Global Reggae

Next week I begin teaching my second course at MIT. It’s a new syllabus, though it draws on certain materials I’ve used before. In contrast to previous offerings, however, this will be the first time I teach a class with a primary focus on reggae outside of Jamaica — on what I’m calling here “global reggae” or “reggae as transnational culture.”

No doubt we’ll encounter a good number of themes resonant with the inextricably related subject of global hip-hop. But I’m also keen to identify particular dimensions of reggae’s transmission and transformation abroad that might, for significant reasons, diverge from the reception and refiguring of hip-hop around the world. We’ll let you know ;)

Meantime, if you happen to know any MIT students to whom this sort of course would appeal, by all means point them this-a-way. And if you spot any conspicuous absences in the syllabus below — a work-in-progress, as always — please do point them out, make recommendations, & feel free to offer critiques, supplements, and blessings.

global reggae: reggae as transnational culture

21F.035 / 21M.539 Topics in Culture and Globalization
Global Reggae: Reggae as Transnational Culture

Fall 2010

Wayne Marshall
Mellon Fellow in the Humanities
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Music and Theater Arts

Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-2:00 pm
Room 14N-217


Reggae is incontestably one of the most popular musics in the world. Despite its origins in the working-class urban culture of the relatively small country of Jamaica, reggae artists have powerfully projected their voices outward (in part via the imperial networks of the UK and USA) and one can hear reggae today in almost any corner of the globe—not just Jamaican reggae, but local versions and fusions with nearly every other conceivable genre. Reggae precedes the global reach of its progeny, hip-hop, but, in its dancehall guise, it has also in turn piggybacked on hip-hop’s own impressive international spread. As remix approaches and massive sound systems have become increasingly common worldwide, reggae stands as a remarkably influential template for world music, electronic dance music, and popular music more generally. Itself constituted by international flows of music and musicians but increasingly produced outside of Jamaica, reggae thus offers a rich resource for the examination of today’s global circulations of music and media.

This course considers reggae, or Jamaican popular music more generally—in its various forms (ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall)—as constituted by international movements and exchanges and as a product that circulates globally in complex ways, cast variously as Jamaican, Caribbean, Afrodiasporic, and/or black, and recast through the cultural logics of the new spaces it enters, the new soundscapes it permeates. By reading across the reggae literature, as well as considering reggae texts themselves (songs, films, videos, and images), we will scrutinize the different interpretations of reggae’s significance and the implications of different interpretations of the story of Jamaica and its music. We will attend in particular to how reggae informs notions of selfhood and nationhood, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion and politics—in particular places and at particular times.

Although Bob Marley still serves as the most ubiquitous symbol of reggae (and, indeed, of Jamaica), the reggae tradition and repertory go far deeper and represent a great deal to listeners and practitioners. In its shifting shapes and forms the genre has served for four decades as a potent symbol of independence and social critique, communitarian commitment as well as rugged individualism. While certain core values appear regularly in reggae, the genre also offers a rather flexible palette for a wide range of ideological positions, from Pan-Africanism and other forms of transnationalism to utterly provincial nationalism, from peaceful and respectful postures to aggressive machismo and militancy, from tolerance to its own forms of oppression. Perhaps most notably, reggae has made such scripts of personhood and nationhood available not only to Jamaicans but to people around the world who have adopted the genre’s gestures as their own.

Beginning with a consideration of how Jamaica’s popular music industry emerged out of transnational exchanges, the course will proceed to focus on reggae’s circulation outside of Jamaica via diasporic networks and commercial mediascapes. Attending to how the genre’s pliable but distinct forms have been, in turn, transformed in particular localities, the course will help to illuminate ongoing dynamics between the global and local. Among other sites, we will consider reggae’s resonance and impact elsewhere in the Anglo Caribbean (e.g., Trinidad, Barbados), the United Kingdom (including British reggae styles but also such progeny as jungle, grime, and dubstep), the United States (both as reggae per se and in hip-hop), France and Germany, Panama and Puerto Rico and other Latin American locales (e.g., Brazil), Japan and Australia, as well as West, South, and East Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda).



Bilby, Kenneth. “Jamaica.” In Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, ed. Peter Manuel, 143-182. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Veal, Michael. Dub: Soundscapes & Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. [Intro & ch. 1, p. 1-44]

Thomas, Deborah. “Modern Blackness; or, Theoretical ‘Tripping’ on Black Vernacular Culture.” In Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica, 230-62. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.

Chude-Sokei, Louis. “Post-Nationalist Geographies: Rasta, Ragga, and Reinventing Africa.” African Arts, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Autumn 1994): 80-84, 96.

Patterson, Orlando. “Ecumenical America: Global Culture and the American Cosmos.” World Policy Journal Vol. 11, No. 2 (1994): 103-17.

Watch: excerpts from Roots, Rock, Reggae, Harder They Come, Dancehall Queen, Third World Cop, Shottas


Bennett, Louise. “Colonization in Reverse.” (1966)

Jones, Simon. Black Culture, White Youth: The Reggae Tradition from JA to UK. London: Macmillan, 1988. [ch. 2, 4, Conclusion, p. 33-56, 87-118, 231-40.]

Gilroy, Paul. “Between the Blues and the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic.” In The Auditory Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 381-95. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 2003.

Hebdige, Dick. Cut’n’Mix: Culture, Identity, and Caribbean Music. London: Routledge, 1987. [ch. 11-12, p. 90-117]

Sharma, Sanjay. “Noisy Asians or ‘Asian’ Noise?” [p. 32-60] & Shirin Housee & Mukhtar Dar, “Re-Mixing Identities: ‘Off’ the Turn-Table” [p. 81-104]. In Dis-Orienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music. London: Zed Books, 1996.

Quinn, Steven. “Rumble In The Jungle: The Invisible History of Drum’n’Bass.” Transformations, No. 3 (May 2002): 1-12.

Watch: excerpts from Reggae In a Babylon, Babylon, Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music
Listen: “An England Story


Chang, Jeff. “Making a Name: How DJ Kool Herc Lost His Accent and Started Hip-Hop.” In Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005. [ch. 4, p. 67-88]

Kenner, Rob. “Dancehall,” In The Vibe History of Hip-hop, ed. Alan Light, 350-7. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Marshall, Wayne. “Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zunguzung Meme”

Marshall, Wayne. “Hearing Hip-hop’s Jamaican Accent.” Institute for Studies in American Music Newsletter 34, no. 2 (2005): 8-9, 14-15.

Koppel, Niko. “New Roots in the Bronx for a Lion of Reggae.” New York Times, April 12, 2009.

Faraone, Chris. “Reggae Revival.” [on reggae in Boston] Boston Phoenix, May 21, 2009.

Stephens, Michelle A. “Babylon’s ‘Natural Mystic’: The North American Music Industry, the Legend of Bob Marley, and the Incorporation of Transnationalism.” Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2 (1998): 139–167.

Watch: excerpts from Sound Class, Marked for Death, Belly, Predator 2


Putnam, Lara. “The Weekly Reggee: The Greater Caribbean Jazz Age and Youth Dances in Limon, Costa Rica, 1930-1932.” Unpublished/forthcoming.


Bishop, Marlon. “Spanish Oil.” Wax Poetics 43 (September 2010).

Worfalk, Clayton. The Roots. Big Up Magazine, 2008.

Twickel, Christoph. “Reggae in Panama: Bien Tough.” & “Muévelo (Move It!): From Panama to New York and Back Again, the Story of El General.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 81-88 & 99-108. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Nwankwo, Ifeoma C. K. “The Panamanian Origins of Reggae en Español: Seeing History through ‘Los Ojos Café’ of Renato.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 89-98. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.


Giovannetti, Jorge L. “Popular Music and Culture in Puerto Rico: Jamaican and Rap Music as Cross-Cultural Symbols.” In Musical Migrations: Transnationalism and Cultural Hybridity in the Americas, ed. Frances R. Aparicio and Cándida F. Jáquez, 81-98. New York: Palgrave, 2003.

Flores, Juan. 2004. “Creolité in the ‘Hood: Diaspora as Source and Challenge.” Centro 16, no. 2 (Fall): 283-289.

Marshall, Wayne. “From Música Negra to Reggaeton Latino.” In Reggaeton, ed. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 19-76. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.


Davis, Samuel Furé. “Reggae in Cuba and the Hispanic Caribbean: fluctuations and representations of identities.” Black Music Research Journal Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2009): 25-50.

Hansing, Katrin. “Rasta, Race and Revolution: Transnational Connections in Socialist Cuba.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2001): 733 – 747.

Baker, Geoffrey. 2009. “The Politics of Dancing.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 165-99. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Fairley, Jan. 2008. “How To Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba.” In Reggaeton, eds. Rivera, Marshall, and Pacini-Hernandez, 280-96. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.


Behague, Gerard. “Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95).” Latin American Music Review 27, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2006): 79-90.

de Araújo Pinho, Osmundo. “‘Fogo na Babilônia’: Reggae, Black Counterculture, and Globalization in Brazil.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 192-206.

dos Santos Godi, Antonio J. V. “Reggae and Samba-Reggae in Bahia: A Case of Long-Distance Belonging.” In Brazilian Popular Music & Globalization, ed. Charles A. Perrone and Christopher Dunn (New York: Routledge, 2001), 207-219.

Neate, Patrick and Damian Platt. Culture Is Our Weapon: Afroreggae in the Favelas of Rio [ch 3, 4, 7, 8].

Goodman, Steve. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. [ch. 31, p. 171-5]

Watch: excerpts from Favela Rising, Favela on Blast


Akindes, Simon. “Playing It ‘Loud and Straight’: Reggae, Zouglou, Mapouka and Youth Insubordination in Côte d’Ivoire.” In Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa, ed. Mai Palmberg & Annemette Kirkegaard, 86-103. Nordic Africa Institute, 2002.

McNee, Lisa. “Back From Babylon: Popular Musical Cultures of the Diaspora, Youth Culture and Identity in Francophone West Africa.” In Music, Popular Culture, Identities, ed. Richard Young, 213-228. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

Savishinsky, Neil J. “Rastafari in the Promised Land: The Spread of a Jamaican Socioreligious Movement among the Youth of West Africa.” African Studies Review Vol. 37, No. 3 (Dec 1994): 19-50.

Remes, Pieter. “Global Popular Musics and Changing Awareness of Urban Tanzanian Youth.” Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 31 (1999): 1-26.

Gilman, Lisa and John Fenn. “Dance, Gender, and Popular Music in Malawi: The Case of Rap and Ragga.” Popular Music Vol. 25, No. 3 (2006): 369-81.

Watch: excerpts from Living the Hiplife, Buchaman


Sterling, Marvin D. Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. [Intro, ch. 1, 3, 5, 6]

Dresinger, Baz. “Tokyo After Dark.” Vibe, 2002.

Wood, Joe. “The Yellow Negro.” Transition 73 (1997): 40-67.


Maxwell, Ian. “Sydney Stylee: Hip-Hop Down Under Comin’ Up.” In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, ed. Tony Mitchell, 259-79. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

White, Cameron. “Rapper on a Rampage: Theorising the Political Significance of Aboriginal Australian Hip Hop and Reggae.” Transforming Cultures eJournal, Vol. 4 No 1 (April 2009): 108-130.

Baulch, Emma. Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali. Durham: Duke University Press, 200 [ch. 3, p. 73-90]

That’s it, for now. There are plenty of holes that I’m aware of (anything on roots reggae in Cuba, say [update: after one day of comments, that’s been ameliorated; new readings now above!]), and surely plenty more that I’m not. Then again, I’m finding the extant literature on local reggae scenes outside of Jamaica fairly impoverished at the moment. (Nothing on Italian sound systems? Really?) The course can’t exactly be comprehensive — we only have so much time — but I would love for this post to serve as a spot for collecting some good materials. So, as they say inna di dancehall, send on!

27 thoughts on “Global Reggae

  1. Might be good on Cuba:
    • Samuel Fure Davis. “Reggae in Cuba and the Hispanic Caribbean: fluctuations and representations of identities” Black Music Research Journal, 29:1 (Spring 2009), 25-50.

  2. “I’m finding the extant literature on local reggae scenes outside of Jamaica fairly impoverished at the moment. (Nothing on Italian sound systems? Really?)”

    This isn’t exactly related to that, but I saw this lecture while at the 2010 International Reggae Conference:

    In it, Carolyn Cooper examines the relationship between European reggae, outernational reggae festivals, and the Jamaican people. It’s not the greatest lecture in the world (she rambles), but it does serve as a decent example of how Euro-reggae is perceived/received in Jamaica. She also briefly addresses the “Boom Bye Bye” debacle, which is obviously related.

    BTW, I’m teaching a course on Globalization and Popular Music this semester and I’m having my students read that Chude-Sokei article too.

  3. Thanks to all for the comments.

    David, if you can direct me to good articles on reggae in Canada, I would certainly be grateful. It does seem a conspicuous absence here, don’t?

  4. Llyod Bradley’s ‘Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King’ is an excellent read, focusing mainly on the JA/UK axis up to the 80s, although he obviously has no love for dancehall! All the same, there’s some great stuff in there regards versioning and dub, and it’s pretty comprehensive from calypso to the mid-80s.

    Regards UK stuff, Jah Shaka might be an interesting character to look at, seeing as he pretty much flew the flag for the steppas sound despite dancehall taking over the scene an ting. Check Iration Steppas too if you haven’t already, saw them at Bloc Weekend in 2007 alongside a heap of dubstep acts and they more than held their own! BIG sound!

  5. Even as I was writing that comment I knew it was mostly out of wounded pride :) cause I know there isn’t much in the way of scholarship vis a vis Canadian reggae. And I can’t think of any articles that cover Canadian reggae on a national level; only in terms of individual cities esp. Toronto. Most of what exists is journalism, not academic analysis.

    The place to start for reggae in Canada would be Klive Walker’s book “Dubwise”. It’s a very personal memoir of the author’s experience in Canada, the UK and Jamaica with regard to the music, and covers Toronto from an experiential POV. Very good stuff about the popularity/excellence of dub poetry in Canada.

    Kevin Sipreano Howes turned his Jamaica To Toronto liner notes into an EMP paper a few years ago; don’t know if it’s been formally published but I’m sure it’s available somehow.

    If you want, I can send you some excellent audio interviews with Clifton Joseph, Leroy Sibbles and Ryan (Twilight Circus) Moore about their experiences in Canadian reggae. The Joseph int. in particular is something you’d be interested in wrt Jamaican vs. Caribbean vs. African-American identity and music in Toronto during the 80s and 90s.

    The course looks great!

  6. @redmonk: good call on Babylon — just added that (and found the whole thing on Vimeo!!). i’m well familiar with the bradley text, and i’ve assigned it before (if more from a historiographical-critical standpoint). it’s quite chockful of info, and generally pretty good, but, as you imply, there are some ideological/aesthetics positions in that book that i find pretty grating. you might be right, though, that a selection of chapters, esp on reggae in the UK, could be useful here.

    @dacks: i’d love to hear that joseph interview especially! do send along when you get a chance. (enjoy your vacation already!) and i’ll see what i can track down based on the other recommendations. thx again!

    @j.crayon: i’ll give that video a look. the archive over there might actually prove a good resource. hadn’t thought to sift through it, actually.

  7. Canadian reggae has a long history with close links to Jamaica and Britain. A serious academic course simply can’t leave this out! Suburban basement studios put out a lot of roots over the years. Earth, Roots, and Water being a highlight from Mississauga. Another very ‘steel pulse’ sounding band out of the GTA (greater Toronto area) was the 20th Century Rebels. Their song, FBI, was played every day (mostly in the mornings) on local radio stations for weeks on end. If you need music, photos, stories, etc. catch me at my email address.

  8. Believe me, I understand and appreciate that, Al. Thanks for the tips. But these alone don’t give us a lot to work with in class. I’d love to get ahold of some strong writing about these groups & scenes & such. If you’re aware of any, whether journalistic or academic, I’d love to give them a look.

  9. I’ll see what resources I can find and get back to you.
    As an old retired teacher, I have some idea of what you need.

    Thanks for your interesting viewpoints on the music I love to hear and play.
    I’m going back to browsing your content now…

  10. this course sounds great, man… would love .pdfs from the reader! on the canadian tip, lyndon phillip’s entry (“reading caribana 1997: black youth, puff daddy, style, and diaspora transformations”) in ‘Trinidad carnival: the cultural politics of a transnational festival’ has a section about tensions over the role of jamaican music (and later hiphop) at caribana as that festival increasingly came to represent pan-caribbean and black identities. not fully on point with the syllabus, but the essay would resonate with the d. thomas reading.

    also, the recent light in the attic reissues of toronto-based reggae have serious liner notes, though once again not outright academic analysis.

    good luck with the semester!

  11. was going to suggest gilman and fenn’s article on ragga in malawi, but then remembered you’re in that issue too

    the difference between urban/(largely)non-indigenous and rural/remote/indigenous reggae cultures in australia is really marked. Living in remote queensland people listened to and played a lot more acoustic and band based reggae. The kaloundra and reggaetown festivals lineups reflect that pretty strongly, and definitely attract a larger indigenous audience than anything down south. From what i remember the White article doesn’t really make a distinction between urban and non urban practise?
    From what I’ve seen, and heard from colleagues running clinics in the communities 90s hip hop seems to have a much greater resonance with indigenous youth now, which is definitely reflected in audiences.
    The fairly substantial increase in African immigration in the last ten years to Melbourne and Sydney has definitely been reflected at dancehall parties, in crowds, djs and promoters.

    jesse from chantdown soundsystem has archived his columns and some other articles on their site, he’d probably have other stuff if you shot him an email

    reggae as fashion

  12. @unsoundbwoy: this is all great stuff. thx much. will dig through some of these links. the syllabus is fast filling up, but these seem like some valuable resources/angles to add to the pile. i’ll bear in mind your points re: white’s study. it’s not the strongest piece, but i’ve been having trouble finding much at all. and even not-so-strong pieces are good for teaching with/through.

    @jafry44: yes, i’ve got those lightintheattic comps open in my browser right now. gonna order them for the liner notes, which seem promising. and good call on the carnival literature for parsing some of this stuff. i’ll have to look into that article and some others along those lines.

    @tally: good question. wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing.

    also, thx to john eden, who, via twitter, recommends the following links for reggae in UK:

    the first link includes the following video, which includes this gem in the introduction:

    “Now we’re trying to absorb the gifts that minorities like the West Indians have to offer today. To reject them now only impoverishes ourselves and frustrates those who want to give, those who perhaps feel the barriers against giving. Reggae symbolizes all this.”

  13. @JimJuice — I don’t think auditing is really a possibility, but if you’re ever in the area and want to stop in, just shoot me a note and we can work it out.

    But for those who might be interested in reading along / listening in, I am making efforts to make the course part of MIT’s OpenCourseWare program, so there should be recordings and transcriptions available, though I’m not sure with what sort of a lag.

  14. I found some stuff on Australian reggae which might be of interest to you.
    This article is a little old but still pretty relevant:
    Eliezer, Christie. “Aborigines get popular forum through reggae.(Brief Article).” Billboard 8 July 1995

    This is a radio documentary which is a little more recent:

    It might also be interesting to look at New Zealand and Pacific Island reggae in the course, since it’s way bigger there than in Australia, but i don’t think you would be able to find much written about it

  15. Can you post a list of suggested audio (w/out links, obvs) for input? Luckily — appropriately — I am sure the actual chunes are more prevalent than the lit. Namely, wanna make sure Digital Dubs Sound System gets on the brasileiro week.

  16. I don’t know any scholar articles about French reggae, but there are many bands inspired by jamaican musics. From dub which is quite big (Ez3kiel, High Tone, Peuple de l’herbe, zenzile), ska (K2r riddim), sometimes mixed with chanson (tryo, sinsemilia, gainsbourg also), or south west music (Masilia sound system).

  17. What an inspired course. I wish I could attend!
    Would you please let us know via your blog if the course becomes part of the MIT OpenCourseWare program?
    Many thanks.

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