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HISTORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC [Part 2 of 6]

From that beginning, it was inevitable that Jamaican music would find its own identity sooner or later. The biggest surprise is that it happened so quickly.

The sound called ska came into being in 1960. At least, that's one of the stories. Other sources claim 1959. Or ?56. Or ?61. In other words, almost as many people claim to have invented it as there were producers on the scene. There's no doubt, however, that Jamaicans were ready for something new. The homegrown copies of R&B just didn't have the punch of the originals.

"We were trying to imitate," noted singer
Derrick Morgan, "but when we did it, it wasn't real." While so many grab the credit for ska, critics generally agree its father is Prince Buster. Cecil Campbell (his real name) had been an employee of clement Dodd, leaving in 1960 to set up his own Supertown sound system. Like others before, he turned to record production, beginning with a mammoth session of 13 songs for his new label, Wild Bells.

"On the way home from a session with Duke Reid I met Prince Buster," recalled Morgan. "He asked me to come and sing - he was just starting out. I told him yes. We did 13 songs, and they were all hits. He was supposed to give Duke Reid half the money, but in the end he just have him one song, the one he thought was the weakest, by [trombonist]
Rico Rodriguez."

It was one of those events that changed history. Over the course of the session, something new came into being, which melded the rhythm of traditional mento music, mixing it with R&B.



With those tunes - "They Got To Go" and "Shake A Leg - they're coming more into ska," explained reggae historian Steve Barrow, "with the emphasis on the afterbeat carried by the guitar, because that's what [guitarist] Jah Jerry did for Buster. Buster said, I told him, change gear, man, change gear,' and Jerry would give it that afterbeat syncopation on the guitar."

Now they had something new; all it needed was a name, and that came from bassist
Cluett Johnson, Barrow noted, "because he used to go around calling everyone skavoovie, and that was a made-up word, but it was a precedent for a name."

Buster couldn't have guessed he'd be charting the entire future course of Jamaican music. All he cared about was that the crowds at his sound system loved his new beat.

But the homegrown music, now readily identifiable, fitted in perfectly with the mood of the time. With Jamaica receiving its independence, national pride was running high, and anything uniquely Jamaican was embraced. Also, the new ska, made by the working classes, was definitely music of the people, really music of the Kingston ghettoes. The other sound system operators needed to make their own ska records to compete with Buster, which they very quickly did.

Discs were made primarily for sound systems, rather than for sale. So the product was on acetate (also known as pre-releases) which would quickly deteriorate - by which time they'dalready been replaced with something new. Still, those with money could buy the records.

"Prince Buster used to sell copies of "Humpty Dumpty" for 50 pounds!" said Morgan. "You could buy a house for that in those days. And if they did ever release the songs, they'd put them on white labels, with no artist credit. But the sound systems did motivate us to record. People used to come looking for the best, the most excitement, and they wanted the newest sounds."

Both Reid and Dodd began having their own ska hits, and soon there was another face on the scene, Leslie Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican who owned a restaurant called Beverley's, which proved inspirational to young singer Jimmy Cliff.


"Jimmy wrote a song called "Dearest Beverley," remembered Morgan, "and he went to see Kong to get it recorded. They told him to look for me and said that if he found me, he could record his song. So he came to my house. His song was a slow ballad, and I told him no-one would like it, because we were all doing ska music. So we wrote "Hurricane Hattie" and "King Of Kings" and we went to meet Leslie Kong."

Although inexperienced, Kong was eager to enter the record business, and asked if Morgan, by then already well-known, would record a side for him, "so I recorded "Be Still." And he took on Jimmy Cliff, who was still Jimmy Chambers then - Beverley's changed his name. And I started recording for Beverley's."

For Morgan, it was a matter of economic reality. Most producers were offering musicians $10 a song, Beverley's upped the stakes to $20. And since no-one was paying royalties, people went where the money was and laid down tunes as fast as they could. Morgan's defection started a rivalry between him and Prince Buster.

GO TO: HISTORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC PART 3





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