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History of Ska

History of Ska


Ska is style of music that developed in Jamaica in the 1950s as a precursor to Reggae. It has an easily recognisable style, characterised by bars made up of four triplets, with a definitive guitar chop on the offbeat. This is called an upstroke or skank. Ska music is typically quick, upbeat and exciting – made for dancing – featuring horns (commonly trumpet, saxophone, and trombone) that take the lead and follow the skank, as well as piano or keyboard that emphasises the walking bass line. Drums tend to keep 4/4 time, but the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase is accented by the bass drum and snare. Ska incorporates elements of traditional mento and calypso music, alongside American Jazz and R&B.

The history, spread and development of Ska can be divided into three distinct waves.The First wave of Ska originated in Jamaica in the 1950s, just as the country gained independence from Britain. The musical style was influenced by American Jazz and R&B, which could be picked up on radios in Jamaica, thanks to US Army broadcasts intended for Americansoldierswho had been stationed nearby during in the war. Original Skaartists include – Desmond Dekker,Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Skatalites, Toots & the Maytals,Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, and The Melodians. Many of these bands are now more commonly associated with Reggaeas they later transitioned into this style as it developed and achieved worldwide fame singing Reggae songs.

One of the most important names in Ska historyis Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. Dodd was a DJ, rather than an artist, but it was he is largely responsible for the spread and popularity of the first wave of Ska across Jamaica. He identified the country’s need for national pride and cultural identity in the days surrounding its gaining independence. He setup Studio One, which is the – now legendary – recording studio in which many of the first ska tracks were laid down.

With the new independence there developed a subculture of impoverished Jamaican teens, struggling to find work and make something of themselves. “Rude” was a slang term often applied to members of this class of youths, used to mean that they were nobodies. These teens took on the identity of “Rudeboys” and began to dress in suits to mock the upper classes. The Rudeboy culture became the source of lyrics for a great many ska songs, and this group adopted the genre as their own. A kind of gang culture began to form with gangs of Rudeboys being hired to gatecrashand disrupt street dances held by rival mobile DJs.

After only a decade, Ska gave way to the emerging genres of Rocksteady and Reggae,whichwere characterised by slower songs with more socio-political themes.The second wave of Ska took off in the UKint the 1970s. This wave of Ska was known as 2-tone and the overarching message that proliferated in the lyrics of songs was one of unity. Bands, including Madness and The Specials,were typically made up of members from Caucasian and African races. The music itself featured melodies and rhythms that had characterised the first wave of Ska in Jamaica – but with a decidedly punk influence.

The culture associated with this wave of Skawas, once again, the hard done to working classes. A movement known as “Skinheads” quickly formed brought together by the appreciation for Ska music and a deep understanding of the themes of uniting against the upper classes that featured in the songs. Skinhead culture developed from the working class of Ska fans who held jobs in industrial factories. For health and safety reasons, they were forced to shave their heads and wear heavy duty steel toe capped boots. This look coupled with ironically worn suits became a sort of skinhead uniform – once again worn to mock those ni the upper echelons of socety.

The term “Skinheads” has since evolved to become synonymous with racism – but at the time people of both African and Caucasian decent were skinheads – united in their struggle for a living, rights and recognition. This unison is perfectly reflected in the mix of roots from which Ska developed. Skanking is a style of dance that was popular among Ska fans from the very beginning, but it really came into its own with the rise of the Skinheads and second wave 2-tone Ska. The dance is extremely simple, combining leg movements from “the running man”, which involved running with knees bent in time to the beat, with punching arm movements, hands balled into fists, punching outwards in an alternating pattern with the feet. This was thought to resemble fighting behaviour, and so represented the fight between the classes.

The thirdwave of Ska developed in the late 1980s and 1990s.This movement was largely centred in the US, which had missed out on the first two waves. The musical styles typically drew much greater influence from 2-tone bands than from traditional Jamaican Ska, but Ska music from this wave ranges in sound from songs similar in style to very early Ska to offerings that can barely be distinguished from punk. Bands such asOperation Ivy, The Mighty MightyBosstones,The Toasters,Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Sublime, The Reggaskas and The Aquabats are among the most popular form this genre. Third wave Ska has strong links to American punk rock and the fashion associated with it is also largely similar, with more Mohawks that skinheads on view.

Ska remains alive around the world today, though there are only a handful of bands committed to making original Ska tracks and evolving the genre. Maybe it is time for a new fourth wave to sweep the world!

Ska is style of music that developed in Jamaica in the 1950s as a precursor to Reggae. It has an easily recognisable style, characterised by bars made up of four triplets, with a definitive guitar chop on the offbeat. This is called an upstroke or skank. Ska music is typically quick, upbeat and exciting – made for dancing – featuring horns (commonly trumpet, saxophone, and trombone) that take the lead and follow the skank, as well as piano or keyboard that emphasises the walking bass line. Drums tend to keep 4/4 time, but the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase is accented by the bass drum and snare. Ska incorporates elements of traditional mento and calypso music, alongside American Jazz and R&B.

The history, spread and development of Ska can be divided into three distinct waves.The First wave of Ska originated in Jamaica in the 1950s, just as the country gained independence from Britain. The musical style was influenced by American Jazz and R&B, which could be picked up on radios in Jamaica, thanks to US Army broadcasts intended for Americansoldierswho had been stationed nearby during in the war. Original Skaartists include – Desmond Dekker,Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Skatalites, Toots & the Maytals,Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, and The Melodians. Many of these bands are now more commonly associated with Reggaeas they later transitioned into this style as it developed and achieved worldwide fame singing Reggae songs.

One of the most important names in Ska historyis Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. Dodd was a DJ, rather than an artist, but it was he is largely responsible for the spread and popularity of the first wave of Ska across Jamaica. He identified the country’s need for national pride and cultural identity in the days surrounding its gaining independence. He setup Studio One, which is the – now legendary – recording studio in which many of the first ska tracks were laid down.

With the new independence there developed a subculture of impoverished Jamaican teens, struggling to find work and make something of themselves. “Rude” was a slang term often applied to members of this class of youths, used to mean that they were nobodies. These teens took on the identity of “Rudeboys” and began to dress in suits to mock the upper classes. The Rudeboy culture became the source of lyrics for a great many ska songs, and this group adopted the genre as their own. A kind of gang culture began to form with gangs of Rudeboys being hired to gatecrashand disrupt street dances held by rival mobile DJs.

After only a decade, Ska gave way to the emerging genres of Rocksteady and Reggae,whichwere characterised by slower songs with more socio-political themes.The second wave of Ska took off in the UKint the 1970s. This wave of Ska was known as 2-tone and the overarching message that proliferated in the lyrics of songs was one of unity. Bands, including Madness and The Specials,were typically made up of members from Caucasian and African races. The music itself featured melodies and rhythms that had characterised the first wave of Ska in Jamaica – but with a decidedly punk influence.

The culture associated with this wave of Skawas, once again, the hard done to working classes. A movement known as “Skinheads” quickly formed brought together by the appreciation for Ska music and a deep understanding of the themes of uniting against the upper classes that featured in the songs. Skinhead culture developed from the working class of Ska fans who held jobs in industrial factories. For health and safety reasons, they were forced to shave their heads and wear heavy duty steel toe capped boots. This look coupled with ironically worn suits became a sort of skinhead uniform – once again worn to mock those ni the upper echelons of socety.

The term “Skinheads” has since evolved to become synonymous with racism – but at the time people of both African and Caucasian decent were skinheads – united in their struggle for a living, rights and recognition. This unison is perfectly reflected in the mix of roots from which Ska developed. Skanking is a style of dance that was popular among Ska fans from the very beginning, but it really came into its own with the rise of the Skinheads and second wave 2-tone Ska. The dance is extremely simple, combining leg movements from “the running man”, which involved running with knees bent in time to the beat, with punching arm movements, hands balled into fists, punching outwards in an alternating pattern with the feet. This was thought to resemble fighting behaviour, and so represented the fight between the classes.

The thirdwave of Ska developed in the late 1980s and 1990s.This movement was largely centred in the US, which had missed out on the first two waves. The musical styles typically drew much greater influence from 2-tone bands than from traditional Jamaican Ska, but Ska music from this wave ranges in sound from songs similar in style to very early Ska to offerings that can barely be distinguished from punk. Bands such asOperation Ivy, The Mighty MightyBosstones,The Toasters,Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Sublime, The Reggaskas and The Aquabats are among the most popular form this genre. Third wave Ska has strong links to American punk rock and the fashion associated with it is also largely similar, with more Mohawks that skinheads on view.

Ska remains alive around the world today, though there are only a handful of bands committed to making original Ska tracks and evolving the genre. Maybe it is time for a new fourth wave to sweep the world!




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