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This page is about ska, the musical style. SKA is also a three letter acronym for Square Kilometre Array.

Ska is a form of Jamaican music which began in the late 1950s. Combining elements of traditional mento and calypso with an American rhythm and blues sound, it was a precursor in Jamaica to rocksteady, and later, reggae. It is the predominant form of music listened to by the Skinhead movement amongst others, with artists such as Symarip , Laurel Aitken, The Charmers and The Pioneers aiming songs at Skinheads as far back as the 1960s.

After World War II, Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers and were able to hear American R&B from Southern cities like New Orleans, whose artists (such as Fats Domino) had the most influence on early ska. To meet the demand for such music, entrepreneurs like Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd , and Duke Reid formed sound systems, portable discotheques which appeared at dances and other gatherings. Often, these sound system operators removed labels from the most popular records, in order to enjoy a monopoly on the best-liked tunes and draw the most customers.

When New Orleans-style R&B fell out of favor by 1960, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of it. The music of ska is known for the placement of the accented guitar and piano rhythms on the upbeats. The word "ska" may have onomatopoeic origins in a tradition of poetic or possibly even musical rhythms. Guitarist Ernest Ranglin said that "the offbeat guitar scratching that he and other musicians played was referred to as 'skat! skat! skat!'"

Some believe that the early jazz and rock 'n' roll broadcasts from American radio stations were misinterpreted by an eager Jamaican music genre hence the off beat rythms that almost mimicked the break up of weak radio signals that hit the West Indies shores. Others consider ska not a misinterpretation but their own response to American music. The sound of ska was created at facilities like Studio One and WIRL Records in Kingston, Jamaica, by producers like Dodd, Reid, Prince Buster, and Edward Seaga (later Jamaica's prime minister).

As music changed in America, so too did Ska. For example, Ska was influenced by jazz and rock. Ska groups like The Skatalites often did instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles tunes, movie themes, or surf instrumentals. In 1966-67, when American soul became slower and smoother, ska changed its sound accordingly and resulted in rocksteady, which lasted until the emergence of reggae in 1968.

Prince Buster and U-Roy of Jamaica brought Ska to the UK in the early 60's and has been a major inspiration to many UK bands, such as the Specials, Madness, UB40 and many other underground music acts from dance to reggae.

Musical historians typically divide the history of Ska into three waves. Ska's popularity has waxed and waned since its original inception, and has had revivals of note in England in the 1980s (known as Two-Tone), and another wave of popularity in the 1990s (referred to as Third Wave Ska).

The Two-Tone era was named after the similarly titled record label, formed by Jerry Dammers, keyboardist of The Specials, which was formulated from the greatly diverse West Midlands region in the late 70's, with bands such as the Beat and The Selecter in support of the scene.

Some of the biggest selling American bands of Third Wave Ska were The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Catch-22 and No Doubt, all of whom fused ska with rock and punk. Some argue that the fusion of the two types of music caused it to lose almost all of its Jamaican elements. There is also muck debate between the Ska and Punk communities as to the validity of the genre Ska-Punk , yet many of the tenets behind both genres are shared, those of peace, unity, tolerance, and of course the spirit of DIY, or Do-It-Yourself. The most notable independent Ska record label of the 80's and 90's was Moon Ska, based in New York City and founded by guitar player/singer of The Toasters, Robert 'Bucket' Hingley , and epitomized the idea of DIY.

Ska around the world is seemingly going back to its roots. More and more bands are playing traditionally influenced or even full blown traditional ska. These bands include The Slackers, Pressure Cooker, The Debonaires , The Scofflaws , Let's Go Bowling , Westbound Train , and The Soul Captives .


Ska Musicians of Note

First Wave (original)

Second Wave (Two-Tone Era)

Third Wave Era

Other Forms

  • Catch-it Kebabs , who refer to their music as ska, but are classified as Skazz, or Ska/Jazz .
  • Save Ferris, who refer to their music as ska-pop-swing.


The Ska Lyric Archive - The most complete reference for ska lyrics

Skaponk - A wide database of ska and punk lyrics

Jamaica Lyrics - Ska Lyrics

See Also

Further Reference

  • Timothy White, Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, UK:Corgi Books, 1983

External Links

  • The Origins of Ska, Reggae, and Dub Music
  • The Untold Story of Jamaican Popular Music by Lloyd Dewar
  • The History of Ska Music by Ian Vanhoof
  • Ska.About.Com Semi-Active Ska Community
  • Edward's Buzzer website
  • Skahoo Ska International Search Engine

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