The history of reggae music dates back to the era of slavery in Jamaica. It is a music that has its roots in the folk music of the slaves. Newer influences in the 1950s and 1960s moved the original folk music through a number of changes until it became reggae, which hit the international scene with the popularity of Bob Marley.
The history of reggae begins with slave music. Slaves brought to Jamaica from Africa brought their musical traditions with them. These traditions were then influenced by and mixed with European music. This fusion created a sound that came to be called “mento.” It was similar to calypso music.
Beginning in the 1950s, mento started to evolve into a musical form called “ska.” Ska is a very fast and bouncy music with a walking bass and guitars that are used largely for rhythm. Ska is also typified by the use of horns and is influenced by jazz in this regard.
Later, ska developed into what is called rocksteady, which was a much slower music. It was heavier and less bouncy than ska. This music was heavily influenced by the rhythm and blues music that had become popular in the United States.
Reggae is a form that originated by taking rocksteady further away from the bouncy ska style. Reggae was even heavier than rocksteady, though it is often hard to tell the two apart. It was also heavily influenced by the growing Rastafarian religion in Jamaica. Reggae lyrics were much more political and religious than the lyrics of the previous genres, which is one major distinction between the two that is easily discerned.
Reggae music, then, descended from slave folk music with influences from Western music and from Rastafarian religion.