Ska  

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"Working with producer Lee Perry, Coxsone Dodd began documenting the pre-reggae ska sound on his Studio One label in 1963. The Skatalites, ska's most important instrumental group, was his house band. Singers Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and Owen Gray and keyboardist Jackie Mittoo were the most influential performers in Dodd's stable."--Sholem Stein

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Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off beat. It was developed in Jamaica in the 1960s when Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to play American rhythm and blues and then began recording their own songs. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods. Later it became popular with many skinheads.

History

Jamaican ska

After World War II, Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers and were able to hear rhythm and blues music from the Southern United States in cities such as New Orleans by artists such as Fats Domino, Barbie Gaye, Rosco Gordon and Louis Jordan whose early recordings all contain the seeds of the "behind-the-beat" feel of ska and reggae. 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 United States. To meet the demand for that music, entrepreneurs such as Prince Buster, Coxsone Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems.

As the supply of previously unheard tunes in the jump blues and more traditional R&B genres began to dry up in the late 1950s, Jamaican producers began recording their own version of the genres with local artists. These recordings were initially made to be played on "soft wax" (a lacquer on metal disc acetate later to become known as a "dub plate"), but as demand for them grew eventually some time in the second half of 1959 (believed by most to be in the last quarter) producers such as Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid began to issue these recording on 45rpm 7-inch discs. At this point the style was a direct copy of the American "shuffle blues" style, but within two or three years it had morphed into the more familiar ska style with the off-beat guitar chop that could be heard in some of the more uptempo late-1950s American rhythm and blues recordings such as Domino's "Be My Guest" and Barbie Gaye's "My Boy Lollypop", both of which were popular on Jamaican sound systems of the late 1950s. Domino's rhythm, accentuating the offbeat, was a particular influence.

This "classic" ska style was of bars made up of four triplets 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 third beat of each four-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. Ernest Ranglin asserted that the difference between R&B and ska beats is that the former goes "chink-ka" and the latter goes "ka-chink".

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. 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. Prince Buster has explicitly cited American rhythm and blues as the origin of ska: specifically, Willis Jackson's song "Later for the Gator" (which was Coxsone Dodd's number one selection).

The first ska recordings were created at facilities such as Federal Records, 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".

Until Jamaica ratified the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the country did not honor international music copyright protection. This created many cover songs and reinterpretations. One such cover was Millie Small's version of the R&B/shuffle tune, "My Boy Lollypop", first recorded in New York in 1956 by 14-year-old Barbie Gaye.

Smalls' rhythmically similar version, released in 1964, was Jamaica's first commercially successful international hit. With over seven million copies sold, it remains one of the best selling reggae/ska songs of all time. Many other Jamaican artists would have success recording instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles songs, Motown and Atlantic soul hits, movie theme songs and instrumentals (007, Guns of Navarone). The Wailers covered the Beatles' "And I Love Her", and radically reinterpreted Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone". They also created their own versions of Latin-influenced music from artists such as Mongo Santamaría. The Skatalites , Lord Creater, Laurel Atcken, Roland Alphonso, Tommy Macook, Jackie Mitto, Desmond Dekker, and Don Drummond also recorded ska.

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.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ska" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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