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Ska (pronounced /ska/ or in Jamaican Patois /skja/) is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was a precursor to rocksteady and reggae.

Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line, accented guitar or piano rhythms on the offbeat, and in some cases, jazz-like horn riffs. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant musical genre of Jamaica, and it was also popular with British mods. Many skinheads, in various decades, have also enjoyed ska (along with reggae, rocksteady and other genres).Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods: the original Jamaican ska scene of the 1960s, the 2 Tone ska revival that started in England in the late 1970s, and the third wave ska movement, which started in the 1980s.


After World War II, Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers and were able to hear rhythm and blues music from Southern United States cities such as New Orleans by artists such as Fats Domino and Louis Jordan. The stationing of American military forces during and after the war meant that Jamaicans could listen to military broadcasts of American music and there was a constant influx of records from the US. To meet the demand for that music, entrepreneurs such as Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems. As jump blues and more traditional R&B began to ebb in popularity in the early 1960s, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of the genres.The style was of bars made up of four triplets, similar to that of "My baby just cares for me" by Nina Simone, but was characterized by a guitar chop on the off beat - known as an upstroke or skank - with horns taking the lead and often following the off beat skank and piano emphasizing the bass line and, again, playing the skank.Drums kept 4/4 time and the bass drum was accented on the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The snare would play side stick and accent the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase.The upstroke sound can also be found in other Caribbean forms of music, such as mento and calypso.

Music of Jamaica

Kumina - Niyabinghi - Mento - Ska - Rocksteady - Reggae - Sound systems - Lovers rock - Dub - Dancehall - Dub poetry - Toasting - Raggamuffin - Roots reggae

Anglophone Caribbean music

Anguilla - Antigua and Barbuda - Bahamas - Barbados - Bermuda - Caymans - Grenada - Jamaica - Montserrat - St. Kitts and Nevis - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Trinidad and Tobago - Turks and Caicos - Virgin Islands

Sound samples

Other Caribbean music

Aruba and the Dutch Antilles - Cuba - Dominica - Dominican Republic - Haiti - Hawaii - Martinique and Guadeloupe - Puerto Rico - St. Lucia - United States - United Kingdom

One theory about the origin of ska is that Prince Buster created it during the inaugural recording session for his new record label Wild Bells.[7] The session was financed by Duke Reid, who was supposed to get half of the songs to release. However, he only received one, which was by trombonist Rico Rodriguez.[citation needed] Among the pieces recorded were "They Got To Go", "Oh Carolina" and "Shake A Leg."[citation needed] According to reggae historian Steve Barrow, during the sessions, Prince Buster told guitarist Jah Jerry to "change gear, man, change gear."[citation needed] The guitar began emphasizing the second and fourth beats in the bar, giving rise to the new sound. The drums were taken from traditional Jamaican drumming and marching styles. To create the ska beat, Prince Buster essentially flipped the R&B shuffle beat, stressing the offbeats with the help of the guitar.

The first ska recordings were created at facilities such as Studio One and WIRL Records in Kingston, Jamaica with producers such as Dodd, Reid, Prince Buster, and Edward Seaga.There are different theories about the origins of the word ska. Guitarist Ernest Ranglin said the offbeat guitar scratching style that he and other musicians played was described as "ska! ska! ska!"[citation needed] Some believe that bassist Cluet Johnson coined the term ska when explaining the ya-ya sound of the music.[citation needed] Johnson was known to greet his friends with the word skavoovie, perhaps imitating American hipsters of the era. Johnson and the Blues Blasters were Coxsone Dodd's house band in the 1950s and early 1960s before the rise of the The Skatalites.[citation needed]

The ska sound coincided with the celebratory feelings surrounding Jamaica's independence from the UK in 1962; an event commemorated by ska songs such as Derrick Morgan's "Forward March" and The Skatalites' "Freedom Sound." Because the newly-independent Jamaica didn't ratify the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works until 1994, copyright was not an issue which created a large number of cover songs and reinterpretations. Jamaican musicians such as The Skatalites often recorded instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles songs, Motown and Atlantic soul hits, movie theme songs, or surf rock instrumentals. Bob Marley's band The Wailers covered the Beatles' "And I Love Her," and radically reinterpreted Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires performed ska with Prince Buster, Eric "Monty" Morris, and Jimmy Cliff at the 1964 New York World's Fair. As music changed in the United States, so did ska. In 1965 and 1966, when American soul became slower and smoother, ska changed its sound accordingly and evolved into rocksteady.[8][7]

2 Tone

The 2 Tone genre, which began in the late 1970s in England, was a fusion of Jamaican ska rhythms and melodies with punk rock's uncompromising lyrics and aggressive guitar chords.Compared to 1960s ska, 2 Tone music had faster tempos, fuller instrumentation and a harder edge. The genre was named after 2 Tone Records, a record label founded by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. Although 2 Tone bands were respectful to the original Jamaican ska artists, The Specials failed to credit musicians such as Prince Buster, Toots & the Maytals and Dandy Livingstone as the composers of songs on their 1979 debut vinyl release. However, in many cases, the reworking of classic ska songs turned the originals into hits again in the United Kingdom. The 2 Tone movement promoted racial unity at a time when racial tensions were high in the UK. Most of the 2 Tone bands had multiracial lineups, such as The Beat (known as English Beat in North America) and The Selecter.Although only on the 2 Tone label for one single, Madness were one of the most effective bands at bringing the 2 Tone genre into the mainstream.

Third wave ska

Main articles: Third wave ska and Ska punk

In the 1980s, bands influenced by the 2 Tone ska revival began to form in the United States and other countries.The first well-known American ska revival band was The Toasters, who played in a 2 Tone-influenced sound and paved the way for the third wave ska movement. Other notable early third wave ska bands included The Uptones, Fishbone and Operation Ivy.

Many third wave ska bands played ska punk (sometimes known as ska-core), which is a fusion of ska, 2 Tone and punk rock. However, some third wave ska bands — such as The Allstonians, Hepcat and The Slackers — continued to play in a more traditional 1960s-influenced style. By the early 1990s, ska revival and ska punk bands were forming throughout the United States and many other countries. An enormous growth of the ska punk genre occurred after the ska-core band Mighty Mighty Bosstones signed with Mercury Records in 1993 and appeared in the film Clueless with their first mainstream hit "Someday I Suppose". The ska-influenced rock band No Doubt and Sublime also gave the ska genre more mainstream attention. By the late 1990s, mainstream interest in third wave ska bands had waned as other music genres gained momentum.However, several of the most popular ska punk bands have maintained a steady following in the 2000s (although many have moved away from their earlier ska-influenced sound to embrace various forms of rock, punk, and alternative music).


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