The Unexpected Origins of Ska

What makes ska, the 2-Tone melody of happiness, make you think of? What is the type of place you visualise when you listen to ska? You probably visualise a London setting, with some white guys in army boots who are jumping round and about with happy faces. Despite this being the stereotype most people think of when thinking of ska, it says nothing about its actual origin. Ska is not from the UK, rather, it is from Jamaica! It originated there as an early Jamaican form of rhythm and blues in the late 1950s to the early 1960s. There, it fused with a shuffling rhythm as well as with Caribbean folk influences such as the Cuban mambo and Jamaican mento.

         Over time, it became more and more like the 2-Tone, locomotive ska as we know it now. Saxophone, trumpets, trombones and the like began supporting the other parts of the band by playing the same riff offbeat. This forms something called the ska chop, which is presumably coined by Ernest Ranglin. Here is a perfect example of said early ska by Ernest Ranglin, a song from 1965 called Skalvouvia:

The happy, celebratory tone of ska was likely nfluenced by the Jamaican independence from British rule in 1962. A staple of this is the band Skatalites, with their album Ska Authentic, from 1967.

What can be noted here is that this ska is way more jazzy than one would expect. The rhythm is very characteristic to ska, but it’s leading melody played by the saxophone sometimes gives in to jazzy vibes.

After this, ska had four international waves from the 1960s to and including the 1990s. Here can be seen how it evolved into and together with many other genres, amongst which punk, reggae, and eventually dub. But those are topics for another blog.