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THIS IS SKA!

The Roots of Ska    |    Rocksteady    |    2-Tone    |    The Modern Sound    |    NY Times Article

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    When you first view this page, you'll see that it mainly deals with Jamaican ska and rocksteady. That's because I want the new-comer to this great music to know that there is a long history with ska. That there was ska before reggae and while there are some great bands out there today, ska is not just punk with horns. It's so much more than that.

    If you came here hoping to find tons of information about 2-Tone or modern ska, I'm sorry. You'll find some but not very much. There are plenty of sites out there for that, (try the links page). If you came here looking for information on the roots of ska, I hope you aren't disappointed. That being said, read on and I hope you enjoy the site.

    The following information was provided by doing my own research or was sent to me by friends and/or bands and from other websites, (i.e. "The Real Jamaica Ska", "AboutSka.com" or "Hear and Now Productions"). Thanks also to Brian Rosenthal. If I left anyone out, I apologize. Please let me know.

    Much Respect,
    Randy

 THE ROOTS OF SKA

    In a nutshell, Ska was Jamaica's first indigenous popular music. It's a fusion of the Jamaican mento rhythm, American R&B, and a little bit of Jazz. The drums carry the 2nd and 4th beats (the R&B and swing of American music), and the guitar emphasizes the upbeats (the mento rhythm). The horns and/or piano will sometimes also play the upbeats.

    As for the term "ska", one of the the theories floating around is that Cluet Johnson coined the term. Clue J and His Blues Blasters were Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's house band in the 50s and early 60s before the rise of the Skatalites. As the story goes, in explaining the "ya-ya" sound of the music and rhythm being made, the word ska popped out, probably because he greeted all his friends as "skavoovie". Cluet Johnson and the small group of musicians around him, were said to be the "heppest" in the entertainment scene at that time.

    Since the early 1940s, Jamaica had adopted and adapted many forms of American musical styles. By the time World War II ended, there were countless bands in Jamaica playing the dances. Groups like the Eric Deans Orchestra, with trombonist Don Drummond and master guitarist Ernest Ranglin drew from American Artists such as Count Basie, Erskine Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Woody Herman.

    In the 1950s, smaller groups were superseding the big bands in America with a more bop/rhythm and blues sound. Jamaicans who traveled to the states picked up on this style. The sound systems of Count Smith, The Blues Blaster, Sir Nick the Champ, and Tom the Great Sebastian began playing this new style.

    In 1954, the first big Jazz concert was staged at Ward Theater in Kingston. Traditional mento-folk-calypso bands were active and playing frequently in hotels up and down the island. By the end of the 1950s, Jazz, R&B, and Mento influences were merged into a new style called "Shuffle". Shuffle gained popularity through the works of such greats as Neville Esson, Owen Grey, the Overtakers, and The Matador All-stars. Many of these bands used studio musicians for their recordings. Because the members of the studio musician groups were on an as-available basis, producers would simply add the word "all-stars" to the artists name to credit the backup bands. Recording studios and companies began popping up in large numbers to seek out new talent and at about the same time, The Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation began stimulating young musicians through regular radio shows.

    Two men played a critical role in the sound system from in the 1950s: Duke Reid and Clement Seymore Dodd. Duke read opened Treasure Isle Liquor store with his wife on Bond Street. Reid was known as "The Trojan", after the Trojan flatbed truck he used to transport equipment. Dodd named his sound system "Sir Coxsone Downbeat" after the Yorkshire cricketer Coxsone. Throughout the end of the decade the two men conducted a musical war. Even though Coxsone was more in touch with those living in the ghetto, it was Reid that was crowned King of Sound and Blues at the Success Club in 1956, 1957 and 1958.

    By 1962, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, later known as "Prince Buster", knew that something new was needed. He had his guitarist Jah Jerry emphasize the upbeat instead of the downbeat. To the present day, the upbeat is essential to Jamaican syncopation. Jamaican ska was born. The soundsystems began recording their own tracks to gain an advantage over the others. They also didn't label the vinyl they played. That way, others couldn't see what was playing and then steal it for their own sound systems. The sound system war escalated to the point that ruffians were sent to competitor sound system parties to cause problems. These people were known as "Dance Hall Crashers". Despite the primitive mono recording facilities, it was the determination of the ska enthusiast that enabled ska to become the first truly commercial Jamaican Music. In fact, "The Ska" was later named the national dance and music of Jamaica.

    Throughout the 1960s the ghetto areas of Jamaica were filling up with youths looking for work that did not exist. They felt excluded and did not share in the optimism of early ska roots. These youths drew group identity as "rude boys". Being "rude" was a means of being somebody, when society was telling you that you were nobody. And the way the rude boys danced the ska was different as well, they danced to it slower and with a menacing posture. The rudies connected with the "scofflaws", those who lived outside the laws, and this was reflected in the lyric of the music. The "rudies" customarily wore pants that were way to short... a style that could still be seen in the 1980s by The Beat toaster, Ranking Roger. Because of the rude boys, ska would change to reflect the mood their with more tension in the bass as opposed to the previous free-walking bass style.

    Many who flocked to Kingston to gain fame in the music industry turned to the ganja trade when money ran out. Many turned to a life of crime and violence. As a result, both political parties in Jamaica began to employ armed enforcers and organized goon squads. Public opinion shifted against guns and Rude Boys. A gun law was passed whereby, after a cooling off period when guns could be turned in without threat of prosecution, those found in possession of an illegal gun or ammunition would be held for an unlimited period of time... by order of a special "Gun Court". Artists and producers often supported or condoned the actions of the Rude Boys through Ska music. The antigun movement was reflected in songs by the likes of The Soul Brothers (Lawless Street), and The Heptones (Gunmen Coming to Town). Duke Reid, a former policeman, issued initially instrumental titles like The Rude Boys. Clement Dodd backed a young group who envisioned themselves as rudies - The Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer). Prince Buster invented the mythical character "Judge Dread" who handed out 400-year sentences to the Rude. Desmond Decker's 007 (Shanty Town) release was the most definitive of the rude boy documentary titles (reaching number 12 in the UK charts).

    Once ska caught on at home, it made its way across the Atlantic, where it proved popular with the expatriates. At about the same time, England started to put a lid on the unlimited immigration policy of the commonwealth and race riots began to break out. Many artists and producers including The Trojan and Cuban born Laurel Aitken were at this time, bringing ska and reggae to England. At the same time, three labels were releasing Jamaican music in the UK. Melodisc, which created the Blue Beat label for ska, with Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken as their main artists. Island, Chris Blackwell's creation; and R&B. As more and more Jamaicans moved to Britain, it became a more lucrative market for artists than Jamaica itself. By the end of the 60s, ska had slowly (literally), turned into a new sound.

    "My Boy Lollipop", by Millie Small was a cover of an old Barbie Gaye R&B tune. The record became a true international sensation, climbing to #2 in both the UK and US, which was enough to make part of a generation of Britons aware of the underground movement happening around them. The Mods listened hard. For them the music of choice was soul, but there was also a definite attraction to ska, with its irresistible beat, and also to the sharp looks of the rude boys, the most fashionable Jamaican youth. Shaved heads, good clothes, pork pie hats - the rude boys had style, and the Mods - some of whom became skinheads a few years later - copied much of it. There was an affinity of sorts between the two groups that transcended race. Both were working class, and had a taste for the good life and strong dancing music. The rude boy phenomenon had begun in Jamaica and was soon exported to Jamaicans overseas. At home they were youth who'd flocked to Kingston after independence, only to find no opportunity in the city. With no work, and no money, they found themselves existing in the ghettoes of Trenchtown and Riverton City. They made money any way they could and often turned to crime. They formed gangs, making their way in the underworld and even into some of the armed political groups, which were gaining in influence. They were cool, and "bad", as they said. Rude boys lived on society's fringes, outsiders, and expressed themselves through their dress and their dance. Ska, with its quick beat, demanded a lot of energy from its dancers. But rude boys didn't like to move that fast. "They used to dance half-speed to certain ska records", explained Barrow, "and the music changed to accommodate that." Which was the birth of rocksteady.



   ROCKSTEADY   

    Ska desperately needed to move on. By the summer of 1966 it had been around for more than half a decade, and while the songs had grown in sophistication, the basic rhythm and arrangements hadn't. There was still the defining offbeat emphasis over a walking bass pattern. The rocksteady concept brought the new idea ska sought. "The rhythm was experimented with", noted Barrow, "and it was slowed down because of what was happening with the rude boys in the dancehalls". Roy Shirley says he made Hold Them in 1965. He could have done it as a slow rhythm, but I don't think it was rocksteady. Hopeton Lewis went in to do a ska tune, Take It Easy, and he couldn't manage it on the rhythm, so he said to play it slow. They played it half-speed, and when it was done, someone said to him, 'That rock steady, man, that's rockin' steady.' And that's how the name came about. He claims he was before Studio One, Beverley's, everyone with rocksteady." (the record was released on Federal).

    The topic of the rude boys continued throughout the ska period and peaked in popularity when, during an extremely hot summer in 1964, the ska beat was slowed and rocksteady was born, which forced all the dancers to move more slowly - to rock, instead of move wildly - and that was reflected in the new sides appearing. It's also been said the sound came from musicians' dissatisfaction with the ska beat and the search for something new. Whatever the true reason, it was decidedly different from ska. "It broke up the rhythm", explained Barrow. "It had the effect of making the bass play in clusters, a pattern, rather than a continuous line. The drums and everything fell in with that. (Guitarist) Lynn Taitt was the guy who orchestrated that."

    Inevitably, the new rhythm proved very popular, (Take It Easy sold 10,000 copies in a single weekend). Partly because it was new and also because dancers didn't have to use so much energy. Because of this, they could stay on the floor longer.

    Whereas Coxsone Dodd and his Studio One label had dominated ska, it now became Duke Reid's turn in the pole position, as Treasure Isle quickly established itself as the home of the new sound. He took Alton Ellis from Dodd, to add to his stable, which included the Paragons and Dobby Dobson, all backed by a new studio band, the Supersonics, led by former Skatalites sax-man, Tommy McCook.

    Among the vocal groups they backed for Reid were the Techniques, one of the best of the era. With hits like Queen Majesty and Love Is Not A Gamble, they were a major force and a training ground for a number of singers who'd progress to solo careers, like Slim Smith and Lloyd Parks. But the change hadn't edged Prince Buster out of the picture. Having scored hits himself during the time of ska, as well as being one of its leading producers, he continued to release material, with "Judge Dread" in particular becoming huge, its criticism of the Rude boy style triggering a number of like-minded songs from other artists.

    Although ska had flared briefly in England, the flame didn't take full hold until Rocksteady hit. After that the music's profile rose sharply, thanks to two factors - the Trojan record label, which licensed a great deal of Jamaican product, and an artist who enjoyed a string of hits. That person, who became the face of rocksteady in the UK, was Desmond Dekker (born Desmond Dacres). He'd been a part of Leslie Kong's Beverley stable since 1962, but it wasn't until 1967 that he scored his first real hit with 007 (Shanty Town), one of the many responses to "Judge Dread." In the UK the single (issued by Trojan) went to #12, and began a string of hits for Dekker that would extend into 1969, by which time Jamaica was already embracing reggae. His biggest song, Israelites reached #1 in Britain, Canada, Sweden, West Germany, Holland, and South Africa, and gave Dekker his only US chart exposure, climbing to #9.

    Rocksteady not only slowed down the tempos, but it shifted the emphasis from horns to guitar and vocals. The jumpy, syncopated beat became less pronounced, and the resulting sound is a more relaxed version of American soul. Three prime examples of the new sound are Delroy Wilson's Dancing Mood, The Gaylads' Stop Making Love, and, more importantly, Desmond Dekker's Israelites and 007 (Shanty Town). All these tunes, as well as others in the rocksteady style, bear much more resemblance to American soul and gospel than to the earthy, rollicking New Orleans-derived ska sound, which by 1966 was fading as a common musical idiom. Still, Jamaican artists still responded to American and European pop and continued to adapt it to their own well-developed traditions and ideas about music.

    The growing skinhead movement, an outgrowth of the Mods, lapped up rocksteady as the genre grew into reggae. To the extent that in England the music became known as skinhead reggae. The prime time of the style was brief, at least in Jamaica, however. It ran from mid-1966 to the close of 1967 when, according to singer Derrick Morgan, "we didn't like the name rocksteady, so I tried a different version of Fat Man (one of his early hits). It changed the beat again; it used the organ to creep. Bunny Lee, the producer, liked that. He created the sound with the organ and the rhythm guitar. It sounded like ‘reggae, reggae’ and that name just took off. Bunny Lee started using the word and soon all the musicians were saying 'reggae, reggae, reggae.'" Some would also argue that reggae was supposedly named for the Maytals' 1968 recording Do the Reggay.

    There are some music writers who claim that ska and rocksteady turned into reggae; actually, reggae is a separate strain of music. The ska beat "shuffles", while reggae's rhythms are slower, more lilting, and more marked by percussion (similar to Count Ossie's burru drumming on Oh! Carolina). Also, it is more vocal-oriented and less given to dance than to listening, and its lyrics are much more political than those of either ska or rocksteady.


   2-TONE   

    In the 1970's the rude boy ideals were revitalized and expressed in the fusion of reggae and punk by bands such as the Clash ("Rudie Can't Fail"). From the mid to late 1970's, bands such as The Coventry Automatics chose to use ska instead of reggae because, according to Jerry Dammers, it was easier. The Coventry Automatics later became The Automatics then The Specials AKA The Automatics, then The Special AKA, then The Specials. It took a couple of years, but ska, or blue beat as it was also known, did manage to break though briefly into the British pop mainstream.

    That break-through came to be known as "2-Tone."

    In 1979, Jerry Dammers formed 2-Tone Records. Dammers' desire, like Prince Buster's in the early 1960s, was to create something new. Black and white became a symbol and 2-Tone ska was born. The 2-Tone logo of a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers became the official logo and was named Walt Jabsco. (Walt after Walt Disney... the drawing drawn by Dammers was based upon an early picture of Peter Tosh with the Wailers as seen on the cover of the Wailing Wailers Studio One release).

    In a time of racial riots and the racist National Front organization at its peek, the black and white clothing and racially integrated bands promoted racial unity in a torn country. As with Jamaican ska, the mood of the times was reflected in the lyrics. Bands such as Madness, The Beat (known as the English Beat in the US because there was already band using the name in the States), The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, and the Specials revitalized the classic ska sounds of Prince Buster and other Jamaican ska artists. Songs such as Rough Rider, Madness, Too Hot, One Step Beyond etc... became big hits, maybe even more popular then they were originally, and are still popular today. Another band not on the 2-Tone label but associated closely with the 2-Tone movement is Bad Manners. There was also a cross over of Jamaican ska artists in the 2-Tone bands. (Rico Rodriquez, who sometimes played with the Specials, was trained by Don Drummond and played as a studio musician in Jamaica).

    Eventually, Chrysalis Records bought 2-Tone from Dammers, leaving him the right to sign new bands. The 2-Tone artists at one time or another included: The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, Rico Rodriquez, The Bodysnatchers, Special AKA, and The Beat. There was also a single from the New Wave artist, Elvis Costello. The Costello single I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down became tied up in legal fights and was never sold. Copies were given away to fans at Costello shows. Costello produced the first Specials LP and was a guest singer and producer on the Nelson Mandela single by the Special AKA in 1984. In spite of running a reputable label, by 1985 the 2-Tone label was falling apart; Dammers was broke and in debt to Chrysalis and the dawning of a new era ended.

    Two Tone bands may have been the most popular from 1978-85 however they were not the only ones playing ska. Others included The Tigers, Ska City Rockers, The Akrylykz (with Roland Gift on Tenor Sax who later joined ex-Beat members Cox and Steele as singer for Fine Young Cannibals), The Employees, The Piranhas, and many more.



   THE MODERN SOUND   

    This is not your daddy's ska!

    With the demise, but not death of 2-Tone, ska became thin but not obsolete. Carrying on the tradition of combining the ska beat with pop, rock and worldbeat were The Toasters (once releasing under the band name Not Bob Marley), Bim Skala Bim, The Untouchables, and Fishbone.

    Today's version of ska exists in many forms combining almost every type of conceivable style with that ska beat. Bands such as The Chris Murray Combo, Dave Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7, Jump with Joey, Hepcat, Ocean 11, Let's Go Bowling, The Slackers, Los Hooligans, Mobtown, See Spot and the NY Ska Jazz Ensemble, stay close to the Jamaican roots. Operation Ivy, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Janitors Against Apartheid, etc. utilize punk to create ska-core. Regatta 69, Filibuster, Urban Blight, and others depend heavily on reggae/rocksteady. Punch the Clown, Undercover S.K.A., etc. remain closer to the 2-Tone style and sound. Interesting other styles include Florida's Pork Pie Tribes integration of traditional Irish folk (similar to The Trojans), and the Blue Meanies use of Klezmore. Then there are bands like The Brownies that combine it all!

    Though the sound may have changed over the years, some say for the worse, several aspects haven't changed. Ska has been a major influence on the young. Most ska shows are "all ages shows" and are inexpensive to accommodate this. But... most important of all, ska remains a harmonious unification of many types of musical styles and the people who love it.



THE NEW YORK TIMES

    The Sound of New York: Ska.  Ska?  Yes, Ska.  By Neil Strauss ©1995 The New York Times

    NEW YORK - The hunt for thriving regional music scenes has become an important one in the record business. Music labels in New York regularly send talent scouts to places like San Diego and Louisville, KY., to make deals with new cadres of bands hoping to replicate the success of the Seattle grunge scene that spawned Nirvana and Soundgarden and the Berkeley, CA., punk scene that produced Green Day and Rancid.

    What most of these record companies do not consider, however, is that for a dozen years a scene has slowly been expanding right on their doorstep, and it is close to exploding. It is perhaps the only underground musical movement that New York can now call its own. T-shirts in record stores and cover artwork on compact discs proudly proclaim it in large letters: NYC SKA.

    Ska is an odd-looking word: Short, punchy, almost funny. So is the music at times, a light, bouncy, horn-infused grandfather of reggae. (The word tself comes from the sound a guitar makes.) Ska has arrived in three musical waves, beginning in Jamaica in the 1950s and '60s as a homegrown version of rhythm-and-blues performed by collectives of former jazz musicians like the Skatalites. The music traveled to England along with Jamaican blue-collar laborers, quickening its tempo as it mixed with punk and working class youth sounds in the 1970s. A second wave of interracial ska bands, including the Specials, the Selecter and the English Beat, first appeared on England's Two-Tone label, registering in America as a quick spark on the pop charts.

    But that spark slowly ignited an international fire as New Yorkers like Rob (Bucket) Hingley (a veteran of the English movement) and Jeff Baker not only started bands like the Toasters and the Boilers, but also helped to establish a solid underground network, connecting ska groups in New York with ones in Brazil, Japan, Germany, Hawaii and elsewhere through newsletters, fan magazines and record labels.

    "It was New York that galvanized the national scene with bands like the Toasters touring," said Hingley, who runs Moon, the premier ska label in the United States, in addition to playing guitar and singing in the 12-year-old Toasters. "The music really hooks people once they finally hear it. First you meet a kid at a concert, next they have a band, then they're opening up for you and the next thing you know, you're putting out a record of theirs."

    Five years ago,ska concerts in New York City were strictly underground events, where green-haired punks, skinheads and stylish ska fans known as rude boys danced to the holy triumvirate of New York ska bands: The Toasters, the Scofflaws and the NY Citizens. Now there are concerts every weekend at downtown clubs like Wetlands, New Music Cafe, the Cooler and Coney Island High, and the audience is a broad, multiracial mix, where hippies meet skinheads and college jocks dance with rude boys.

    "You used to know everybody in the scene in New York, if not personally, at least by face," said Baker, a former member of the hardcore band Murphy's Law who now plays in the ska bands Skinnerbox and the Stubborn All-Stars. "Now I look around and I see almost no one I know. It's not exclusively a rude boy and skinhead thing now. There are people from 15 to 50 at the shows. And I know why: It's the only music that makes me dance without thinking about it."

    Bands and More Bands

    Chris Zahn, who books concerts at Wetlands in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York, said he had noticed not only an expanding audience for ska, but also an increasing number of people playing the music.

    "What we have to do is package the ska shows, turn them into multiband nights with five or six groups," Zahn said. "There just seem to be bands coming out of nowhere. I'm getting tapes from all over the coast that even people involved in the ska community have never heard of. I had a ska band from Venezuela here the other night dropping off their tape, and there's an Argentine band interested in playing here."

    "But as popular as ska is getting, it's still surprising how many people don't know it," he added. "On a typical Friday, we get tons of phone calls about what's playing. When we say it's a ska show, there's always a pause and then we hear: 'Ska? What is ska?' We've gone so far as to say, 'Think of it as Jewish reggae: Imagine 'Hava Nagilah' and then put some island rhythms in there."

    Not every club in New York has such an open attitude toward ska. "I don't book ska shows anymore," said the manager of one club, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. "If there aren't fights inside, you have nearby restaurants and neighbors complaining about skinheads loitering around with 40-ounce beer bottles in their hands." But other club bookers and concertgoers say that fighting at ska shows is becoming a rarity. The attitude of ska music has always been one of having fun in the face of oppression, as encapsulated in a warning made famous by the Jamaican legend Prince Buster: "Enjoy yourself. It's later than you think."

    At Wetlands this month, when the New York band the Slackers opened for the English Two-Tone band the Selecter, the scene was peaceful and friendly. With fast, shuffling guitar-strumming, infectious drumming on the offbeat and a horn section worthy of a '60s soul revue, the music had even the most awkward of club denizens skanking, or bouncing from leg to leg and swinging their arms.

    Where most rock bands get by with three or four members, ska bands may have as many as a dozen. In addition to guitars, bass and drums, they often have an entire horn section. These groups sometimes find older players from the jazz or Latin music worlds; other times they recruit young people who have just graduated from their high school jazz band. Either way it makes for eclectic music. At 11 members, the Slackers are among the more diverse and unpredictable bands in New York.

    There are many different styles of ska being played today, but the main schism is between the bands that try to blend it with punk and hardcore music and the traditionalists who look back to Jamaica for a purer sound. It is this first style that fans and record executives alike predict will make ska part of the fabric of popular music.

    The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, from Boston, performed this summer on Lollapalooza, the alternative-rock package tour, exposing new audiences to high-energy ska-core, as the group's hard, fast hybrid is sometimes called.  More recently the California punk band Rancid (which was formed from the ashes of Operation Ivy, a ska-influenced band) put out a ska single called "Time Bomb," which has been played heavily on MTV and pop radio.  But the Slackers have their own dream of a slower, rootsier ska finding success. "The more modern stuff is what they're expecting to break through in the wake of Rancid," said Marcus Geard, who plays bass in the Slackers at night and delivers trees during the day. "But I think the VH1 audience is a perfect traditional ska audience. I think they dig the groove and the vibe more; they're more sophisticated and don't get put off by Latin and jazz influences. The beat's infectious, and then the other influences make it more interesting."

    Investing in a Genre

    Profile Records in New York has become one of the biggest American record labels to make an investment in New York ska. Its rock division, Another Planet, recently signed the Stubborn All-Stars, a rotating New York super group with an old-time sound featuring members of the Slackers, the Toasters, the Insteps and Skinnerbox, along with the tenor saxophonist from the original Skatalites.  The label has also signed the Insteps and is courting one of the New York ska scene's brightest hopes, Mephiskapheles.

    "Ska is probably the biggest underground network going right now," said Fred Feldman, the general manager of Another Planet records. "Moon Records has a 15,000-name direct-marketing list, and the Toasters are selling at least 25,000 to 30,000 records now, most of it through nontraditional retail outlets. I think the bigger labels are still waiting to see what happens with this Rancid song and to see how Green Day does with the ska band it signed to its 510 label, the Dancehall Crashers. If any of it becomes huge, then you'll see a feeding frenzy."

    Many bands, however, remain skeptical. For a long time some musical pundits have written off ska as creatively defunct without ever having listened to the stylistic extremes of the music, which range from the swing- and bebop-influenced instrumentals of the New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble to the industrial electronic ska of World Service. As Baker said, "One of the strengths of ska is that the foundation is so simple but so effective that it can endure a lot of changes but still maintain a relationship to the original style." Nonetheless, Mikal Reich of Mephiskapheles added: "Ska is almost the marketing kiss of death. We've been talking to record labels and they're always telling us they don't know how to market ska; they don't know who to sell it to. I used to think people in the record industry were barracudas and would jump on anything. Here you've got Rancid with a ska single in MTV's 'Buzz Bin,' and I still have to spell ska to people over the phone."

    Steve Shafer, who is in charge of promotion at Moon, speculates that one reason for Ska's obscurity is that it is stereotyped as a revival. "What happened with ska was that the Two-Tone revival was labeled as a rehash of the Jamaican sound, and critics couldn't see it as a reexamination and reinvention of that kind of music," he said.  "There was punk and anger and frustration in it. And now it's still growing and going off in different directions: Ska punk, ska-core, rootsy stuff that sounds like it came out of the '60s. We have our 'Spawn of Skarmageddon' compilation coming out, and there are 43 bands on it from all over the US, and none of them sound the same."

    Beyond the Clubs

    Ska is not just a club event in New York anymore. In February, Moon Records opened a store in New York's East Village, selling records, T-shirts and books. It also serves as a general clearinghouse for information on concerts and on ska lore, usually courtesy of a counterman, Noah Wildman, who is working on a book on ska.

    And for more than a decade, rude boys up and down the East Coast have been buying their Doc Marten boots and Fred Perry shirts at 99X, also in the East Village. Rude boys were originally unemployed youths-turned-gangsters from Jamaica's shantytowns that dressed in the latest clean-cut fashions to intimidate and impress.  Their narrow-brimmed porkpie hats, close-shaven haircuts, wraparound sunglasses, skinny ties and sharkskin suits with tapered legs have survived in ska wear today, as have the checkerboard patterns (symbolizing black and white unity) of England's Two-Tone look.

    "Whenever there's a big show in New York, the store gets packed because all these people come into town from all over," said Alex Pietropinto, who works at 99X. "Their style hasn't changed. You can look at pictures of people 30 years ago and see a rude boy now, and they look the same." Another factor that has helped ska endure is the word itself. The word "ska" can be combined with almost anything. There have been Skalapalooza tours and Skampilation records; this weekend, there's a Skalloween concert in the East Village, and in December, New York is to have its first Skanukkah concert.

    "We thought we'd exhausted all the variations we could come up with on the word ska," Zahn of Wetlands said. "But then last week we booked a Skanksgiving show."



The Roots of Ska    |    Rocksteady    |    2-Tone    |    The Modern Sound    |    NY Times Article

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