Ska music was originally produced in Jamaica in the early 1960s by artists such as Prince Buster and Rosco Gordon. Its unique, 'can't sit still rhythm' comes from the drums emphasizing the second and fourth beats of the bar and the guitar stressing the up of the second, third, and fourth beats.
In the 1960s, a lot of young people in Jamaica were unemployed and crime and violence increased in proportion to their frustration and despondency. Reflecting this mood, the music took a harder edge, driven by the bass. Ska became the music of the disaffected, the Rude Boys. The lyrics started to chronicle the times.
Ska rapidly spread to the West Indian community in England; it was as though Kingston was linked to London by some pre-internet musical super-highway. The music was quickly adopted by the early skinheads, whose dress and hairstyles were influenced by the Rude Boys.
During the hot summer of 1964, the Ska beat was slowed, and Rock Steady was born, leading in turn to Reggae, which gained a wider, but less committed following than Ska. By the early 1970s there was little Ska music being made.
The British Revival
Around 1978, the ska beat re-emerged in Britain, played by racially integrated bands promoting unity. Special AKA (The Specials) and The Selecter spearheaded the movement in the Midlands, England while the apparently more light-hearted Madness and Bad Manners did the same for Southern England.
The new Ska bands were at least as successful, in chart terms, as the original artists; they attracted mixed audiences to their live gigs, skinheads and new style 'rude boys'. But they all didn't mix well and there was often trouble in the dance halls. Consequently, the dance halls stopped booking the Ska bands. By 1981, the sound of Ska had once again receded.
A seed planted by Madness and others has germinated in the fertile creative soil of California, and Ska has been enjoying an excellent underground following there for the past decade, with some commercial success emerging over the last five years. California Ska has its own unique sound: generally faster, livelier, and happier than traditional ska.
In Southern California, the look of Ska is quite different. Most California bands have given up dark suits in favour of a preppy/nerdy 70s look, with button-up shirts that look like they stepped out of the Brady Bunch. Throw in some wild, punky hairdo (but never a mohawk) and you've got the new Southern California Ska uniform.
The Beat Goes On
While not having matched the commercial success of earlier times, the sound of Ska is still alive. These days many of the bands play different styles, under such sub headings as Latin, Funk, Hard Core, and House... but always underpinned by that infectious Ska beat.
- 'Liquidator' - Harry J Allstars
- 'Long Shot Kick De Bucket' - The Pioneers
- 'It Mek' - Desmond Dekker
- 'Return of Django' - The Pioneers
- 'Double Barrel' - Dave & Ansil Collins
- 'Monkey Man' - The Maytals
- 'Skinhead Moonstomp' - Symarip
- '007' - Desmond Dekker
- 'The Whip' - The Ethiopians
- 'Pressure Drop' - The Maytals
British Rude Tunes
- 'One Step Beyond' - Madness
- 'Ghost Town' - The Specials
- 'On My Radio' - The Selecter
- 'Too Much Too Young' - The Special AKA
- 'Walking In The Sunshine' - Bad Manners