If you're not familiar with the whole riddim phenomenon that exists in Reggae music then you may at some stage have asked the question why has so many reggae songs have the same backing tracks with different vocals on top. This is the historical art form called riddim.
Riddim is just a Jamaican pronounciation of the word rhythm. When reggae musicians talk about riddim they are referring to the backing track of the music. Remove the vocals and you are left with the riddim.
Jamaican music is the only genre I know of where 10 plus artist would sing over the same backing track. This art form which has been in existence since early 70's was taken on by early rap music such as Rappers Delight by Sugarhill Gang which hijacked the backing track from Chics Good Times. Later on the sampler would arrive and recycling backing tracks would become no big deal.
It was circa 1980 the beginning of the Junjo Lawes era when I fell deeply for the music. This is when I first became aware of different 'cuts' of the same backing track. Toyan's How the West Was Won was the exact same recording as Michael Prophets Gunman. Clint Eastward and General Saint's Another One Bites the dust was Johnny Osbourne's Baccara. Next came the Scientist series of Dub albums. Heavyweight Dub champion was the dub album of Barrington Levi's Robin Hood. I became obsessed by this game.
Fast forward to 1983 and a friend at school has elder brothers that have a Soundsystem. I can't remember how it happened but one day I end up at his house and in the front room are these huge speaker boxes like wardrobes. Loads of records are scattered over the floor many have a label that says Studio One. One day I get to borrow some of these records to make a cassette which became a few cassettes and here my education of riddims begins.
Buro Banton's Non Stop is Lone Rangers Answer. A riddim popular from early dancehall tapes called Kutchie ( from Mighty Diamond's pass the Kutchie) is really called Full Up and the game goes on.
I'm already playing bass in the midst of all this music discovery and realise that the riddim was always defined by its bassline. Sometimes a featured intro would give the game away as with the horns intro on Winston Riley's Stalag AKA Stagalag but ultimately the bass would have the dominant role.
Some of these Studio One recordings were fairly loose, the recording quality wasn't great and there were a few mistakes left on the final take, but the one thing you can't question is the originality and creativity that was going on in this time.
Looking back now I'm guessing those early sessions must have been pressurizing for the bass players to come up with these original lines on so many songs, bearing in mind this music has only been a few years old so there was not much of a blueprint to draw from.
Coxone and Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio became the blueprint of the riddim for so many backing tracks that have been covered over the years.
As a musician in reggae music especially if you're a bass player. It is important that you get a firm grip on your riddims. If you have a dream of playing for your heroes as I did, you may one day find yourself on a stage with the artist calling for an unrehearsed version of Shank I Sheck and if you don't want to face humiliation in front of a hall full of people then you better do your homework and know your riddims because this actually happens a lot. Knowing your riddims can also act as a blueprint for creating new basslines, something I will be demonstrating in the lessons section.
I listen to a lot of modern riddims and hear a lack of originality and in my personal opinion I believe not enough emphasis is placed on the creation of the bassline and I believe it's because many reggae bass players have bypassed an important part of reggae bass history. A bit like being a classical composer and not studying the works of Bach, Mozart and the rest of the classical greats that came before.
Finding that original bassline is a process I enjoy, and I have a few simple techniques I use that I will share with you. In the meantime get to KNOW YOUR RIDDIMS.
Here is a short list of riddims every reggae musician should know or get to know.
Declaration Of Rights
Hi Fashion AKA Bobby Babylon
Shank I Sheck
Here's an interesting video of cuts to the Answer riddim.