady music were of even more importance than they were in ska music, which often placed more emphasis on the music than on the singing. Many singers started out in the rocksteady genre, and as the period was shortlived, continued singing in the early days of reggae. Names like Derrick Morgan, Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe are among those who will be remembered for providing the world with music that still endures.

By 1968 change was again on the cards, and Jamaica was ready to unleash the force called reggae music.

Click here for a look at Jamaican music through the years.

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