Ska

Hang onto your eyeballs, unscrew those ears and open your mind. In a bid to educate like wizard at Harry Potter High School or something like that, JUICE shares The Knowledge. This month, don those pork pie hats and skank like a muntha for Ska…

So what is Ska?
Officially Ska is a Jamaican music form that evolved out of calypso by incorporating the influences of the imported American jazz and early R & B records that started to wash up on the island in the 1950s. Some claim that it was invented by Prince Buster, the genre’s first major star, who created its trademark skank by emphasising the offbeats.

By the mid-1960s it had become Jamaica’s biggest musical force, and quickly spread to the UK with the wave of Afro-Caribbean migrants in the 1950s and 1960s. There, Blues parties – the illegal raves of their day – quickly attracted the black music loving British mod community. A combination of mod Jamaican rudeboy style helped to create the early (and non-racist) skinhead, and cemented the ska image of snappy, tight suits and pork pie hats.

But the music itself remained mainly a Jamaican thing until the late 1970s when the so-called Two Tone movement of bands including The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners and Madness. Against a backdrop of rising anti-immigrant feeling in the UK, the 2 Tone movement was an explosion of multi-racial bands that combined elements of Ska with the New Wave sound that had replaced Punk.

Meanwhile as the SoCal punk phenomenon of the early 1980s spawned hardcore bands like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, brains possibly rotted by the California sun, someone decided to combine it with Ska. Known as the Third Wave of Ska, it catapulted cod reggae acts like No Doubt to the top of the US Hit Parade. And while some of the so called ska-punks, like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish rated not too poorly on the JUICE-ometer they only crossed over with novelty records.

Key tracks
‘Oh Carolina’ by Prince Buster
‘Guns of Navarone’ by Skatalites
‘James Bond’ by Roland Alphonso / The Beat
‘Ghostown’ by The Specials
‘Rudy’ by The Specials
‘One Step Beyond’ by , Madness
‘The Tide is High’ by The Paragons
‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ by The Beat

Subgenres

Blues Parties With no mainstream clubs of their own and a bunker mentality against the racism of post-war Britain, the first generation of Afro-Caribbean immigrants to the UK brought the soundsystems of Jamaica with them, holding so-called Blues parties in people’s houses, charging entry and illegally selling alcohol. Once the Reggae and Ska loving mods joined in, it was only a matter of time before the music hit the radio and the charts.

2 Tone Records Started by the dentist-fearing Jerry Dammers in 1979, the label’s iconic logo was an impression of a drawing by Reggae legend Pete Tosh. Its white and black colour scheme represented its position as part of the UK’s anti-racist movement. Released records by The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, Elvis Costello and The Bodysnatchers.

Ska Punk A bunch of middle class mall rats drag Punk kicking and screaming into mediocrity. Okay for wannabe riot grrls and the fashions.

Shaggy Mr Loverman himself, and the man responsible for Ska’s biggest worldwide hit with his update of the Prince Buster standard ‘Oh Carolina’.

It wouldn’t have happened without …
Boats. They brought Jazz and RnB to Jamaica and kicked off the Ska explosion.

Ska poster kid
Buster Bloodvessel A big, fat bald man wearing a ballet tutu. What’s not to like?

How Ska changed the world
The British Ska scene was at the forefront of the anti-racist movement that helped to break support for anti-immigrant parties like the National Front. Huzzah!

Essential Ska albums
100% Dynamite Various (SoulJazz Records)
Best of Ska Various (Disky)
Singles The Specials (Metal Blade)
Too Much Two Tone Various (Two Tone)
Complete Madness Madness (EMI)

Ska math
Prince Buster + The Specials + Amy Search = Gerhana Skacinta

Text Matt Armitage

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