Before we jump to a super fun ukulele video lesson on UB40’s “Red, Red Wine,” there are some things you should know! You’ll be playing much more than a catchy melody; you’ll be playing a song with hidden gems of history.
Few things connect to the soul like the perfect song for the perfect moment. One simple melody has the power to influence the very ambiance of a room; someone’s day can change, the mood in a conversation can flip—a mind can even be transported to the past, the future, or an abstract world.
Music is heavily associated with mood shifts, perception, and memory. Think about it: you probably have a song that reminds you of your childhood, the first time you danced with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a song that was popular on the radio during a particularly difficult time in your life. When one of those songs plays, feelings rush through you, as do vivid pictures. The hippocampus and frontal cortex in the brain subconsciously receive loads of information by the second, and music touches the subconscious, interconnecting the two. Basically, whether you realize it or not, it’s difficult not to feel something when music is playing.
Reggae and pop music typically affect people in one general way: they lighten the mood. For those who enjoy the genres (and, really, even for many who don’t), they will find themselves swaying, foot tapping, smiling, or dancing in small ways. Reggae particularly has a sunshiny vibe—it feels like it should be playing while you float lazily in a lake on a hot summer day.
Reggae music is an Afro-Jamaican genre born around the 1960s and 70s in postcolonial Jamaica. It began as a merging of the genres “ska” and “rock steady.” Ska was (and is) essentially pop music with a strong offbeat, while its successor, rock steady, added a focus on harmonies.
Though we typically hear it as a light-hearted and carefree genre, the history speaks a bit differently. The early roots of reggae are strongly tied to redemption, freedom, and addressing oppression, which played an important role in the political conversation of the time. Reggae was born of that—a type of music that sought to highlight the complexities of Afro-Jamaican life, the struggles of slavery, and freedom in music. This is where we hear the tones of lightheartedness; people used music as an avenue to free themselves, their minds, and their identities. Listen a little more closely to Bob Marley’s lyrics the next time you throw on some reggae to jam to. You can also check out the other Reggae ukulele video lessons by Bob Marley, on the ukulele video lesson page.
This ukulele video lesson will focus on a song by UB40. UB40 is a British pop/reggae band that originated in 1978. Though the band is multicultural, none of them have Jamaican roots. They simply began playing reggae because they liked the sound and feel of it; they were also inspired by the genre due to their financial issues. The name “UB40” references the “Unemployment Benefit, Form 40” which reflects the difficult financial situations of a few of the band members.
All of the band members grew up in a part of Birmingham in which residents were poor and looking for any type of work, though the band members insist that they weren’t poor enough to be pitied. Remember: they were multicultural and it was the 60s. Instead of allowing their connection with each other to be marred with racial tension of the time or with the stresses of unemployment, they came together over music.
The lyrics in reggae music moved them, perhaps because, like Jamaica, they wanted to transcend the feelings of oppression from things like money and racism. The heart of reggae is partially to be free, and that likely spoke to the band members in their early days. Later on the band would suggest that they wanted to create reggae music that reflected its original purpose in Jamaica—something pop-y to dance to without much of a political message.
The band had humble beginnings in their hometown and in local bars, but they were discovered by a producer named Bob Lamb, who promoted their music to influential people. Because of this, they toured with Pretenders, and the rest is history; playing on tour grew a fan base, which eventually allowed the band to write and record more than 25 hit singles in the UK.
UB40 didn’t have as much luck in the United States, though. Plenty of people know the melody of “Red, Red Wine,” but aren’t very familiar with the band or most of their other songs.
Many Americans knew the song “Red, Red Wine” because it was actually written for and recorded by Neil Diamond (and if you know Neil Diamond, he is certainly not the reggae type). The band added a reggae twist to it with both the sound and some of the lyrics.
UB40’s other hits were much more traditional, but this was a cover, and most people in the states didn’t receive it very well with its release in 1983. By 1988, the single became a top hit, which confused the band—but they went with it! According to billboard.com, the single stayed on the top 100 chart for over 40 weeks!
“Red, Red Wine” is a broken-hearted song that, as it suggests, sings of the beauty of wine and its ability to help a person forget about a lover and any other struggle.
Fun fact: In the music video, Ali Campbell (lead singer) is drinking beer instead of wine; In an English pub, it would’ve been embarrassing to be drinking wine!
Now that you have been briefly educated on music, reggae, UB40, and their chart-topping rendition of “Red, Red Wine,” it’s time for you to pick up your uke and head on over to the ukulele video lesson. Respect the history of reggae, learn the song, then make someone smile with its laid-back melody. Happy learning!Return to Home Page
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