Ska

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Ska Legend

Ska is a musical style that emerged in Jamaica in the late 1950s.

It is characterized by a rhythmic sound recognizable by the setback marked by the guitar, keyboards and sometimes brass instruments. It is distributed internationally thanks in particular to the Island Records label by Chris Blackwell. Laurel Aitken, Toots & The Maytals or Desmond Dekker & The Aces and The Skatalites were pioneers of this musical style.

At the beginning of the 1950s in Jamaica, an island then dependent on the United Kingdom, the vast majority of inhabitants were of African origin. Life is harsh, blacks do not have the right to vote, violence is not uncommon and religion is very present.

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Riots are a chronic plague, and only bakras, rich whites implanted in Jamaica, have an easier life. Musically, several islands of the Antilles make the people dance to different rhythms: the Dominican merengue, the Haitian kompa, the very popular Trinidad calypso, the Cuban sound, the biguine from Martinique.

Local folklore, Jamaican mento, meanwhile, is made up of European, Bantu and West African influences. The 4/4 rhythm is sweet, unlike the more rhythmic calypso with its 2/2 time.

Calypso is mainly played for tourists. Local musicians also play slack, bawdy songs that make the public laugh to forget the hard life.

Those who own a radio can tune in to Wins, the American radio in Miami, the only one that reaches Jamaica; we mainly play rhythm and blues and jazz; this music has already swept over the island with the records brought by American soldiers based in Kingston during the Second World War.

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The black American jazzmen then represented a ray of hope for the Jamaicans of the ghettos who started to play every evening, in the open air in the parks of Kingston, the songs which they tried to reproduce, inevitably mixed with the rhythms that 'they already knew how to play (mento, calypso, merengue ...), producing their own rhythm and blues, the Jamaican boogie or Jamaican R&B.

A new sound takes shape, with a more powerful bass and a syncopated and faster guitar rhythm, like a taste of ska: the shuffle.
In 1950, 45 rpm vinyl records and sound systems appeared, giving birth to sound systems in which you can dance at low prices everywhere on the island. Competition becomes wild: selectors are forced to remove the labels from their records to be the only ones to have them.

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A year later, Stanley Motta made the first recordings to compete with Calypso, but the island awaits a new sound, more trendy and more dancing than American R&B.

The breaking rock n 'roll hits the island with notably Fats Domino and Little Richard; this new style mixed with boogie-woogie, gospel, very present on the island, local mento, jazz, scat, calypso, merengue, African and Cuban music as well as street culture will form an explosive cocktail which, by exploding, gives birth to the sound that all Jamaicans have been waiting for: ska.

There is success: sound systems are multiplying on the island, people are in a hurry to come and dance to this frenzied rhythm. In 1955, Duke Vin created the first Jamaican sound system in London, a city where emigrants flocked in search of work.

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In 1959, Chris Blackwell recorded dubplates which he tested in sound systems before pressing those who worked well. Jukeboxes are spreading, helping in the spread of music. It is the birth of the Jamaican music industry.

In 40 years, the island will produce more than 100,000 records, sometimes with more than 200 singles per week.

Music being the best way out of poverty, you have to produce, always produce, because the recordings are not well paid and the producers are not always honest.

Last edited: 25/03/2020

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