Designed for dancing
. Ska music started in the late 50's, early 60's, as an offshoot of the popular jazz
and big band
craze at the time, combining the songs and styles of people like Count Basie
and Duke Ellington
(ever notice how many versions of 'Caravan
' are out there?) with mento
and other Caribbean
musical forms to create a sound that was definitively Jamaica
n (hence the 4/4 time with accent on the downbeat
Ska was always political; it represented musical freedom, good times, everything the British weren't. Compare the Skatalites instrumental, freedom sound, or Independence, by Laurel Aitken. Clubs began to pop up around 1954, and to draw crowds they began to sponsor local artists like Prince Buster, and even record their own records. Competition was hot, and dancehalls started hiring rude boys to invade rival clubs to steal records and artists; dance hall crashers.
Early roots-ska fans weren't too noteworthy, but optimistic about independence from Britain, and the Freedom Sound of Jamaica and the accompanying dance, the ska (fast but controlled, not like skanking at all), being created around them. They were soon driven out by waves of rude boys, usually poorer youth, pissed off and unemployed, but dressed sharp in suits and porkpie hats, with shaved heads (hah! how many skins today know their fashion started in Jamaica!?) and pants typically way too short, many involved in the ganja trade; hooligans. Desmond Dekker:
When rude boy out 'pon probation
Dem a' loot, dem a' shoot, dem a' bomb up the town
Local politics stepped in during 1962, when gun laws were passed, and the rudies became a target of popular sentiment. Prince Buster wrote his song, Judge Dread, about the harsh judgements passed against them, and his recording company sponsored a small bunch of rude boys called the Wailers, fronted by Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh and a rudie named Bob Marley (side note: they were great, they had a horn section, they shaved their heads...early Wailers is some of the best stuff around; check out the early Soul Rebel, Simmer Down or Hooligans).
Ska started to die down in 1964; a heat wave hit the island, and the dancehalls became less popular. The ska was too fast for the heat, and so Rocksteady and Reggae were born. Not until 1970, when jobless waves of rude boys moved on to England to find work, did second wave ska arise.
Short list of early ska artists/bands: Lord Creator, The Skatalites, Prince Buster (still around, saw him a few years ago at a ska festival in Potsdam), Laurel Aitken, the Wailers, Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals (fathers of vocal ska), Heptones.