The History of Ska

Ska (pronounced /ˈskɑː/, Jamaican [skja]) is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. 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. Music historians typically divide the history of ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960s (First Wave), the English 2 Tone ska revival of the late 1970s (Second Wave) and the third wave ska movement, which started in the 1980s (Third Wave) and rose to popularity in the US in the 1990s.

After World War II, Jamaicans purchased radios in increasing numbers and were able to hear rhythm and blues music from Southern United States cities such as New Orleans by artists such as Fats Domino and Louis Jordan. 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 US. To meet the demand for that music, entrepreneurs such as Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems. As jump blues and more traditional R&B began to ebb in popularity in the early 1960s, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of the genres. The style was of bars made up of four triplets, similar to that of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" by Nina Simone, 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 3rd beat of each 4-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.

The first ska recordings were created at facilities such as 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." Because the newly-independent Jamaica didn't ratify the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works until 1994 copyright was not an issue, which created a large number of cover songs and reinterpretations. Jamaican musicians such as The Skatalites often recorded instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles songs, Motown and Atlantic soul hits, movie theme songs, or surf rock instrumentals. Bob Marley's band The Wailers covered the Beatles' "And I Love Her," and radically reinterpreted Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

2 Tone

2 Tone (or Two Tone) was created in England in the late 1970s by fusing elements of ska, punk rock, rocksteady, reggae and pop. It was called 2 Tone because most of the bands were signed to the record label 2 Tone Records at some point. Other record labels associated with the 2 Tone sound were Stiff Records and Go Feet Records. Within the history of ska music, 2 Tone is classified as its second wave, the product of a time when the New Wave music of the early 1980s stirred nostalgia for vintage music. It is the musical precursor of the third wave ska scene of the 1990s.

The 2 Tone sound was developed by young musicians (mostly based in the West Midlands area) who grew up hearing 1960s Jamaican music. They combined 1960s ska with influences from contemporary punk and pop music. Bands considered part of the 2 Tone genre include: The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers.

The music term 2 Tone was coined by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. Dammers, with the assistance of Horace Panter, also created the Walt Jabsco logo to represent the 2 Tone movement. It was based on an early album cover photo of Peter Tosh, and included an added black-and-white check pattern.

3rd Wave

In the early 1990s, bands influenced by the 2 Tone ska revival started forming in the United States and other countries. This revival included post-punk ska bands such as The Uptones in Berkeley, California and The Toasters and Mighty Mighty Bosstones on the East Coast. Many third wave ska bands played ska punk, which is characterized by brass instruments, a heavily-accented offbeat, and usually a much faster, punk rock-inspired tempo (though the R&B influences are played down). Some third wave bands played ska-core, which blends ska with hardcore punk. However, several third wave ska bands played in a more traditional 1960s-influenced style.

On the East Coast, the first well-known ska revival band was The Toasters, who played in a 2 Tone-influenced style and helped pave the way for the third wave ska movement. In 1981, The Toasters' frontman Robert "Bucket" Hingley created Moon Ska Records, which became the biggest American ska record label.

The Uptones jump-started the Bay Area California ska scene in 1981 when the band, consisting of Berkeley High School students, went on to play sold-out shows throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for seven years. Their 1984 self-titled record was released on Howie Klein's 415 label. The Uptones' punk-influenced ska has been cited as inspiration by California bands, Operation Ivy, Rancid, and Sublime. In 2002 The Uptones reformed and continue to record and play live shows on the west coast.

Orange County, California had one of the biggest and most influential third wave ska scenes, which originated in the early 1990s. For about a decade, Orange County was the starting point for many successful third wave ska bands. Some of these ska bands had a great deal of commercial success, albeit short-lived. The Hippos and Save Ferris enjoyed commercial success with the albums "Heads Are Gonna Roll" and "It Means Everything", respectively. Both acts were featured in several major motion picture soundtracks during the 1990s. The Aquabats have remained one of the few original Orange County ska bands who still play today. However, the band generally doesn't play in a ska style in their most recent release, Charge!!. The same applies to Goldfinger, who, despite once being an active forerunner in the scene, dropped the ska sound in 2001.

In the early 1990s, the Ska Parade radio show helped popularize the term third wave ska and promoted many Southern California ska-influenced bands, such as Sublime, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, and Let's Go Bowling. In 1993, the ska-core band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones signed with Mercury Records and appeared in the film Clueless, with their first mainstream hit "Where'd You Go?" Around this time, many ska-influenced songs became hits on mainstream radio, including "Spiderwebs" by No Doubt, "Sell Out" by Reel Big Fish (which reached #10 in the Billboard Modern Rock charts in 1997) and "The Impression That I Get" by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

In 1994, Matt Collyer of The Planet Smashers' founded the third wave ska label Stomp Records. In 1996, Mike Park of Skankin' Pickle founded Asian Man Records, which was the biggest west coast United States third wave ska label. Also in 1996, the band Less Than Jake started the record label Fueled by Ramen, which featured many lesser known third wave ska bands, and later became the home of successful pop-punk bands like Fall Out Boy. In 1997, Brett Gurewitz and Tim Armstrong founded Hellcat Records, which mostly featured punk bands, but also featured several ska and ska punk acts.

By the late 1990s, mainstream interest in third wave ska bands waned as other music genres gained momentum. Moon Ska Records folded in 2000, but Moon Ska Europe, a licensed affiliate based in Europe, continued operating in the 2000s, and was later relaunched as Moon Ska World. In 2003, Hingley launched a new ska record label, Megalith Records.

Ska Punk

Ska punk is a fusion music genre that combines ska and punk rock. Ska punk achieved its greatest popularity in the United States in the late 1990s, although there has also been a following worldwide. Several ska punk bands achieved mainstream commercial success, which in some cases continued into the 2000s.

The characteristics of ska punk vary, due to the fusion of contrasting genres. The more punk- influenced style often features faster tempos, guitar distortion, onbeat punk-style interludes (usually the chorus), and nasal, gruff or shouted vocals. The more ska-influenced style of ska punk features a more developed instrumentation and a cleaner vocal and musical sound. The common instrumentation includes electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, brass instruments (such as trombones or trumpets), and sometimes an organ.

Ska-core or Skacore is a subgenre of ska punk, blending ska with hardcore punk. One of the first appearances of the term ska-core was in the title of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones album Ska-Core, the Devil, and More.

Ska and punk rock were first combined during the 2 Tone movement of the late 1970s, by bands such as The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, and Madness. The fusion of the two genres became more prevalent in the 1980s, during the third wave of ska.

Operation Ivy, formed in 1987, received positive responses in the East Bay area of San Francisco, and were approached by major labels before breaking up in 1989.The Mighty Mighty Bosstones appeared in the movie Clueless, and their 1997 album Let's Face It went platinum. Less than Jake's song "We're All Dudes" appeared in the 1997 Nickelodeon film Good Burger. Save Ferris appeared in the film 10 Things I Hate About You, and Reel Big Fish appeared on BASEketball. Buck-O-Nine's music appeared in the films The Big Hit and Homegrown.

Between 1999 and 2001, many ska punk bands began to break up, while fans of the genre turned their attention to other music genres. Some bands that were originally part of the ska punk genre, such as The Aquabats, and Mustard Plug continued with less emphasis on horns and traditional ska rhythms, and have not achieved the same commercial success that they experienced earlier in their careers.


Rude boy

Rude boy, rudeboy, rudie, rudi or rudy were common terms for juvenile delinquents and criminals in 1960s Jamaica, and have since been used in other contexts. During the late-1970s 2 Tone ska revival in England, the terms rude boy, rude girl and other variations were often used to describe fans of that genre, and this new definition continued to be used in the third wave ska subculture. In the United Kingdom in the 2000s, the terms rude boy and rude girl have become slang which mainly refer to people (largely youths) who are involved in street culture, similar to Gangsta or Badman.

The first rude boys in the 1960s were associated with the poorer sections of Kingston, Jamaica, where ska, then rocksteady were the most popular forms of music. They dressed in the latest fashions at dancehalls and on the streets. Many of these rude boys started wearing sharp suits, thin ties, and pork pie or Trilby hats; inspired by United States gangster movies, jazzmusicians and soul music artists. In that time period, disaffected unemployed Jamaican youths sometimes found temporary employment from sound system operators to disrupt competitors' dances (leading to the term dancehall crasher). This and other street violence became an integral part of the rude boy lifestyle, and gave rise to a culture of political gangviolence in Jamaica. As the Jamaican diaspora grew in the United Kingdom during the 1960s, rude boy music and fashion, as well as the gang mentality, became a strong influence on the skinhead subculture.


A skinhead is a member of a subculture that originated among working class youths in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, and then spread to other parts of the world. Named for their close-cropped or shaven heads, the first skinheads were greatly influenced by West Indian (specifically Jamaican) rude boys and British mods, in terms of fashion, music and lifestyle. Originally, the skinhead subculture was primarily based on those elements, not politics or race. Since then, however, attitudes toward race and politics have become factors in which some skinheads align themselves. The political spectrum within the skinhead scene ranges from the far right to the far left, although many skinheads are apolitical. Fashion-wise, skinheads range from a clean-cut 1960s mod-influenced style to less-strict punk- and hardcore-influenced styles. More information about Skinhead culture can be found here.

Current Fasion

Ska fans have three main ways they dress, as of 2010, they will dress in black and white suits,punk-style clothing, or Jamaican Rastafarian-colored type style. The Jamaicans and English made suits, moonstop booths and pork-pie hats trend in the ska scene. Checkered clothing is now widely popular in the punk rock scene. Since the emergence of Ska Punk, the two fashions have fused among young fans.



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