The riddim album

by Laurie Anstis on October 17, 2011

As part of an occasional break from the main topics of this blog, this post isn’t about employment law or business immigration. It was previously seen on Google+.

Most modern reggae is based on “riddims” (from “rhythms”) – backing tracks prepared by producers which the vocalist can then sing/deejay over.

At its most basic, the riddim is drums only. Others will be drums and bass and, if you are lucky, some sort of melodic hook.

The upshot of all of this is that multiple songs will be recorded over the same riddim. While this might be thought to lead to a karaoke approach and uniformity, in fact it seems to have given rise to greater diversity. The vocalists use the riddim as they see fit, with a remarkable diversity of approach.

One of the riddims that has crossed-over to the mainstream charts is the Diwali riddim, used by Sean Paul in Get Busy, Wayne Wonder in No Letting Go and Bounty Killer in Sufferer – all of them big hits and completely different on first listen.

Successful riddims can get compilation albums in their honour – ten or more songs all based on the same riddim.

This seems to have been generally positive – it makes it easy for new vocalists to come onto the scene and seems, counter-intuatively, to have encouraged diversity.

The major drawback has been that it has elevated the vocalist over any other musician. The prominence of the vocalist is common in many different forms of music, but these days in reggae there are few promient bands – it is all about the vocalist.

All of this is prompted by the fact that I have finally given in and bought a riddim compilation – of the No Foe Riddim. And for those on Spotify, here is a playlist of the Diwali Riddim.

Update – since originally writing this post I’ve also got the Higher Meditation riddim album.