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Ska: Ska in General

A guide to the history of ska and how to find recordings of and information about ska music

This is SKA!


"To the casual listener, 'ska' may appear to be nothing more than some form of speedy and spirited reggae. This is not entirely inaccurate. Ska is actually the pop-based precursor to reggae." – Dale Turner

"Ska is the father of rock-steady. Grandfather of reggae music." - The Skatalites (Ska, Ska, Ska)

Ska is a genre that represents a musical style that has been in existence for nearly 50 years. Originating on the island of Jamaica in the early 1960s, the ska rhythm has spread to nearly every corner of the world and has undergone many transformations. However, it can generally be classified as a musical style which is fast, upbeat and highly danceable. The music is often propelled forward by a driving horn section and guitars that stress the upbeat.

A frequent criticism of using the label "ska" is that it is too broad to account for the various styles and subgenres that it encapsulates. Typically, ska has been divided into three separate and distinct movements. The first wave of ska took place in Jamaica during the early 1960s and lasted for about 4 years. English musicians, influenced by Jamaican ska, revived the genre in late 1970s in what became known as the Two-Tone movement. Ska was reborn close to ten years later by American musicians who combined elements of Two-Tone and punk.

Each wave has its own distinct sound and lyrical consciousness that reflects the historical context and locality from which it arose. However, ska is unique in that artists are constantly building upon an established musical canon. For example, the Two-Tone band, the Madness broke into the mainstream with their song "The Prince", which is homage to the first wave Jamaican ska legend, Prince Buster. Mustard Plug, a pioneering third wave ska band, paid respect to the genre's most influential artists with their song, "Skank by numbers":

Finally we'd like to stop and thank our roots,
respect the Specials, Maytals, and Toots!
Wailing Wailers, Laurel Aitken, and (English) Beat,
but most of all the Skatalites, they're music complete!

For the purposes of the research guide, I have divided ska into the three waves mentioned above. In each section, the reader will find a description of the movement, a hand-picked list of influential artists and an annotated discography. All of the musicians, recordings, books, and periodicals highlighted here can be found in the Music Library and Sound Recordings Archives (ML/BSSA) on the third floor of the Jerome Library. This guide is in no way comprehensive. Rather, it is meant as a starting point for those interested in researching ska using the ML/BSSA's extensive collection. I hope you will find it useful, and remember… Do the SKA!


This guide was created by John Cook, Kent State University Library Science graduate student, in fulfillment of his practicum requirements.


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