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.
10. Less Than Jake – “Look What Happened”
Representing the Sunshine State in all its glory, the Gainesville based Less Than Jake have been flying the flag for the Florida ska-punk scene since the early nineties.
Although “Look What Happened” is best known for being featured on the band’s most commercially successful album Anthem in 2003, the original version of the track, with a much more ska-centric sound, first appeared three years previously, on their album Borders & Boundaries, released on the independent label Fat Wreck Chords.
Featuring a totally tantalizing brass section and shared vocals between lead singer and guitarist Chris DeMakes and bassist Roger Lima, Less Than Jake’s adolescent tale of earning to escape a dead end town has become a fan favourite, despite never being released as a single. Created in the band’s signature style, “Look What Happened” includes the fast pace and melodic elements of the favoured pop-punk sound of the early 2000s, but with the added bonus of the jazzy, jubilant horns of ska.
Despite parting ways with their long-time drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello in 2018, Less Than Jake, with nearly 30 years under their belts, continue to crank out youthful ska-punk anthems, keeping the crowd moving to a third wave ska sound they helped craft.