Reggae Music Influence in the UK

This week Small Green Shoots celebrates International Reggae Day, a global celebration day of Jamaican music culture.

When we think of reggae music it’s almost impossible to not think of the late great Bob Marley but this genre of music has had such a massive influence in music around the world especially in the UK.

The term reggae was derived from rege-rege, a Jamaican phrase meaning “rags or ragged clothing,” it is used to denote a raggedy style of music. The reggae genre came into to being in the 1960’s as an evolution of the Rocksteady and Ska musical styles.

(Reggae fans in Stockwell, south London, in 1977, at a Rock Against Racism gig. Photograph: David Corio/Redferns)


In 1948 hundreds of people from the Caribbean boarded the HMT Empire Windrush and travelled to Tilbury Docks in Essex. With them they brought an explosion of dance, art and music which would transform British culture.

Sam King—a Jamaican ex-serviceman and first black Mayor of Southwark—helped Claudia Jones organise the famous Notting Hill Carnival arrived on the Windrush ship along with Alwyn Roberts, the calypso legend from Trinidad (also known as Lord Kitchener) sang “London Is The Place For Me” upon arrival.

They initially came after invitation and encouragement to help rebuild the country after World War II, but were met with unwarranted hostility, harassment and racial abuse from English people.

White homeowners with “room to rent” signs in their windows would often refuse POC. Likewise, few nightclubs were available to black people. As a result, the blues dance (or shebeens) were usually held in the basements of their homes or derelict spaces.


Despite all of this, descendants of the Windrush Gen would go on to build legacies that would change the United Kingdom forever.

Music was used to unite the Caribbean community on new shores. Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” became the first reggae song to enter the UK singles chart, at No. 9.

In the summer of ‘78, Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking” sampled in many modern hits, was the first reggae song to reach number one.

(Desmond Dekkers – Israelites music video)

Many old reggae songs are still sampled in today’s modern music, reggae and it’s subgenres have influenced many other genres, such as ‘ska’s’ influence in the 80’s and 90’s punk rock bands in the UK or Drum & Bass music also known as Jungle (The name Jungle originates from Kingston, Jamaica). It would be hard to imagine of the music scene without the influence of Jamaican grown reggae music and its important that we not only recognise but celebrate what the Windrush generation brought to Britain creatively and within society.