This page is about ska, the musical style. SKA is also a three letter acronym for Square Kilometre Array.

Template:Jamaicanmusic Ska is a form of Jamaican music which began in the late 1950s. Combining elements of traditional mento and calypso with an American jazz and rhythm and blues sound, it was a precursor in Jamaica to rocksteady and later reggae. It is the predominant form of music listened to by the Rudeboy, Mod, and Skinhead movements, amongst others, with artists such as Symarip, Laurel Aitken, The Charmers and The Pioneers aiming songs at these groups as far back as the 1960s.

Musical historians typically divide the history of ska into three waves. Ska's popularity has waxed and waned since its original inception, and has had revivals of note in England in the 1980s and another wave of popularity in the 1990s.


The Waves

First Wave

After World War II, Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers and were able to hear American R&B from southern cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, whose artists (such as Fats Domino) had the most influence on early ska. To meet the demand for such music, entrepreneurs like Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems, portable discotheques which appeared at dances and other gatherings. Sound system operators were able to obtain records from Miami and New Orleans, and these records were hot commodities in Jamaica. Often, these sound system operators removed labels from the most popular records in order to enjoy a monopoly on the best-liked tunes and draw the most customers.

When New Orleans-style R&B fell out of favor by 1960, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of it. The music of ska is known for the placement of the accented guitar and piano rhythms on the upbeats. The word "ska" may have onomatopoeic origins in a tradition of poetic or possibly even musical rhythms. Guitarist Ernest Ranglin said that "the offbeat guitar scratching that he and other musicians played was referred to as 'skat! skat! skat!'"

Some believe that the early jazz and rock 'n' roll broadcasts from American radio stations were misinterpreted by an eager Jamaican music audience, hence the off-beat rhythms that almost mimicked the break up of weak radio signals that hit the West Indian shores. Others consider ska not a misinterpretation but its own response to American music. The sound of ska was created at facilities like Studio One and WIRL Records in Kingston, Jamaica, by producers like Dodd, Reid, Prince Buster, and Edward Seaga (later Jamaica's prime minister). The upbeat sound of ska coincided with the celebratory feelings surrounding Jamaica's independence from the U.K. in 1962, an event commemorated by ska songs such as Derrick Morgan's "Forward March" and the Skatalites' "Freedom Sound".

As music changed in America, so did ska. For example, ska was influenced by jazz and rock. Ska groups like Clement Dodd's house band, The Skatalites often did instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles tunes, movie themes, or surf instrumentals. In 1966 and 1967, when American soul became slower and smoother, ska changed its sound accordingly and resulted in rocksteady, a style of music with the bass playing more varied rhythms, more emphasis on the downbeat, and soulful vocals. Some historians suggest that the popularity of rocksteady's slowed tempo was a result of an exceptionally warm summer of 1966, during which dancers were physically too hot to dance to the uptempo numbers. Some notable rocksteady musicians are The Melodians, who scored a hit with 'Rivers of Babylon', the Ethiopians, and Desmond Dekker, who did a number of rocksteady songs during the late sixties. Rocksteady lasted until the emergence of reggae in 1968.

Ska was showcased at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Byron Lee & the Dragonaires were selected over the Skatalites as the band for the occasion, and Prince Buster, Eric "Monty" Morris, and Peter Tosh performed with them, presenting ska music to the world. Prince Buster and U-Roy of Jamaica brought Ska to the U.K. in the early 1960s where it has been a major inspiration to many bands, such as the Specials, Madness, UB40 and many other underground music acts from dance to reggae.

Second Wave

The Two Tone (or 2 Tone) era was named after the similarly titled record label, formed by Jerry Dammers, keyboardist of The Specials. The band was formulated from the greatly diverse West Midlands region in the late 1970s, with bands such as The Beat and The Selecter in support of the scene.

Supplementing the lilting Jamaican rhythms of ska with punk rock's uncompromising lyrics and brutal guitar chords resulted in a hybrid that slaked a thirst for a moshing groove, plenty of melody via the horns, and thoughtful, irreverent, or politically charged lyrics. The Two Tone movement pushed towards racial unity, and was symbolized by a black and white checkerboard pattern.

Third Wave

Beginning in the late 1980s and gaining popularity in the early 1990s, the third wave of ska moved across the Atlantic Ocean and became hugely popular in the United States. Combining elements of ska with rock, punk, and jazz, musicians of the third wave created a style of ska some say lost all of its Jamaican elements. Such a vast difference in sounds has created much debate between the ska and punk communities as to the validity of the ska punk genre. Despite the differences in the actual sound of the genres, many of the tenets behind both genres are shared. Both genres often promote the ideas of peace, unity, tolerance, and the spirit of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) music.

The most notable independent ska record label of the era was Moon Ska, based in New York City, New York and founded by the guitarist of The Toasters, Robert 'Bucket' Hingley. This independent label epitomized the idea of DIY. Some of the most popular and long lasting third wave ska bands include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Catch 22, No Doubt, and Sublime.

While chronologically, bands like The Slackers, Pressure Cooker, Let's Go Bowling, and Hepcat can be classified as third wave groups, their sound is much more similar to that of the first wave. Their music is influenced by or strongly resembles the ska of 1960s Jamaica.

The third wave of ska is also comprised of a number of Christian ska bands. It would not be accurate to describe Christian ska as being its own wave (as is often done), as it does not differ significantly in geography, occurrence in time, or overall sound. Two of the more popular and recognized Christian ska bands are Five Iron Frenzy and The OC Supertones who often wrote songs about life from a Christian perspective.

Ska Musicians of Note

This list is very short, including only the groups listed in this article. For a more complete list, see Category:Ska groups.

First Wave

Second Wave

Third Wave

Further reference

  • Timothy White, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, UK:Corgi Books, 1983

External links


Reggae | Reggae genres
Mento - Rocksteady - Ska
Dub - Dub poetry - Dee jaying - Dancehall - Ragga - Raggamuffin - Reggaeton - Rockers reggae - Roots rock reggae - Skinhead reggae - Two Tone
Other topics
Haile Selassie - Jamaica - Marcus Mosiah Garvey - Rastafari movement - Skinheads

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