Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

25 April 2024

Beyond the Bassline: Roots reggae

Aswad on the street in Brixton 1981
Aswad in Brixton 1981 © Adrian Boot /

(Scroll for exhibition record list)

Ska and reggae groups started to emerge within the UK in the late 1960s, not long after reggae surfaced in Jamaica. Bands such as Symarip, the Cimarons and Greyhound were signed to labels like Trojan Records. Eddy Grant and Lambert Briscoe’s short-lived Torpedo is an early example of a UK label focusing on the release of British reggae artists in 1970.

With the rise of roots reggae and its popularity in the UK, the 1970s saw a surge of British reggae groups and artists. The genre struck a note with young Brits from various ethnic backgrounds, who were fed-up with corrupt policies, racial discrimination and social issues effecting the working-class population. Roots reggae was at its height during the second half of the 1970s and British bands like Steel Pulse, Aswad and Misty in Roots gained wider recognition. The next decade saw British reggae develop in various directions and gain frequent chart successes, particularly with a more pop-influenced reggae. Aswad’s 1988 number one hit ‘Don’t Turn Around’ was a milestone for the band. Stylistically, it had little in common with their roots reggae beginnings.

UK reggae labels such as Greensleeves and Fashion Records or Mad Professor’s Ariwa and Count Shelly’s Third World were significant for the production and distribution of British reggae and often directly connected to sound system operators. Dub labels like those of Jah Shaka were instrumental for the development of a UK specific dub sound, which would come to influence later Black British genres such as jungle.


Records as displayed in the exhibition, from top left to bottom right:

1 Black Roots, Black Roots, Kick, 1983, 1LP0092808.

2 Undivided Roots, Ultimate Experience, Entente/Ruff Cutt Music, 1987, 1LP0007150.

3 Natural Ites And The Realistics, Picture On The Wall, CSA Records, 1985, 1LP0016476.

4 Pato Banton, Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton, Ariwa, 1985, 1LP0056314.

5 Tippa Irie, Hello Darling, UK Bubblers, 1986, 1TH0028691.

6 Simaryp, Skinhead Moonstomp, Trojan Records, 1980, 1LP0130627.

7 Aswad, Aswad, Island Records, 2013 [1976], 1LP0226454.

8 Aisha, High Priestess, Ariwa, 1987, 2LP0002844.

9 UB40, Labour of Love II, DEP International, 1989, 2LP0005794.

10 Creation Rebel, Close Encounters, Hitrun, 1978, 1LP0260998.

11 Misty in Roots, Live at the Counter Eurovision, People Unite, 1979, 1LP0111405.

12 Greyhound, Black And White, Trojan Records, 1971, 1LP0214102.

13 The Cimarons, In Time, Trojan Records, 1974, 1LP0130536.

14 Smiley Culture, Police Officer, Fashion Records, 1984, 1TH0028263.

15 Maxi Priest & Caution, You're Safe, 10 Records, 1985, 2LP0066628.

16 Delroy Washington, I-Sus, Virgin, 1976, 1LP0136471.

17 Matumbi, Point of View, EMI, 1979, 1LP0097563.

18 Saxon Studio International, Coughing Up Fire, UK Bubblers, 1984, 1LP0001945.

19 Macka B, Sign of the Times, Ariwa, 1986, 1LP0056316.

20 Musical Youth, Pass the Dutchie, MCA Records, 1982, 2TH0018644.

21 Pablo Gad, Trafalgar Square, Burning Sounds, 1979, 1LP0261076.

22 Dread And Fred, Warriors Stance, Jah Shaka Music, 1989, 1TH0081870.

23 Capital Letters, Smoking My Ganja, Greensleeves Records, 1978, 1TH0081859.

24 Vivian Jones, Good Morning, Third World, 1980, 1TH0081869.

25 Steel Pulse, Nyah Luv, Anchor, 1977, 1SE0110536.

26 The Hot Rod All-Stars, Pussy Got Nine Life, Torpedo, 1970, 1SE0109719.

27 Black Slate, Sticks Man, Slate, 1976, 1SE0042498.

28 Aswad, Don't Turn Around, Mango/Island Records, 1988, 2