|Trojan Presents: Ska - 40 Jamaican Rude-Boy Sounds|
Walking Down King Street - Theo Beckford
My Darling Patricia - Owen Gray
Dee's Special - Cecil Lloyd & Dee's Group
(Went To) The Hop - Derrick Morgan
Miss Jamaica - Jimmy Cliff
Housewife's Choice - Derrick & Patsy
Honour Your Mother & Father - Desmond Dekker
Hurricane Hattie - Jimmy Cliff
Forward March - Derrick Morgan
Man To Man - Lord Creator
Exodus Ska - Ernest Ranglin
Judge Not - Bob Marley
Fly right - The Skatalites
King Of Kings - Jimmy Cliff
Sammy Dread - Eric 'Monty' Morris
Come Back - Stranger & Patsy
I Won't Love You Anymore - Keith & Ken
Hoochy Coochy Kai Po - The Four Aces
Oil In My Lamp - Eric 'Monty' Morris
It's You - The Maytals
Tear Up (aka Fat Back) - Byron Lee & The Dragonaires
Beautiful Garden - Eric 'Monty' Morris
Honky Tonk Ska - The Granville Williams Orchestra What A Day - Stranger, Ken & Patsy
Get Up Adinah - Desmond Dekker & The Four Aces
Try Me One More Time - The Charmers
I Won't Let You Go - The Blues Busters
When I Laugh - The Maytals
Frankenstein Ska - Byron Lee & The Dragonaires
You're The One I Love - Winston Samuels
Bonanza Ska - Carlos Malcolm
Wings Of A Dove - The Blues Busters
Never You Change - The Maytals
Out Of space - Tommy McCook & The Supersonics What A Good Woodman - Lee Perry
I'd Rather Be Lonely - David Isaacs
Hi Life (aka High Life) - The Granville Williams Orchestra Rudie Get Plenty - The Spanishtonians
Don't Be A Rude Boy - The Rulers
The Great Wuga-Wuga - Sir Lord Comic & His Cowboys
Jamaica won its independence from the British Empire in 1962. While the
new island nation faced any number of uncertainties, there was one thin
that it was sure about: how to have a party. And it set about doing so
big-style. Alongside the rum bottles, ackee and saltfish, bun and
cheese, crates of beer, cola wine, and more contraband consumable
delights, there was music. This new nation rocked. And what's more, in
1962, it rocked to its own beat: Ska. Here was a music that was entirely
Jamaican and which it would export to the world just as surely as it did
bananas and bauxite. And it was more distinctive than either: you
couldn't grow this music anywhere else or dig it out of the ground. You
had to be Jamaican to feel it.
And feel it you did. Ska developed from US jump R&B, Jazz, nascent Soul music and Mento, the Jamaican folk music that was closer to Calypso than anything else. There were old proverbs, Biblical messages and phrases that went back to the days of slavery in the lyrics. Only in Jamaica could this mixture have melded, and only in Jamaica could it have been delivered at a volume where you feel it all over. Sound systems, the Jamaican invention that were mobile discos before anyone else had thought of them, competed to play this new music louder than the man at the next dance a few doors down. The soundman would deliver his 'set' (equipment) by truck, arriving with a posse of henchmen, 'string it up' (rig up the wiring between the turntable, amplifier, microphone and boastfully large speakers) then proceed to blow the birds out of the trees and the skirts off the dancers with his bass and treble. It was a time of great rivalry, and the sound system owners would literally fight for supremacy: Sir Coxsone Downbeat; Tom The Great Sebastian; Duke Reid the Trojan; King Edwards; all had their followers willing to put flesh and bone in the way of a fist to ensure that the sound system could carry on entertaining the people.
These sound systems began playing romantic R&B and rocking Blues in the 1950s, but by the end of the decade they were taking the local jazz musicians into studios to create their own exclusive records to tempt the dancers. These were largely derivative versions of American songs, or original tunes in a similar style, but around 1960 an off-beat developed in the music played by the local musicians. it owed something to the music that blew in from New Orleans and Miami on the radio, and also something to the admiral Jamaican habit of taking what are often meagre resources and making the most of them. This music was called Ska, after the sound of the guitar that chopped rhythmically through it. It created the first musical stars on the island; singers like Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, Eric 'Monty' Morris and Lord Creator; it gave early breaks to the likes of later heroes like Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker and Lee Perry; it gave a profile to bandleaders such as Byron Lee and Granville Williams, and it made idols of jazz-loving ghetto players like Tommy McCook, Theo Beckford and the Skatalites. given the freedom to express themselves in the studios, these people began the tradition of fierce, exciting Jamaican records that still shocks the world today some 50 years on. Loud, booming, in your face; but also melodic, rhythmically adept and irresistibly sexy, the sound of Ska quickly took over the sound systems to the point where by 1962, there was little else that people wanted to hear and dance to.
Ska's 5 years of supremacy was perfect for a country that sought its own identity; there were British artists that made a similar sound known as Blue Beat, but you only had to hear a proper Ska record to know that it could really only come from Jamaica to be effective. Emerging in Jamaica on labels such as Dragon's Breath, Beverley's, BMN and JJ's, these tunes were unashamedly tough and wild. Bob Marley's 1962 debut 'Judge Not' (Beverley's) delivered a stern rebuke to gossips; Carlos Malcolm's 'Bonanza Ska' (Upbeat) turned a cowboy theme into a stampede; Lee Perry's 'Such A Good Woodman' (JJ's) was lewd and had little to do with a lumberjack; Derek Morgan's 'Forward March' (Beverley's) was a clarion call that struck a chord in a young society that saw the future as only bright; Desmond Dekker's 'Get Up Edina' and 'Honour Your Mother And Father' (Beverley's) set the tone for his future hits in that they mixed advice with wry tales of family life; The Maytals' early 45s, such as 'It's You' and 'Never You Change' (BMN) found the astonishingly mature lead singer Toots delivering all the soul that would ensure his game lasted half a century... you can be certain there was no shortage of talent clamouring to be heard.
The musicians that backed these nascent vocal stars also made the most of their opportunities for a spell in the spotlight. Saxophonist Tommy McCook established himself as a go-to musical director for many producers, The Skatalites' name spread worldwide with jazzy arrangements like 'Fly Right'; guitarist Ernest Ranglin proved himself the equal of many of his American contemporaries with his subtle work on the likes of 'Exodus', a film theme that became a Jamaican standard as well as a fashionable tune for Jazz musicians to cover. All built strong international reputations and their names are uttered with considerable respect today.
More than this, the dancers who packed out the dances at the likes of Forrester's Hall and the Shady Grove in Kingston were hearing songs that they could relate to. The rude-boy phenomenon where roughnecks ran riot - lootin', shootin' and bum-showing, as one lyric put it - was a uniquely Jamaican subject for singers to tackle, and while some offered more reportage, others took a more decisive stance, such as The Rulers, whose 'Don't Be A Rude Boy', made for producer JJ Johnson in 1966, was unambiguously moral in its tone. Other singers' use of traditional lyrics, such as Monty Morris's 'Oil In My Lamp' and 'Sammy Dread', firmly established them as local heroes speaking a language that Jamaicans understood perfectly. And while those dancers were rocking (and definitely not doing the twist, unlike the rest of the planet) to Ska, they were entertained by MCs on the sound system microphones, who offered rudimentary rhymes and sound effects. Rappers and human beatboxers can trace their roots to these pioneers, and they made it onto record to, with Sir Lord Comic's 'The Great Wuga Wuga', made for producers Byron Lee and Ronnie Nasralla being a rare example of star billing for a 'toaster' in these early days for Jamaican music. Jay-z, Nas, Kanye: your roots are here.
While Ska became known elsewhere in the world, with Byron Lee & The Dragonaires appearing in the James Bond movie 'Dr No', and the Skatalites, Millie and Prince Buster all scoring hits overseas, by 1966 there were signs that Jamaican music was changing, with slower, subtler records creeping into favour. It was the start of the short-lived, but still-loved style of music known as Rocksteady, which was more conducive to romantic raving than the all-out attack of Ska. By 1967 Ska was passé on the island although it still retained a following in the UK, where Mods and early Skinheads enjoyed shuffling to it at the youth clubs. Ska was effectively dead in Jamaican music until the late 1970s, when there was a half-hearted attempt to revive interest in it at Studio 11, a label that specialised in remixing and revoicing its oldies with varying degrees of success. but that wasn't the end of the story. The British youth cult of 2Tone reinvigorated Ska and made stars of The Specials, Madness and The Beat, bringing back the heavy heavy monster sound that Jamaica gave to the planet in the early 1960s. The Skatalites returned to critical acclaim and world tours in the 1980s. Ska bands still thrive worldwide. And of course, many of Ska's stars enjoyed lasting fame that for a fortunate few, continues to this day. Jamaica's original party rhythm, the music that delighted in the island's independence and expressed its new-found self-confidence, still rocks the world.
Bright, joyful and unashamedly upbeat, the sound of today for early-60s Jamaica's turned out to be the sound of the future too, because dancers and music lovers know that this music always delivers a great time and lifts the spirit. And who can resist that? So kick back the carpet, put on your penny loafers and get ready to party. It's 1962 again and Jamaica is independent and ready to have a ball. The music that spirit delivered is something to be celebrated nearly 60 years on - so turn up your sound system and let the world know it's Ska time. Forever.
Ian McCann - Editor of Record Collector magazine
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