Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the 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 with rhythms on the upbeat.
In the early 1960s, Ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British Mods (Modernists.). Later it became popular with many Skinheads. Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods:-
1. The original Jamaican scene of the 1960s (First Wave),
2. The English 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s (Second Wave) and
3. The third wave ska movement, which started in the 1980s and continues today. (Third Wave)
There are different theories about the origins of the word Ska. Ernest Ranglin claimed that the term was coined by musicians to refer to the "skat! skat! skat!" scratching guitar strum. Another explanation is that at a recording session in 1959 produced by Coxsone Dodd, double bassist Cluett Johnson instructed guitarist Ranglin to "play like ska, ska, ska", although Ranglin has denied this, stating "Clue couldn't tell me what to play!". A further theory is that it derives from Johnson's word Skavoovie, with which he was known to greet his friends. Jackie Mittoo insisted that the musicians themselves called the rhythm 'Staya Staya', and that it was Byron Lee who introduced the term 'ska'.
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 third beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The upstroke sound can also be found in other Caribbean forms of music, such as Mento and Calypso.
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. 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. Among the pieces recorded were "They Got to Go", "Oh Carolina" and "Shake a Leg." According to reggae historian Steve Barrow, during the sessions, Prince Buster told guitarist Jah Jerry to "change gear, man, change gear." 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. The Ska sound coincided with the celebratory feelings surrounding Jamaica's independence from the UK in 1962; an event commemorated by 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 music became slower and smoother, Ska changed its sound accordingly and evolved into Rocksteady. However, Rocksteady's heyday was brief, peaking in 1967. By 1968, Ska evolved again into Reggae.
The 2 Tone genre, which began in the late 1970s in the areas in and around the city of Coventry in England, was a fusion of Jamaican Ska rhythms and melodies with punk rock's more aggressive guitar chords and lyrics. 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, as the composer of music 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. Riots in British cities were a feature during the summer that The Specials song "Ghost Town" was a hit, although this work was in a slower, Reggae beat. Most of the 2 Tone bands had multiracial lineups, such as The Beat (known as English Beat in North America), The Specials, 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.
The Third Wave.
In the early 1980s, bands influenced by the 2 Tone ska revival started forming in the United States and other countries. This revival included post-punk ska bands such as The Uptones in Berkeley, California and ]]The Toasters]] and Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the East Coast. Many third wave ska bands played ska punk, which is characterized by brass instruments, a heavily-accented offbeat, and usually a much faster, punk rock-inspired tempo (though the R&B influences are played down). Some third wave bands played ska-core, which blends ska with hardcore punk. However, several third wave ska bands played in a more traditional 1960s-influenced style.
The Uptones jump-started the Bay Area California ska scene in 1981 when the band, consisting of Berkeley High School students, went on to play sold-out shows throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years. Their 1984 self-titled record was released on Howie Klein's 415 label. The Uptones' punk-influenced ska has been cited as inspiration by California bands Operation Ivy, Rancid, and Sublime. In 2002 The Uptones reformed and continue to record and play live shows on the west coast.
Orange County, California had one of the biggest and most influential third wave ska scenes, which originated in the early 1990s. For about a decade, Orange County was the starting point for many successful third wave ska bands. Some of these ska bands had a great deal of commercial success, albeit short-lived. The Hippos and Save Ferris enjoyed commercial success with the albums "Heads Are Gonna Roll" and "It Means Everything", respectively. Both acts were featured in several major motion picture soundtracks during the 1990s. The Aquabats have remained one of the few original Orange County ska bands who still play today. However, the band generally doesn't play in a ska style in their most recent release, Charge!!. The same applies to Goldfinger, who, despite once being an active forerunner in the scene, dropped the ska sound in 2001.
In the early 1990s, the Ska Parade radio show helped popularize the term third wave ska and promoted many Southern California ska-influenced bands, such as Sublime, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and Let's Go Bowling. In 1993, the ska-core band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones signed with Mercury Records and appeared in the film Clueless, with their first mainstream hit "Where'd You Go?". Around this time, many ska-influenced songs became hits on mainstream radio, including "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt, "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish (which reached #10 in the Billboard Modern Rock charts in 1997) and "The Impression That I Get" by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
In 1994, Matt Collyer of The Planet Smashers' founded the third wave ska label Stomp Records. In 1996, Mike Park of Skankin' Pickle founded Asian Man Records, which was the biggest west coast United States third wave ska label. Also in 1996, the band Less Than Jake started the record label Fueled by Ramen, which featured many lesser known third wave ska bands, and later became the home of successful pop bands like Fall Out Boy. In 1997, Brett Gurewitz and Tim Armstrong founded Hellcat Records, which mostly featured punk bands, but also featured several ska and ska punk acts.
In the late 1990s, Christian ska became a trend within the Christian music industry, with bands such as OC Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy and The Insyderz.
By the late 1990s, mainstream interest in third wave ska bands waned as other music genres gained momentum. Moon Ska Records folded in 2000, but Moon Ska Europe continued operating in the 2000s, and was later relaunched as Moon Ska World. In 2003, Hingley launched a new ska record label, Megalith Records.
Some Classic Tracks.
The Skatelites - Guns of Navarone.
The Specials - Too much too young.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Where'd you go?