Ska music a blend of Caribbean mento and calypso with the American r&b and jazz that Jamaicans were hearing from New Orleans radio stations, emerged in the late 50s and is considered to be the grandfather of reggae music. It established the walking bass line and accented upbeat that would become the foundation of the reggae beat but unlike the laid-back vibe of reggae, ska was high energy dance music. This was indicative of the celebratory feeling pulsing through the Jamaican populous. Jamaica received its independence from the UK in 1962 and the upbeat ska sound became the soundtrack for independent Jamaica.
Many of reggae’s stars got their start in ska. Bob Marley & the Wailers started out as a ska group. Jimmy Cliff, one of the first Jamaican singers to reach an international audience was a popular ska singer, even showcasing the music at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York City. But, there’s one group that provided the music to many of the best known ska hits: The Skatalites. The original lineup of the band broke up in 1965 but they reformed in 1983 due to renewed interest in ska music and have been touring ever since. Only two of the original Skatalites are still playing with the band, vocalist Doreen Shaffer and saxophonist Lester Sterling. Sadly, original drummer Lloyd Knibb just passed away on May 12, 2011 but the new band keeps the spirit of the original ska sound alive.
This lineup, minus Doreeen Shaffer who is staying in New York due to knee problems, is playing Nectar Lounge, across the canal from Brown Paper Tickets headquarters, this Thursday, June 2. This show is sure to be a full night of skanking pleasure and is an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to Lloyd Knibb, one of the great Jamaican drummers. Get your tickets here.
Ska music also had a huge impact on youth culture in the UK. It was brought to England with the thousands of Jamaican immigrants that were flooding English shores looking for work and a better life. DJ Duke Vin was among them and in 1956 he built the UK’s very first authentic Jamaican sound system and helped to popularize Jamaican music in the UK. The mods adopted the ska sound as their own in the early 60s and in the years that followed , Jamaican music would be the soundtrack of choice for English street culture. The original skinheads adopted early reggae and ska in the late 60’s and then in the late 70s, Punk bands like The Clash covered ska and reggae classics and 2 Tone bands like The Specials, The Beat and Madness revived the ska sound for a whole new generation of British youth. In fact, the music’s influence can still be heard in contemporary British singers like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.
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All of this wouldn’t have been possible without Jamaican soundmen like Duke Vin and Count Suckle and this Sunday, June 5 in New York City, Maysles Cinema is showing “Duke Vin and the Birth of Ska” as part of the ongoing series Keeling’s Caribbean Showcase. Get your tickets here and experience the infectious, upbeat sound of authentic Jamaican ska for yourself.