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History of SKA!!

In the Beginning...

It was war world II that changed everything. The British Empire was crumbling before the war and was falling apart faster during the post war period. Britain began granting independence to its dominions as dictated by pressure from the colonial people. By 1962, Jamaica was self governing while still remaining a member of the Commonwealth. The jamaican culture, and its music, began to reflect the new found optimism and aspirations of the liberated masses. Since the early 1940's, Jamaica had adopted and adapted many forms of American musical styles. By the time World War II ended, there were countless bands in Jamaica playing the dances. Groups like Eric Deans Orchestra, with trombonist Don Drummond and master guitarist Ernest Rangling drew from american artists such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Woody Herman. In the 50's, high powered radio stations, such as WINS, broadcasting out of U.S., were being picked up in Jamaica.

Throughout the 1950's, the big bands in America were being superseded by smaller groups with a more bop/rhythm and blues sound. Jamaicans travelling to the states picked up on this style and brought back to the Islands 78 rpm records, which were greatly popular due to their rarity and high quality sound. The sound system of Count Smith and the Blues Blaster, Sir Nick the Champ, and Tom the Great Sebastian began playing this new style.

In 1954, the first big Jazz concert was staged at Ward Theatre in Kingston. Traditional mento-folk-calypso bands were active and playing frequently in hotels up and down the island. By the end of the 1950's, jazz, R&B, and mento (a style of calypso) influences were merged into a new style called 'Shuffle'. Shuffle gained popularity through the works of such greats as Neville Esson, Owen Grey, the Overtakers, and the Matador Allstars. Recording studios and companies began popping up in large numbers to seek out new talent and the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation began stimulating young musicians through regular radio shows.

Two men played a critical role in the sound system from in the 1950's: Duke Reid and Clement Seymore Dodd. Duke opened Treasure Isle Liquor store with his wife on Bond street. Reid was known as the Trojan, after the Trojan flatbed truck he used to transport equipment. Dodd named his sound system Sir Coxsone Downbeat after the Yorkshire cricketer Coxsone. Throughout the end of the decade the two men conducted a musical war. Eventhough Coxsone was more in touch with those living in the ghetto, it was Reid that was crownded King of Sound and Blues at the Success Club in 1956, 1957 and 1958.

By 1958 R&B instrumentals went out of style in the U.S. It was in this same year that Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid began pressing their own releases on the island using local musicians. The pressings were done at "Federal", the island's first record plant.

In Britain, Emil Shallit, a business man of Serbo-croatian origins, who formed British first independent label, Melodisc, in the late 1940's, with the assistance of Siggy Jackson offered a few jamaican recordings in 1959. Shallit had no interest in music and once compared record selling to selling potatoes, but saw money to be made. Through out the 1960s, Shallit built a large catalog on his Blue Beat subsidiary and became the market leader of Jamaican Music in Britain.



In 1962, a time when Jamaica was copying the musical style of America, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, later known as Prince Buster, felt that something new was needed. He had his guitarist Jah Jerry emphasize the afterbeat instead of the downbeat. To present day, the afterbeat is essential to Jamaican syncopation. Another artist, Rosco Gordon, is credited with the development of Ska. He heavily stressed the second and fourth beats of each bar. Ska was born.

The sound systems began recording their own tracks to gain an advantage over the others, not labeling the vinyl so others could not see what was playing and 'steal' it for their own sound systems. Dodd and Reid were known to scratch out labels on records they purchased during trips to places like Randy's in Tennessee in America, in order to make these releases exclusive.

The sound system war escalated to the point that roughfians were sent to competitor sound system parties to cause problems. These people were known as "Dance Hall Crashers". Despite the primitive mono recording facilities, it was the determination of the Ska enthusiasts which enabled Ska to become the first truly commercial Jamaican Music, and later named the national dance and music of Jamaica.

Throughout the 1960's the ghetto areas of Jamaica were filling up with youths looking for work that did not exist. These youths felt excluded and did not share the optimism of early Ska roots. These youths drew group identity as "Rude Boys". Being Rude was a means of being somebody when society was telling you were nobody. The way the Rude Boys danced the ska was different as well: slower with a menacing posture. The rude boys connected with the scofflaws and the underworld, those who lived outside the laws, and this was reflected in the lyric of the music. Ska music once again changed to reflect the mood of the rude with more tension in the bass as opposed to the previous free-walking bass style.

Many who flocked to Kingston to gain fame in the music industry turned to the ganja trade when money ran out. Many turned to a life of crime and violence. (Check out the movie 'The Harder They Come' with Jimmy Cliff. This movie was believed to be Jimmy Cliff's story but really parallels the life of a famous Rude Boy, Ryaging). Both political parties in Jamaica began to employ armed enforcers and organized goon squads. Public opinion shifted against guns and rude boys. After a cooling off period when guns could be turned in to authorities without threat of prosecution, a gun law passed whereby, anyone found in possession of an illegal gun or ammunition would be detained for an unlimited period of time by order of a special 'Gun Court'. Artists and producers often supported or condoned the actions of the rude boys through ska music. The anti-gun move was reflected in songs by the likes of the Soul Brothers (Lawless Street), and the Heptones (Gunmen coming to Town). Duke Reid, a former policeman, issued initially instrumental titles like the Rude Boys (Shuffling Down Bond Street Trojan, TRLS275). Clement Dodd backed a young group who envisioned themselves as rudies, the Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer). Prince Buster invented the mythical character 'Judge Dread' who handed out 400 year sentences to the Rude. Desmond Dekker '007 Shanty Town' release was the most definitive of the rude boy documentary titles, reaching No. 14 in the UK charts. The topic of the rude boys continued throughout the ska period and peaked in popularity when, during an extremely hot summer in 1964, the ska beat was slowed and Rocksteady was born. In 1962, when England put a lid on the unlimited immigration policy of the Commonwealth, race riots were breaking out. Ska and Reggae was, at this time, being brought to England by many artists and producers on acetate including the Trojan and cuban born Lauriel Aitken. The first wave of ska was over by 1968.


In the 1970's the rude boy ideals were revitalized and expressed in the fusion of reggae and punk by bands such as the Clash (Rudie can't fail). In the mid to late 1970's, bands such as The Coventry Automatics chose to use ska instead of reggae because it was easier. The Coventry Automatics later became The Automatics, then The Specials AKA The Automatics, then The Special AKA, then The Specials.

In 1979 Jerry Dammers formed "2-Tone Records". His desire, like Prince Buster in the early 1960's, was to create something new. Black and white became a symbol and 2 Tone ska was born. The 2 Tone logo of a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers became the official logo and was named "Walt Jabsco", after Walt Disney (the drawing drawn by Dammers was based upon an early picture of Peter Tosh with the Wailers as seen on the cover of the Wailing Wailers Studio 1 release).

In a time of racial riots and the racist National Front organization at its peak, the black and white clothing and racially integrated bands promoted racial unity in a torn country. As with Jamaican Ska, the mood of the times was reflected in the lyrics. Bands such as Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, the Specials, revitalized the classic ska sounds of Prince Buster and other first wave artists. Another band not on the 2 Tone label but associated closely with the 2 Tone movement is Bad Manners.

There was also a cross over of first wave artists in the 2 Tone bands, Rico Rodriguez who guested with the Specials was trained by Don Drummond and played as a studio musician in Jamaica. Eventually, Chrysalis Records bought 2-Tone from Dammers, leaving him the right to sign new bands. The 2 Tone artists included: The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, Rico Rodriguez, The Swinging Cats, The Friday Club, The Bodysnatchers, The Higsons, J.B. Allstars, Special AKA, The Apollinairs, The Beat, and a single from Elvis Costello. In spite of running a reputable label, by 1985 the 2-Tone label was falling apart; Dammers was broke and in debt to Chrysalis, and the dawning of a new era ended in a ghost town. 2-Tones bands may have been the most popular from 1978-85, however they were not the only ones playing ska. Others included The Tigers, Ska City Rockers, The Akrylykz, The Employees, The Piranhas and many more. Thus closes the second wave of ska, on to the third.


With the death of 2-Tone and second wave, ska became thin but not obsolete. Carrying on the tradition of combining the ska beat with pop, rock and worldbeat, were The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, The Untouchables, Fishbone, and The New York Citizens.

The third wave exists in many forms combining almost every type of conceivable style with that ska beat. Bands such as Jump with Joey, Hepcat, Yebo, NY Ska Jazz Ensemble and Stubborn Allstars stay close to the Jamaican roots. Operation Ivy, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Janitors Against Apartheid, etc. utilize punk to create ska-core. Regatta 69, Filibuster, Urban Blight and others depend heavily on Reggae/Rocksteady. Punch the Clown, Undercover S.K.A., etc. remain closer to the 2-Tone style and sound. Interesting other styles include Florida's Pork Pie Tribes integration of traditional Irish folk, and the Blue Meanies use of Klezmore, and there are bands like The Brownies that combine it all.

The Rude Boy/Rude Girl image reappeared with the third wave as well. This time not as an outlaw, but as a supporter and fan (fanatic) of ska. The third wave also has some twists that the earlier waves missed, including the straight edger with giant X's on their hands, The Boneheads, OI/SKA, Skinheads and Against Racial Prejudice (SHARPs). Also, the whole ridiculous concept of 'sell outs'. Several aspects have not changed: Ska has a major influence on the young. Most ska shows are all ages and inexpensive to accomodate this.

Also, Ska remains a harmonious unification of numerous types of musical styles and people who love it!!


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