BBC - The Story of Reggae - Ska

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 isnít surprising at all. Kingstonís 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 doesnít 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 Dammerís black & white themed logo that were the emblems for a scene that launched Madness, The Beat and Ö Bad MannersÖ.

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

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