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Story of the Song: Toots says ‘reggay’ 50 years before UNESCO endorses ‘reggae’

Published:Friday | December 7, 2018 | 12:00 AMMelville Cooke

On Thursday, November 29, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) added reggae music to its list of intangible cultural heritage that deserve protection and promotion. It was five decades after The Maytals invited participation in the beat - although with a one-letter difference in the spelling of its name.

The Maytals recorded and released Do The Reggay in 1968 (recorded for producer Leslie Kong), the first song to use the name, though not the beat. Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert told The Sunday Gleaner that the word came to him in Trench Town - that cauldron of creativity along the Spanish Town road corridor, which many a 'country boy' took to urban dreams or despair.

"I am the inventor of the word 'reggay'. I have made 31 number-one records in Jamaica on vinyl, both on the JBC and RJR charts," Hibbert said. He is quick to point out that the beat was popular, saying that "the music was playing in those days with some great musicians who played the rhythm. People used to call it boogie beat, pined top boogie, and some other things."

He continued, "Me and (fellow Maytals) Jerry and Rolly, sitting down one Sunday morning or Tuesday morning in Trench Town. I have my four-string guitar. In Jamaica, we use the word streggay for the girl who don't dress so good. People that don't dress good we call streggay, the guy, too. I think that word come from that vibe, which I did not think of it, it just come," Hibbert said.

"Nobody could come up with that word but me. I still remain as the man who coin the word reggay. I was just playing around - the word comes up. A girl come around, beautiful looking but don't dress properly, and that word (streggay) come up. It was not a plan thing. Is the Almighty say, 'Open your mouth, and I will fill it with words'."

Hibbert emphasised that the beat was there before the word, saying, "The reggay was out there raising cane. I am a dancer - when I used to dance in May Pen - Coxson, Duke Reid a keep clash - it was boogie beat because it was so hot".

He said that Do The Reggay went to number one, and "it play night and day in Jamaica". However, he said: "A lot of people jealous of the word. I did not copyright the word."