The story Of 2Tone

2Tone: The Music Label that United Not Divided

"2Tone" if looked up in an encyclopedia would reveal that it was a late 70's British record label. But it was much more than just a group of musicians and businessmen trying to make a profit off of United Kingdom's youth. 2Tone raised a positive and constructive movement of racial unity, in a country full of prejudices. When this ska music label began in 1979 by Jerry Dammers, no one expected that this label would be one of the main reasons for understanding on the club dance floors.

The main reason why ska was introduced in England was because of the unlimited immigration policy of the commonwealth in 1962. Many Jamaicans came to Britain and along with their cultural baggage came ska music. Ska is the predecessor of reggae music, which in England first attracted a group of middle class working British youth (mods, later skinheads). They would go down to the docks and listen to ska music in small Jamaican dance clubs. In the late 70's, ska had spread out to the point where creating a record label dedicated to that type of music in did not seem like such a radical idea. Jerry Dammers, creator of the 2Tone label and member of the ska band The Specials, began signing up British ska bands, many of which were racially integrated : The English Beat, The Selecter, Bodysnatchers, etc.

With the new record label, Dammers created a logo that is still well known today in the ska world, "Walt Jabsco". It is a drawing of a man dressed in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, pork pie hat, white socks, and black loafers. This use of the colors black and white became the symbol of racial UNITY. Which was also put as a checkered black and white design. One can quickly understand how on a checkered design the colors black and white are tightly woven together with no breaks and both colors equally distributed on the design. As the title of my webpage says,"Ska is not a fashion, it's a way of life."The black and white dichotomy is an ideology which is much deeper in social meaning than Madonna's wearing of a Christian cross. Despite the many racial confrontations in England at the time due to the National Front(a white supremacist group which reached a peak in the early 80's), the black and white clothing worn by the rude boys and rude girls of the ska scene, promoted racial unity. This music scene brought blacks and whites peacefully together on the dance floor where they could finally share something in common...their love for ska music.

The 2Tone ska bands used political and social issues in their lyrics to make Britain's youth understand the trials and tribulations of modern society. For example the song, "Too Much, Too Young" by The Specials, discusses about unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancies. Another song from The Selecter ,"I Want Justice" goes into depth about breaking down narrow minded walls of thought. Music has always served as a messenger to all adolescents who refuse to listen to the "growing pains" lectures their parents dictate to them. In England, during that period the peoples' poets were 2Tone bands. These bands showed youths that alcoholism, idleness, fighting, prejudice and many other social plagues of our modern world can be avoided by simple common sense and moderation. These issues are still quite prominent at the end of the millennium and so these songs can still serve a purpose in sending affirmative action messages to society.

Many of 2Tone's singles went to Britain's Top 10 Music Charts. The song "Ghost Town" from The Specials, sold a million copies. But fame and fortune made 2Tone's bands more distant. The Selecter left 2Tone after great deal of stressful touring around the world. Madness found a big corporate record label , "Virgin" and so they abandoned their old roster. The Specials were becoming very dissonant with each other and quickly fell apart. And to top it all Dammers was in monetary debt to 2Tone's record partner, Chrysalis records in New York City. So Dammers had no choice but to shut down 2Tone. This action did not cause very much of a riot in the ska scene, since the scene had become less and less popular.

The downfall could be simply explained by a few adjectives: greed, corporate media and newer trends. Even though 2Tone records is now non-existent, a lot of ska fans today still listen to 2Tone bands. Some of the old bands have reformed, for example The Selecter are presently touring North America. One may say that as long as there is ska there will always be "Walt Jabsco" as an image of understanding and unity. 2Tone was one of ska history's stepping stones, which was well needed to continue on the Jamaican tradition. This era lasted for 6 years, yet it created a foundation for ska bands of today to follow and expand their musical venues while continuing the tradition of bringing harmony in a society plundered by redundant disco music and unjustified racism.

picture of 2Tone tourbus

Time to go back......