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The Story of Reggae – Ska

Written by on January 27, 2019

Ska is the rollicking, raucous music that perfectly summed up the mood of the people as they approached Independence at the beginning of the 1960s and wanted to announce their        Jamaicanness with as much gusto as possible. Even without Independence, ska happening when it did isn’t surprising at all. Kingston’s sound system owners were getting their own       version of R&B, Jamaican boogie, specially recorded for them but the local musicians they  were using were jazz buffs to a man, thus always looking for means to self expression. It was only a matter of time before things got turned around. Which was literally what Prince Buster and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd did. Looking for new sounds to thrill their dancehall crowds      they changed the emphasis of the R&B from the first and third beats in the bar to the second and fourth, creating the offbeat style that became the fulcrum of Jamaican music from then   on.

The pivotal ska group was The Skatalites, a horn led collection of musicians, many who were classically trained at the Alpha Boys School (a Catholic reform school/orphanage in Kingston that is still renowned today). They approached their task as if they were big band jazz players, with a tight, disciplined rhythm section allowing virtuoso soloists to show off their brilliance. The idea was to whip the dancers up into a frenzy, but keep the beat so that nobody loses     their footing. When The Skatalites were in full flow it would be virtually impossible to keep    still, as players like Tommy McCook (sax), Roland Alphonso (sax), Dizzy Moore (trumpet)     and the great genius of Jamaican music Don Drummond (trombone) took the music into the stratosphere. Likewise when Prince Buster gets going on hits like "Al Capone", "Madness" or "Wash Wash" the excitement level doesn’t drop.


As the ultimate good times music (energetic and rebellious), ska was the obvious choice to   be married to the British punk scene. It resulted in a ska revival in the late 70s that began in Coventry. It was here that Jerry Dammers set up the Two Tone record label and the band,    The Specials. They were decked out in the original 60s rude boy fashions - mohair suits, dark glasses and the ubiquitous pork pie hats. It was this styling and Dammer’s black & white        themed logo that were the emblems for a scene that launched Madness, The Beat and …    Bad Manners….

Subsequently all around the world, but notably in the USA and Japan, ska lives and it’s still   possible to find perfect replicas of the early-1960s Jamaican look.

Young men dress to thrill in sharp suits and pork-pie hatsCourt shoes and capri pants bring  glamour to a ska night outLearn how to do the Jamaican twist and the Two-Tone skank

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