Ska Music
Jamaican to the Core

When Jamaicans got a taste of ska music on the verge of their independence in 1962, they just couldn't get enough of it. It was a different sound from anything heard before, the first uniquely Jamaican music to be widely recorded.

Radios and record players became popular in Jamaica in the 1950's. Jamaicans became more exposed to American music,and developed a liking for American rhythm and blues.

Large sound systems developed to fill the country's appetite for the latest American music. Record playing equipment, records and crew went in trucks to dancesall over Jamaica.

Clement (Sir Coxsone) Dodd and Duke Reid (the Trojan) were the two giant sound system operators of this time. The extreme rivalry between them began in the dancehall,and continuedinto the studio as they both got involved in the recording business.

Joining their ranks as record producers by about 1960, were Leslie Kong and Prince Buster, a singer whose visionfor a truly Jamaican music helpedpush his studio musicians into developing the new sound.

Here's Prince Buster's "Wash Wash", complete with the popular dance moves of the time.

In the early days of the Jamaica music industry, the main output was American style R&B and boogie. When the style in America began to shift to rock and roll, Jamaica went its own way and produced ska music.

It used elements drawn from Jamaican mento, revival and rastafarian drumming, in addition to rhythm and blues, boogie and swing. The afterbeat was stressed instead of the downbeat, and this has been a defining feature of popular Jamaican music since that time.

Many of the early studio musicians were trained instrumentalists, and much of the music was purely instrumental. These musicians were the innovators behind the new music.

Listen here to "Ring of Fire" by the Skatalites. This band comprised some of the finest Jamaican studio musicians of that time, including the brilliant trombonist Don Drummond.

Ska developed in downtown Kingston. It took a while for it to be accepted by the middle and upper classes, but Byron Lee and his band played a great role in promoting this music to the wider society. Eventually the whole country was in a ska frenzy. With the release of Millie Small's "My Bop Lollipop" in England by producer Chris Blackwell in 1964, ska had an international hit.

In addition to "Wash Wash" and "Ring of Fire", some of my favourite hits of that era (which I learned long after the ska period, in case you're trying to guess my age!) are:

Oh Carolina - Folkes Brothers
Carry Go Bring Come - Justin Hines and the Dominoes
Confucius - Don Drummond
Eastern Standard Time - Skatalites
Six and Seven Books of Moses - The Maytals
Hard Man Fe Dead - Prince Buster
Botheration - Justin Hines and the Dominoes

Another great song is one which features the voice of a very young Bob Marley. In 1963 Coxsone Records produced "Simmer Down", which would become the Wailers first hit in 1964.

Some people associate ska music with the optimism of independence. Others think that through the horns, the music expressed the cares of the working class. That the frenzied pace of the music provided a way for them to release the pressures of daily living. I think that maybe there was a bit of both. By the mid 1960's the country was ready for a slower, more brooding music, called rock steady.

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