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Story Of The Song:Reggae rocks int'l style

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Today is the 18th Inter-national Reggae Day, the annual celebration started by the Andrea Davis-run Jamaica Arts Holdings.

It has been a long and winding road for the beat that succeeded rocksteady between 1967 and 1968 with some of the leading lights of the beat, which has become a catch-all title for Jamaican popular music, speaking directly to the beat that they helped make famous.

In March 2010, in a STORY OF THE SONG interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert restated his claim to being the person to first use the title in a song. However, the spelling in his Do the Reggay was markedly different from the now accustomed spelling r-e-g-g-a-e. In that story, Hibbert staked his claim:

"I am the inventor of the word 'reggay' 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.

who call it reggae?

"Nobody could come up with that word but me. I still remain as the man who coin the word reggay."

While Hibbert lays claim to coining the word (and 'reggay' is seen in the early part of the Catch a Fire documentary about the mixing of the landmark Wailers album) there is another legendary Jamaican performer who has a song urging all to "do the reggae". Winston 'Burning Spear' Rodney, in an exposition of his style employing sparse lyrics and repetition pushes for international acceptance of the sound. He sings:

"You do the reggae

Reggae in England

Reggae in America

Reggae in Canada

Reggae in Jamaica

Reggae all over

Reggae in Germany

Reggae in Italy

Reggae in France

Reggae all over

You do the reggae."

On the other hand, in Roots Rock Reggae Bob Marley has a specific target as he urges:

"Play I some music

This ya reggae music

Roots rock reggae

This ya reggae music."

The country seemed specific - the United States of America (USA), with an allusion to the charts as a marker of popularity, as Marley sings "Play I on the R&B/I want all my people to see/We bubbling on the top 100/Just like a mighty dread".

Then Peter Tosh sings about the infectious nature of reggae in Reggaemylitis, the title a play on any number of diseases from poliomyelitis to diabetes. Tosh puts himself in the persona with an unidentified infection:

"Woke up this morning

With a funny funny feeling

And that feeling

Was an unusual feeling."

He goes to the doctor "to check out what's matter". The result was the "doctor said son/You have a Reggaemylitis".

Contracting it is the result of direct contact, Tosh concludes:

"You only catch it one way

Sometimes your temperature

It really gets higher

And the music

Sets your soul on fire."

And, it seems, reggaemylitis has infected quite a few people around the world, International Reggae Day both an acknowledgement of reggae's power and a push to spread the fever ever more.