Despite its small size, the island of Jamaica has always been a hotbed of musical ingenuity, with its charismatic performers and unique island sounds. In the 1950s, Jamaica’s only national radio station began playing the latest jazz and R&B singles from the United States, which, although popular with locals, were expensive to import and buy on vinyl, making them largely inaccessible.
After forming bands and rerecording popular American songs, locals moved to writing and recording their own music, combining elements of American R&B with Jamaican mento (a folk music blending African and European elements), allowing a new signature sound to emerge.
This new up-tempo music was named “ska” after the short chop sound of the guitars, and, with the addition of piano, and a boisterous horn section, it proved highly popular in dance halls, where patrons would “skank” the night away.
Although ska’s original heyday was short lived, having reached its peak in the mid-sixties, it directly paved the way for Jamaican rocksteady and reggae.
As racially inclusive music, ska bands have participated in anti-racist initiatives such Rock Against Racism in Britain, and Ska Against Racism in the USA. Performers are keen to pay homage to those that came before, often covering or reimagining classic songs by the Jamaican artists who cultivated the original ska sound in the first place.