|These are the 3 articles on the history of ska.|
Unlike many of the genres of music which have been causing notice in the
underground music scene, SKA music has deep roots that are traced back
to 1950's Jamiaca, but actually go further back....
Ska was born in Jamaica in the late 50's, when one of the musiciams in
Coxsone Dodd's studio team, Cluet Johnson, came up with the word 'SKA'.
The sound of the ska was not born in a vacuum: it took plenty of
American R&B and Soul --- the bedrock of the original ska is the same
bedrock of rock 'n' roll --- Sam Cooke and Arthur Alexander, the New
Orleans sound and Professor Longhair, Ruth Brown and Ray Charles, Doo
Wop, Big-Band, Jazz, and Swing. It all could be heard in broadcasts over
the ocean gap from Florida.
A literal sonic boom was created by master musicians such as the
Skatalites, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, the Maytals and the Wailers,
as well as their genius producers, Coxsone and Leslie Kong. The early
60's in Jamaica was the time of Ska, a manic dance explosion that was
shaped by its surroundings --- a new independence from the English
commonwealth and a positive outlook. A changing political climate and
economy soon altered the mood of the culture and musical expression, and
the slowed-down, more vocally-oriented, less horn-oriented Rock Steady
was upon them. (it was this path that led to reggae, which today enjoys
world-wide, mainstream acceptance.)
It was Jamaica's poor ecomony that led many Jamaicans to come to england
before, during and after the Ska period. England was injected with a big
dose of 'riddim'. Jamaican music was presented by the mighty Trojan
Records and embraced by Skinheads and Rudeboys i the late 60's and early
70's, guaranteeing it a place in the English charts ("Israelites" by
Desmond Dekker and "Liquidator" by Harry J Allstars were two big hits)
and a place in the British collective conscious.
Punk was starting to evolve into New Wave, and music started to seem
toothless again. Jerry Dammers saw that it was time to put the musical
boot in. By fusing the Punk DIY spirit and attitude with the unstoppable
dance rhythm of Ska, the 2Tone movement was born. Antiracist by example
and fun by definition, bands like the Specials, Madness, the Selecter
and the (English) Beat dominated the British charts and the imaginations
of the country's youth at the turn of the decade.
And by 1981, it was over. The ebb and flow of the fickle British taste
(and the build 'em up, tear 'em down British music industry) stamped its
own sell-by date on Ska. The 2Tone spirit was not destroyed, and proving
its musical credibility, it moved underground rather than shriveling up.
It was in 1981 that Rob 'Bucket' Hingley moved from his native England
to New York City, only to find a total and utter absence of anything
Ska. Bucket mates, and the Toaster' East-Side Beat was born. Over in
California, the 2Tone influence saw the rise of bands like Fishbone and
the Untouchables. In the midwest, Heavy Manners raised the ska banner.
In England, Bad Manners falied to break up and kept on chuggin' --- and
excellent but critically-ignored bands like the UK's Potato kept on
The seed was planted, and ska music has grown from the early 80's till
now, outliving New Wave, Hair Metal, Grunge and Right Said Fred. New York has the Toasters, Scofflaws, NY Ska Ensemble, and the NY Citizens. California's got Let's Go Bowling, Hepcat and the Dance Hall Crashers. Boston treasures the Allstonians and Skavoovie and the Epitones. Washington DC enjoys the
Pietasters and the Skunks. Even Canada has the Arsenals!
Ska has spread world-wide in the 90's (from the US to Japan --- where
the Toasters' "Dub 56" has commanded rave reviews!) to Germany (the
Busters), all over the Spanish-speaking world (Dr. Calypso, Los
Malarians, Los Pies Negros) and even 'down under' (the Porkers). And all
of these bands have one thing in common (other than playing Ska music)
--- they appear on the Moon SKA NYC record label, which one zine kindly
refers to as "the Motown of Ska."
If Moon Ska is the ska Motown, then there are many other that can be
seen as Stax/Volt: Boston's BIB Records (Bim Skala Bim), NYC's Stubborn
Records (the Stubborn All-Stars), Germany's Pork Pie Records (No Sports,
The Frits, Dr. Ring Ding) and England's DOJO Records (Selecter and
First there was American R&B. Then there was Coxsone and the inventors
of the original Ska sound (First Wave). Then Dammers and 2Tone
reinvented it for the Western world (Second Wave). Now Bucket
and Moon are bringing the unstoppable's (Third Wave). After
slugging it out for 10 years, Moon Ska has turned into the world's #1
source for ska music. On the cutting edge of the ska massive, Moon has
opened a storefront office on the NYC's Lower East Side, the first 100%
ska retail outlet in the civilized or uncivilized world.
Bands across the US are playing ska music in ever-increasing numbers.
Ska is flowering, mixing with different genres or looking back to the
past for inspirition, reinventing itself, and generally pissing off
purists. Get up and dance, Skarmageddon is nigh!
To understand history, you must understand the thoughts and feelings of the time... the same is true with the roots of ska...|
It was war world II that changed everything. The British Empire was crumbling before the war and was falling apart faster during the post war period. Britain began granting independance to its dominions as dictated by pressure from the colonial people. By 1962, Jamaica was self governing while still remaining a member of the Commonwealth. The Jamaican culture, and it's music, began to reflect the new found optimism and aspirations of the liberated masses.
Since the early 1940's, Jamaica had adopted and adapted many forms of American musical styles. By the time World War II eneded, there were countless bands in Jamaica playing the dances. Groupos like Eric Deans Orchestra, with Tromboneist Don Drummond and master guitarist Ernest Ranglin drew from American Artists such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Duke Elington, Glen Miller, and Woody Herman.
In the 1950's, the big bands in America were being superseded by smaller groups with a more bop/rhythm and blues sound. Jamaicans traveling to the states picked up on this style. The sound systems of Count Smith the Blues Blaster, Sir Nick the Champ, and Tom the Great Sebastian began playing this new style.
In 1954, the first big Jazz concert was staged at Ward Theatre in Kingston. Traditional mento-folk-calypso bands were active and playing frequently in hotels up and down the island. By the end of the 1950's, jazz, r&B, and mento (a style of calypso) influences were merged into a new style called 'Shuffle'. Shuffle gained popularity through the works of such greats as Neville Esson, Owen Grey, the Overtakers, and The Matador Allstars. Recording studios and companies began popping up in large numbers to seek out new talent and The Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation began stimulating young musicians through regular radio shows.
In 1962, a time when Jamaica was copying the musical style of America, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, later known as Prince Buster, knew that something new was needed. He had his guitarist Jah Jerry emphasize the afterbeat instead of the downbeat. To present day, the afterbeat is esencial to Jamaican syncopation. Ska was born. The soundsystems began recording their own tracks to gain an advantage over the others, not labeling the vinyl so others could not see wht was playing and 'steal' it for their own sound systems. The sound system war escalated to the point that roughfians were sent to compentitor sound system parties to cause problems. These people were know as Dance Hall Crashers. Depsite the primitive mono recording facilities, it was the determination of the Ska enthusiasts which enabled ska to become the first truely commercial Jamaican Music. In fact, the Ska was later named the national dance and music of Jamaica.
Throughout the 1960's the ghetto areas of Jamaica were filling up with youths looking for work that did not exist. These youths felt excluded and did not share in the optimism of early ska roots. These youths drew group identity as 'Rude Boys' (a term, by the way, that originated from a much earlier period: 1940s). Being Rude was a means of being somebody when society was telling you were nobody. The way the Rude Boys danced the ska was different as well: slower with a menacing posture. The rude boys connected with the scofflaws and the underworld... those who lived outside the laws, and this was reflected in the lyric of the music. (Side Note: The Rude boy outfitting was customarily pants that were way to short... a style could still be seen in the 1980's by English Beat Toaster Ranking Roger) Ska music once again changed to reflect the mood of the rude with more tension in the bass as apposed to the previous free-walking bass style.
Many who flocked to Kingston to gain fame in the music industry turned to the ganja trade when money ran out. Many turned to a life of crime and violence. Both political parties in Jamaica began to employ armed enforcers and oranized goon squads. Public opinion shifted against guns and Rude Boys. A gun law was passed whereby, after a cooling off period when guns could be turned in to authorities without threat of prosecution, anyone found in possesion of an illegal gun or ammunition would be detained for an unlimited period of time by order of a special 'Gun Court'. Artists and producers offen supported or condoned the actions of the Rude Boys through Ska music. The anti-gun move was reflected in songs by the likes of The Soul Brothers (Lawless Street), and The Heptones (Gunmen coming to Town). Duke Reid, a former policeman, issued initially instrumental titles like The Rude Boys (Shuffling Down Bond Street Trojan TRLS275). Clement Dodd backed a young group who envisioned themselves as rudies - The Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer). Prince Buster invented the mythical character Judge Dread who handed out 400 year sentences to the Rude. Desmond Dekker '007 Shanty Town' release was the most difinitive of the rude boy documentary titles (reaching number 14 in the UK charts). The topic of the Rude Boys continued throughout the ska period and peaked in popularity when, during an extremely hot summer in 1964, the ska beat was slowed and Rocksteady was born. The first Wave of ska was over by 1968ish. (Rocksteady is a whole other story: Rocksteady later moved on to Reggae. Reggae's popularity in England was due mainly to the Skinheads; Rastafarians adopted reggae and the lyrics began to represent the rastafarian religious views (e-mail me for rast info), reggae progressed into dub and dancehall... and so on and so on and.......)
On to the second wave.... but lets go back a little bit into some more history: In 1962, when Englan put a lid on the unlimited immigration policy of the commonwealth, race riots were breaking out. Ska and reggae was, at this time, being brought to England by many artists and producers on acetate including The Trojan and Cuban born Laurekl Aitken. With that in mind... lets move on:
In the 1970's the Rude Boy ideals were revitalized and expressed in the fusion of reggae and punk by bands such as the Clash (Rudie Can't Fail). In the mid to late 1970's, bands such as The Coventry Automatics chose to use ska instead of reggae because, according to Jerry Dammers, it was easier. The Coventry Automatics later became The Automatics then The Specials AKA The Automatics, then The Special AKA, then The Specials. (Side Note: When the Specials broke up, Hall Staples and Golding formed The Fun Boy Three and Dammers formed The Special AKA... Fun Boy Three Broke up and Hall formed The Colourfield. Neville and Golding formed Sunday's Best, Hall left The colourfield and went solo, then did a project with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics under the name Vegas. Dammers left Special AKA and is now playing Acid Jazz..... sorry, this is a whole other story as well... e-mail me for a family tree of the 2-tone era)
Anyway, in 1979, Jerry Dammers formed 2-Tone Records. Dammers' desire, like Prince Busters in the early 1960s, was to create something new. Black and white became a symbol and 2 Tone ska was born. The 2 Tone logo of a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers became the official logo and was named Walt Jabsco. (Walt after Walt Disney... the drawing drawn by Dammers was based upon an early picture of Peter Tosh with the Wailers as seen on the cover of the Wailing Wailers Studio 1 release.)
In a time of racial riots and the racist National Front organization at its peek, the black and white clothing and racially integrated bands promoted racial unity in a torn country. As with Jamaican ska, the mood of the times was reflected in the lyrics (Why Do You want to Kill Me? Tell Me Why Tell Me Why Tell Me Why. - Special AKA). Bands such as Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, and the Specials revitalized the classic ska sounds of Prince Buster (Remakes include Rough Rider, Madness, Too Hot, etc.) and other first wave artists. Another band not on the two tone label but associated closely with the two-tone movement is Bad Manners. There was also a cross over of first wave artists in the 2-Tone bands. (Rico Rodriquez who guested with the Specials was trained by Don Drummond and played as a studio musician in Jamaica). Eventually, Chrysalis Records bought 2-Tone from Dammers, leaving him the right to sign new bands. The Two Tone artists at one time or another included: The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, Rico Rodriquez, The Swinging Cats, The Friday Club, The Bodysnatchers, The Hisons, J.B. Allstars, Special AKA, The Apollinairs, The Beat (know as the English Beat in the US because a band called the Beat already existed here), and a single from Elvis Costello. Inspite of running a reputable label, by 1985 the 2-tone label was falling apart; Dammers was broke and in debt to Chrysalis and the Dawning of a New Era ended in a Ghost Town.
Two Tone bands may have been the most popular from 1978-85 however they were not the only ones playing ska. Others included The Tigers, Ska City Rockers, The Akrylykz, The Employees, The Pirahnas, and many more....
Thus closes the second wave of ska... on to the third: With the death of 2Tone and the second wave, ska became thin but not obsolete. Carrying on the tradition of combining the ska beat with pop, rock and worldbeat were The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, The Untouchables, and Fishbone.
The third wave of ska exists in many forms combining almost every type of conceivable style with that ska beat. Bands such as Jump with Joey, Hepcat, Yebo,m NY Ska Jazz Ensemble and Stubborn All Stars stay close to the Jamaican roots. Operation Ivy, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Janitors Against Aparteid, etc. utilize punk to create ska-core. Regatta 69, Filibuster, Urban Blight, and others depend heavily on reggae/rocksteady. Punch the Clown, Undercover S.K.A., etc. remain closer to the two-tone style and sound. Interresting other styles include Florida's Pork Pie Tribes integration of traditional Irish folk (similar to The Trojans), and the Blue Meanies use of Klezmore. Then there are bands like The Brownies that combine it all!
The Rude Boy/Rude Girl image reappeared with the third wave as well. This time not as an outlaw but as a supporter and fan (fanatic) of ska. The third wave also has some twists that the earlier wave missed, including the straight edger with giant X's on their hands, the boneheads, OI/SKA, Skinheads and Against Racial Predudice (SHARPs). Also, the whole rediculous concept of 'sell outs'. Several aspects have not changed: Ska has a major influence on the young. Most ska shows are all ages and inexpensive to accomadate this. Also, Ska remains a harmonious unification of numerous types of musical styles and people who love it.
Nineteen Ninety Three saw the historic Skavoovee tour, the first major national American tour package of ska music. This tour had the full spectrum of what ska is - the original Jamaican brand of ska by it's very inventors the Skatalites, British counterparts who revived it and reinvented in the late 70s with the Selecter and Special Beat, and American upstarts the Toasters who raised the ska flag for the third time starting in the early eighties. In January of 1994, American music-industry trade magazine Billboard had ska on the cover page as 'the next big thing.'
"Ska hit big in England in the wake of punk, but it never really crossed the Atlantic. A few dedicated fans caught on in the U.S., though, and turned the Jamaican/British import into an American subculture." (Lieb, Billboard, January 15th, 1994)
The first wave of Ska was the first style of music in Jamaica to incorporate European/American influences wholesale. Ska music was created in a poor community in a third world country soon after World War II, by embracing American musical influences in the 1950's and local folk forms. Combining mento and calypso with the R&B, swing, boogie woogie, early rock and jazz made ska.
The second wave of Ska - 2Tone - combined the punk rock music energy of late 70s England with the rhythm of Jamaican ska. Just as the 1st wave ska music was created by combining disparate genres, so did the new ska. Bands such as the Specials and Madness created a dance craze on European and Japanese shores, but never quite made it to the United States.
The subject here though, is Post-2Tone: the third wave of Ska. Since Americans were deprived of the joys of ska the first time around, it was inevitable that some convert of the music would infect the US. In 1982, British ex-patriate and fan of all ska Rob Hingley started a ska band called the Toasters in NYC in the face of overwhelming indifference in the media and music scene. By the late 80s, many bands started playing ska music in new and wondrous forms all over the planet. Only today is there starting to be an acknowledgment by the arts community of the existence of modern ska music. Hence this article. To get a better understanding about the music, we should address some commonly asked.
Why do fans dress up in suits and funny lil' hats? The original fans of Jamaican music were the Jamaicans themselves. In the mid sixties, when ska had slowed down to rock steady, the prevalent style was that of the 'rude boy' - a sharp dressed gangster in a stingy-brimmed pork pie hat with out any obvious means to affording such fancy dress. It was very similar to today's "gangsta's of rap music", whose fancy dress and sharp cars stand out in sharp contrast to their poverty-stricken communities. The English 2Tone movement of the late 70s imitated this sharp dress as a way of distinguishing itself from the loud punk style of the day. 'Dressing up to dress down' has always been a hallmark of the modern ska crowd.
If the music is originally Jamaican, why in heavens would skinheads be attracted to it? When masses of Jamaicans emigrated to the UK to find work in the 50s and 60s, they brought their culture and music with them. After WWII, England suffered a labor shortage - between the men who never came home from war and the mass destruction in the cities, immigrants were welcome to fill the lower ranks of manual labor.The lot in life for any new immigrant group is at the bottom, and England has always been very structured around class. Jamaicans became members of the British working class, and cultural mixing was inevitable.
Both Jamaican 'Rude boys' and British 'skinheads' were young and working class. The skinhead style evolved out of the Mod subculture, due to the fact that a declining economy prevented a kid from buying a scooter or having a nice, cushy secretarial position. Both blacks and whites worked in factories, and both shaved their heads and wore big boots as a matter of necessity - the original skinheads were both black and white. Like the original rude boys, skinheads dressed sharp when they went out, despite having no obvious source of income to support a clothes habit. Whatever cultural differences young blacks and whites had, in the late 60s one thing they did share (other than style) was a music - reggae, rock steady, original ska and soul music were all on the menu. While political weather and media frenzy demonized skinheads, the 2Tone movement remembered what skinheads originally loved and focused strictly on the music and anti-racism by example - skinheads who followed ska were unlikely to be racist if they were fans of black music and integrated bands.
Today, the third wave of ska is flowing directly out of these styles - the Jamaican Rude Boy, the British Skinhead, and their combined love for the ska. While it may be strange to go to a hot, loud and sweaty ska concert and see kids dressed up in suits and formal dresses (or jack-booted skinheads dancing to Caribbean rhythms,) it all stems from a deep history going back to the ghetto enclaves of 1950s Kingston, Jamaica. Its ironic that its taken 30 years and tens of thousands of miles for the music to come around. R&B and blues of the 40's and 50's lives on in the United States in the 90's in the form of Ska, by way of Jamaica and England.
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