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THE HISTORY OF SKA
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 independance 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 it's
music, began to reflect the new found optimism and aspirations of the
Since the early 1940's, Jamaica had adopted and adapted many forms of American musical styles. By the time World War II eneded, there were countless bands in Jamaica playing the dances. Groupos like Eric Deans Orchestra, with Tromboneist Don Drummond and master guitarist Ernest Ranglin drew from American Artists such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Duke Elington, Glen Miller, and Woody Herman.
In the 1950's, the big bands in America were being superseded by smaller groups with a more bop/rhythm and blues sound. Jamaicans traveling to the states picked up on this style. The sound systems of Count Smith 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 (side note: many bands used studio musicians for their recordings, because the members of the studio musician groups were on an as-available basis, producers would simply add the word allstars to the artists name to credit the backup bands). 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 read opened Treasure Isle Liquor store with his wife on Bond street. Reid was know as The Trojan, after the Trojan flatbed truck he used to transport equiptment. 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.
In 1962, a time when Jamaica was copying the musical style of America, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, later known as Prince Buster, knew that something new was needed. He had his guitarist Jah Jerry emphasize the afterbeat instead of the downbeat. To present day, the afterbeat is esencial to Jamaican syncopation. Ska was born. The soundsystems began recording their own tracks to gain an advantage over the others, not labeling the vinyl so others could not see wht was playing and 'steal' it for their own sound systems. The sound system war escalated to the point that roughfians were sent to compentitor sound system parties to cause problems. These people were know as Dance Hall Crashers. Depsite the primitive mono recording facilities, it was the determination of the Ska enthusiasts which enabled ska to become the first truely commercial Jamaican Music. In fact, the Ska was 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 in the optimism of early ska roots. These youths drew group identity as 'Rude Boys' (a term, by the way, that originated from a much earlier period: 1940s). 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. (Side Note: The Rude boy outfitting was customarily pants that were way to short... a style could still be seen in the 1980's by English Beat Toaster Ranking Roger) Ska music once again changed to reflect the mood of the rude with more tension in the bass as apposed 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 Cliffs story but really parallels the life of a famous Rude Boy by the name a Ryging - email me for more info) Both political parties in Jamaica began to employ armed enforcers and oranized goon squads. Public opinion shifted against guns and Rude Boys. A gun law was passed whereby, after a cooling off period when guns could be turned in to authorities without threat of prosecution, anyone found in possesion 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 offen 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 difinitive of the rude boy documentary titles (reaching number 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. The first Wave of ska was over by 1968ish. (Rocksteady is a whole other story: Rocksteady later moved on to Reggae. Reggae's popularity in England was due mainly to the Skinheads; Rastafarians adopted reggae and the lyrics began to represent the rastafarian religious views (e-mail me for rast info), reggae progressed into dub and dancehall... and so on and so on and.......)
On to the second wave.... but lets go back a little bit into some more history: In 1962, when Englan 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 Laurekl Aitken. With that in mind... lets move on:
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, according to Jerry Dammers, it was easier. The Coventry Automatics later became The Automatics then The Specials AKA The Automatics, then The Special AKA, then The Specials. (Side Note: When the Specials broke up, Hall Staples and Golding formed The Fun Boy Three and Dammers formed The Special AKA... Fun Boy Three Broke up and Hall formed The Colourfield. Neville and Golding formed Sunday's Best, Hall left The colourfield and went solo, then did a project with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics under the name Vegas. Hall just released a new solo CD called TERRY HALL - HOME... Sunday's Best broke up and neville played with numerous other bands then released a solo CD in 94 called Skanktastic... Staples and Golding are back together with the newly formed Specials. Dammers left Special AKA and is now playing Acid Jazz..... sorry, this is a whole other story as well... e-mail me for a family tree of the 2-tone era)
Anyway, in 1979, Jerry Dammers formed 2-Tone Records. Dammers' desire, like Prince Busters in the early 1960s, 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. (Walt 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 peek, 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 (Why Do You want to Kill Me? Tell Me Why Tell Me Why Tell Me Why. - Special AKA). Bands such as Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, and the Specials revitalized the classic ska sounds of Prince Buster (Remakes include Rough Rider, Madness, Too Hot, etc.) and other first wave artists. Another band not on the two tone label but associated closely with the two-tone movement is Bad Manners. There was also a cross over of first wave artists in the 2-Tone bands. (Rico Rodriquez 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 Two Tone artists at one time or another included: The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, Rico Rodriquez, The Swinging Cats, The Friday Club, The Bodysnatchers, The Hisons, J.B. Allstars, Special AKA, The Apollinairs, The Beat (know as the English Beat in the US because a band called the Beat already existed here), and a single from Elvis Costello. (Side Note: The Costello single I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down, became tied up in legal fights and was never sold. Copies were given away to fans at Costello shows. Costello produced the first Specials LP and was a guest singer and producer on the Nelson Mandella 12" single by the Special AKA in '84) Inspite 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.
Two Tone 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 (with Roland Gift on Tenor Sax who later joined ex-english beat members Cox and Steele as singer for Fine Young Cannibals), The Employees, The Pirahnas, and many more....
Thus closes the second wave of ska... on to the third: With the death of 2Tone and the 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 (Once releasing under the band name Not Bob Marley), Bim Skala Bim, The Untouchables, and Fishbone.
The third wave of ska exists in many forms combining almost every type of conceivable style with that ska beat. Bands such as Jump with Joey, Hepcat, Yebo,m NY Ska Jazz Ensemble and Stubborn All Stars stay close to the Jamaican roots. Operation Ivy, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Janitors Against Aparteid, 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 two-tone style and sound. Interresting other styles include Florida's Pork Pie Tribes integration of traditional Irish folk (similar to The Trojans), and the Blue Meanies use of Klezmore. Then 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 wave missed (some of which I do not understand why) including the straight edger with giant X's on their hands, the boneheads, OI/SKA, Skinheads and Against Racial Predudice (SHARPs). Also, the whole rediculous 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 accomadate this. Also, Ska remains a harmonious unification of numerous types of musical styles and people who love it.
This history courtesy of email@example.com.
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