Jamaica Ska

Since I was quite often asked about the roots of SKA I wrote the following history of SKA which is shortened but still too long.

From Mento / Calypso to Ska

SKA, the sound which is the base of Rocksteady and Reggae was developed in the late 50`s in Jamaica. It came out of Mento (Jamaican Calypso), Rhythm & Blues and Jazz. There is a very interesting Calypso Box made by Trojan Record which has the only disadvantage that it doesn`t explain the difference between Mento and Calypso. In this way we will have to die without this information...

Jaimaica`s own



American Rhythm & Blues (R &B) was the most popular music among the porrer people in Jamaica in the late fivtys. R &B  was played by big Soundsystems.

       Soundsystems where Discjockeys with mobile Discotheques who always played the lastest Rhythm & Blues from the US. They did lots off efforts to be the number one in that  competitition.

      Among the most well known owner of these Soundsystems were people like Duke Reid, Sir Coxsone, King Edwards, Rocket, Sabastian and Prince Buster. These                              owner of Soundsystems weren` t real frends .   To spy on there competitors records and technology was as usual as they even fought each other because of being competitors.

Jamaican had to produce their own music

While Rhythm & Blues was already out of fashion in the United States it was still very popular in Jamaica. For that reason the owner of the Soundsystems had problems of bying new R & B hits. In order to have new hits the owner of the Soundsystems had to start producing their own  R & B Songs. While they started with cover versions of famous American R & B stars, their music was more and more influenced by Jamaicas own musical traditions. In this way the owner of the Soundsystems developed their own Jamaican SKA. One of the reasons that they d3eveloped their own jamaican Ska music was the problem that the musicians had different musical roots. While some of the musicians basically played Mento, the Jamaican version of Calypso (e.g. Laurel Aitken) some other musicians like the musician of the later called Skatalites already had a good reputation for making Jazz music. Most of the Ska musicians learned their skill in one of the churches spread all over Jamaica. The most famous school where Jamaican Musicians learned their music instruments was the Alpha Boy School.

Other reasons for developing their own Type of music was the migration into cities of the poorer jamaican people and the national independance of Jamaica 1962. The Maytals

Why the sound was then finally called SKA is not very clearly. One of the variants is that Clue J one of the producers of SKA music, explained how the guitar sounds. He said it has to go like „SKA SKA SKA".

Political and social changes in Jamaica

The sound was also affected by the political changes of the 60`s, when space flights and music from “Spaghettiwestern”, which influenced the topics. The early SKA bands sang about people like Al Capone and other gangsters and underdogs. A rather strict Jamaican judge, who entered the Jamaican history as Judge Dread was one of the themes as well.

Due to the bad living conditions and the bad future prospects of the cities a new  youth culture arose which partly consisted of gangs. These young man called themselves “Rude Boys”, and where armed with knives and pistols. That gang violence is partly glamourised in Ska songs and partly rejected. In some songs they sang that the Rudys have to lay down their weapons. Interesting films about that periode are „The Harder They Come "and „Rockers" and the records „Tougher Than Tough "and „Rudies All Around" by Trojan records.

Jamaican emigration to Great Britain

Many Jamaican families emigrated from Jamaica to Great Britain because of the bad living conditions in the late 60`s. In this way SKA music came into the British cities where it met the dissatisfied and often unemployed British youth. British working class kids liked the cool and tough manners of the Jamaican Rudeboys. Besides they felt them selves oppressed by the middle class and the upper class which was a bit similar to the bad conditions in shanty towns. At that time Mods where splitted into different groups – some liked the glamour and changed into Hippys while Hard Mods  adopted clothes of the Jamaican Rudeboys and mixed their style with typical British working clothes and muted in this way to skinheads.

Skinhead Reggae

Some of the musician in Jamaica started to sing songs for their new fans in Great Britain and sang about the life of Skinheads in the late 60`s.

Examples of skinhead Reggae are for example the album “Skinhead Moonstomp” made by Symarip, Reggae Fever made by The Pioneers, Night At The Hop made by Derrick Morgan, and skinhead Train made by Laurel Aitken. There are in any case many songs made in this way during that period. I particularly recommend the album CD "She`s my scorcher" from Old School Records and the “Trojan skinhead Reggae box set "made by Trojan Records. The CD "She`s my more scorcher" has a very much responding Cover as well... Something for lonely nights...

The Wailing Wailers / or The

Well-known artists were at that time:

Skatalites - the “house band” of the Studio One. Apart from instrumental SKA songs they played for many singers to accompany them to produce their albums. Basically the wanted to call them self Satellites, since at this time space flights stood in the interest of the entire world. Particularly to emphasize is thereby the trombone player Don Drummond, who composed some the songs of the Skatalites and played his trombone ingeniously. There are still lot`s of 2-tone Ska bands who sing about Don Drummond, the ingenious trombone player and composer.  Don Drummond was arrested, because he was found guilty by the court for murdering (stabbing) his girlfriend, Marguerita Mahfood, a dancer known as the ' Rhumba Queen ' at the New Year's Day 1965. Don Drummond died few years later on 6 May 1969 at a brain tumor in the prison. Don Drummond, the most well-known trombone player of the Skatalites at the age of only 37 years.

Prince Buster, an ex boxer and owner of a famous sound system.
Many 2-tone Ska Bands named them self after Prince Buster because of his genious songs. Thus „Fatty” "Buster Bloodfessel, the singer of Bad Manners, and the 2-tone Band Madness used their coverversion „Madness" as a name and also the German band „Busters " to sound completely like Prince Buster.

Laurel Aitken, who died 2005 played until his dead all over Europa. He was narly 80 years old and still played life with young bands to satisfy his fans. Laurel Aitken was like a big black grandpa. Laurel Aitken made a whole album in Spanish in 1999. Some years ago he sang with No Sports the song „„Muss I denn zum Städele hinaus".

The Maytals or Toots and the Maytals is another band that must be mentioned in that context. The inimitable three-singing, and ingenious words are just wonderful. When Toots and the Maytals  plays life at a concert everybody feels a kind of spirit. In addition they play songs from nearly 40 years music history. The Maytals was the first Band which mentioned the word “Reggae”, when there was no Reggae invented during that time. „Do the Reggay” appeared already in 1966!

Another band that helped to make Jamaican music famous where the Soul Boys or The Wailing Wailers with Robert Marley, Peter McIntosh and Neville Livingston. Naturally Bob Marley didn`t have dreadlocks, but short hair like all SKA musician during that time.


Most Jamaica Ska records were published by the label "Blue Beat” In England.
Another famous British record label was Trojan Records. Trojan Skins named them self after that old British Ska-label..

After the Oktoberfest I`ll try to translate the 2-tone story back to English...
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