The etymology of the word is not absolutely clear – it has been suggested that its roots either go back to its first use in the song title "Do the Reggay" by the Maytals or that its derived from the Jamaican words rege-rege, meaning quarrel, or streggae, a colloquial term for prostitute. It can be described as a unique music genre, emphasizing the usually weak points of the beats (there is dominance and strong emphasis on beat 2 and 4 with short staccato-like rhythmic attacks) and focusing on the rhythm section (drums, other coloristic percussion instruments like the timbale, the electric guitar and bass), as well as including contrapuntal horn riffs and extremely repetitive chord structures and progressions.
Prominent figures of the style include artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Johnny Clarke, who were supported by prestigious studio producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Coxsone Dodd. Reggae fans and artists often share a belief in the Rastafari movement, which involved a close interpretation of particular Biblical prophecies and the promotion of the spiritual (and free) use of the drug cannabis. Some members of this movement adhere to a special form of diet called Ital, which has its origin in the Laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament.
Initially, the Rastafaris opposed the racist negation of the Afro-Caribbean black population in Jamaica in the 1930s. The Jamaican journalist, writer and entrepreneur Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. (1887-1940) formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) with the intention of fostering a universal Pan-African identity free from any colonial definitions. This was intended to create a global mass movement within the African sphere. In retrospect, this movement must receive credit for having a great impact on the successful independence of Jamaica, a former British colony, in 1962.
However, full independence did not immediately mean that Jamaican society respected every member of his multi-cultural state equally. In this context, we can see reggae as a mechanism for promoting the idea of social equality. Despite its international commercial success as a music style – it was regularly weaved into various other popular music styles and produced chart-breaking songs such as "Can't Help Falling in Love", performed by the British reggae band UB40 – reggae was originally a cultural movement in Jamaica. It was first limited to the African and, in particular, Caribbean sphere, with the intention of producing social criticism and giving voice to political consciousness.
Initially, points of criticism for the movement were the world-wide spread of materialism and the continued politics of apartheid. The most prominent topics in reggae, however, have been anti-racism, anti-colonialism and the criticism of the old colonial education system that was still in place.