Before & After Reggae: Ska, Ska, Ska

Former Premier Norman Manley shows off his ska skills at the 1964 “Midnight Masquerader” dance held at the Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston.

The year 1962 will long be remembered, not only as the birth year of Jamaica as an independent nation, but also as the birth year of Jamaica’s foundation music – ska. Ska was indeed Jamaica’s first legitimate ‘pop’ music form, from which all others like rocksteady, reggae, and dancehall evolved.

For five years, between 1962 and 1966, the music called ska became the heartbeat of a nation in transition. With its exciting and almost hypnotic beat, it rocked dancehalls as hearts throbbed in almost synchronous motion to its infectious beat which was inextricably entangled with the birth of the nation.

Somehow it seemed that the national exhilaration of freshly minted independence gave musicians this extra driving force to create this distinctive offbeat sound, although many claim it was a spontaneous happening.

How the name ska came about still remains a mystery. One theory states that Studio One double bassist Cluet Jonson, while instructing Ernie Rangling, told him to play it like ‘ska ska’ in reference to the sound he wanted to hear and the name stuck. Lester Sterling, Skatalites saxophonist, had a similar story while Ranglin claimed the word was coined by musicians in reference to the scratching guitar strum on the ska riff.

Ska went on to become Jamaica’s first internationally recognised popular music expression.

It is also remarkable to note that the birth of ska coincided with the birth or emergence of the careers of several Jamaican ska vocalists who, in turn, helped to popularise the genre. Foremost among these were Jimmy Cliff, Stranger Cole, Delroy Wilson, Bob Marley, Prince Buster, the Blues Busters, The Maytals and The Skatalites band.

Read more:

– 1962 Brings The Birth Of A Nation And Ska

– Story of the Song: ‘Jamaica Ska’ Lifts Beat Over Barbed Wire

– Musicians Play Around With ‘Transitional Ska’

– Telling The Story Of Ska

– The Skatalites Embodied The Ska Era

– ‘Blue Beat’ Brought Jamaican Ska To UK Shores


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