Ska From Island to Mainland
Definition of Ska • Ska is a fusion. It combines a distinct Jamaican mento folk rhythm with R&B. Then the drums come in on the second and fourth beats which carries the “American” feel. The guitar then emphasizes the up of the second, third and fourth beats. This is what carries the Jamaican Mento sound. • Ska as we know it today
Three Waves • Ska has made an appearance on the world music scene three times • The first was in the late 1950s in Jamaica when it was developed • The second was in the late 1970s in England when it morphed with other styles • The third was in the 1990s in America when it fused with “American Style” rock to form “American Ska-Punk”
The Roots • In the 20s, 30s and 40s, Mento bands played at social functions in Jamaica • These were local, rural bands who played instruments which traveled well (bongos, guitars, African guitars, etc) • A combination of African rhythm and European tunes, the lyrics for Mento songs have roots in slavery
Airwaves • As the Mento sound became “old” the Jamaican people began looking for a new sound • Radio stations from Orlando and New Orleans could be heard faintly on the radios on the island • The people loved the big-band Jazz sound coming out of the United States
Traveling Music • The Mento sound was blended with the big-band jazz sound and the early forms of ska were born • The first early record producers made recordings of the ska sound and played them on traveling speakers/sound systems • This technology is a HUGE development for the standardization of music on the island • It brought the music to the people, all the people
Classes Clash • Jamaica had three very distinct classes during the middle of the century • The upper class knew nothing and cared nothing for ska • The middle class started to get into the mix of the big-band jazz with the local calypso feel of ska • The lowest class thrived on the beat and took up the lyrics as an anthem
Rude Boys • The “Rude Boys” were a rough-edged group of out of work, rebellious boys who went from party to party trashing the clubs • The lyrics of ska in this period are built around the life of the Rude Boys as they reacted against economic tensions • The way the Rude Boys danced (“running man” crossed with boxing) made a strong statement, and the Ska music, on turn, became stronger and more edgy • The Rude Boys are an important part of Ska history—they represent the major social foce which drove and mirrored the ska movement and message
Independence! • In 1963, Jamaica became an independent country, no longer a British Provence • The country was looking for an identity, symbols, and its own export • Ska fit the bill! The country was buzzing with the jazz-calypso mix, and with the approval of the government, ska music was produced and sent out to America and Europe as a uniquely Jamaican creation
It Fades • Not long after Jamaica claimed ska as its own, the luster began to fade • The people tired of the beat and began turning to reggae/rocksteady beats • The roots were planted though, and it wouldn’t be long before ska, and its concepts, found their way to another continent
Immigration Brings Music • In the 1960s, Jamaica was developing itself as a newly formed country • As people immigrated out, they took their island culture with them and spread it around the world • They brought ska to England in the mid 1960s, and new roots were born!
Late 70s • After a quiet period (though not dead), ska resurfaced in England in the late 70s • Bands began recreating the jazz-calypso beat and crossing it with newer instruments and sounds • Though the sound didn’t change much, the message did—it became socially motivated by the times and structure in England • YouTube - Ska special...from Jamaica to the U.K.
Clothing, Labels and Messages • Ska became a real-world mixing pot that represented the social events of the time • The concept of the “Rude Boys” came back, and there were brawls between the ‘middle class’ and the ‘lower class/Rude Boys’ at concerts. This may have been one of the reasons for the decrease of ska (venues became increasingly more difficult to find) • The bands were often of mixed race and carried the ‘mixing’ theme with their mixed color (two tone) suits • These “Two Tone” suits gave rise to the “Two Tone” recording label
The Specials • One of the biggest Ska bands in England during the second wave of Skawas“The Specials” • Their lead singer founded the Two Tone record label and created and produced a lot of ska records • This version of ska began to blend a rock beat as well as more brass and horns to give it an updated but still very recognizable feel • The music gave them a voice and the masses listened!
Nelson Mandela • The Two Tone label recorded mostly ska bands, but they also did some work for the early Elvis Costello record • Because of the black-white connection as well as the middle-low class clash of the music and culture, they were able to take on major social themes • One of the biggest recordings was “Nelson Mandela” which called for the release of Mandela and raged against Apartheid
Too “Local” • The lyrics and social issues reflected in the ska movement were viewed as “too English” by the Americans • In addition to the lyrics not fitting American events, the US was caught up in the rock and roll craze of the 60s and 70s (and to some extent the 80s). There was no room for the calypso-jazz blend • The ska phenomenon did not catch on in America in a large way during the 70s and early 80s • It took another fifteen years before the US was ready for our own ska invasion
Style and Morph • Ska did not make it to the US in one piece when it finally arrived in the late 1990s • There have been offshoots and morphings of the sound • While there are some who play ska in formats close to its original sound, there is a harder ‘ska-core’ sound that is heavily influenced by punk music • Another branch of ska blends these two and has even done ‘covers’ of traditional rock and roll songs. Like this one by ‘Reel Big Fish’
Still in the wave • The third wave has hit the United States and is beginning to die down • The lyrics continue to be pushed by social causes and the need for a “voice” by an unnamed class • It is still too close to analyze, however, because the bands are still making and selling records • Ska surged onto the scene in the late 1990s, but it continues to be part of the American culture today.
Concluding Thoughts • Ska has roots in defining a country’s identity, history in shaping a country’s ideas, and is going through a morph and reshaping all its own • Ska has traveled through time on the wings of the cultures’ need to develop an anthem with a beat that no one can resist
Resources • http://users.bigpond.net.au/lvisser/skahistory.html • http://web.fccj.edu/~ivanhoof/ska/TheBeginning.html • http://www.youtube.com