How a Type of Music Stood Up to Racism, Corrupt Governments & Sexism
Ska hailed from reggae and punk roots to form some of the happiest and universally welcoming-to-all music ever made. Inclusion and acceptance were always at the top of the menu for ska bands. Ska was born sometime in the 1950s in Jamaica when, along with the rhythm and blues piano and guitar, famous in New Orleans—combining Jamaican mento and Cuban mongo to make the music’s core, horns, trumpets, bass, saxophone, trombone, and piano made up the uniqueness of the sound. The guitar riffs were vital to making the perfect upbeat sound that made ska famous. The singers sang boldly of political corruption, injustice, and race.
History: The Birth of Ska & African Freedom
In 1962, Jamaica won independence from British rule, and the country was left in a celebratory spirit. This happy, political ska was the beginning of the activist ballads. Shortly after, in 1963, the Skatalites were born. They were created by leading musicians at the time, including; Don Drummond, Roland Alphonso, Dizzy Johnny Moore, Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Brevette, Jah Jerry, and Lloyd Knibbs. This paved the way for future two-tone ska bands to get loud about politics, racism, and injustice.
Operation Ivy, the iconic, late-80s band that mixed radical politics, jagged punk riffs, and Jamaican-influenced rhythms, brought forth another much bigger wave of similar bands in their wake. Rancid was one of those such bands and eventually became platinum. The group that made up Rancid came from their first project, Operation Ivy. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman were the two to make the transition. Much of their sound in both bands preached treating our neighbors right no matter their sex or skin color.
Earlier, ska spoke of the break away from Great Britain, slavelry, and African identity. The birth of ska-punk mixed leftism with anarchism and added a hefty dose of activist outrage. The Suicide Machines have been combining those two genres since the early 90s. They are still going strong and speaking their minds about the corruption and greed in our government.
Today’s Music & Acceptance
When we listen to the latest music, we hear misogynistic slang, degradation of race and sex, political trash talking, and a profound and basic unkindness to each other. These hate-filled lyrics don’t positively affect our community or our acceptance of each other’s differences. If anything, it fuels the fire. Our country is at war with itself, and that war is based on politics, corruption, sexism, human rights, and racism. It is hugely disgusting and diminishing of what music and the message was once or what it could be again if we were brave enough to walk away from the hive mind of the typical Americans.
We are plagued with our hatred for one another in such a way that it is destroying our once free country. The lyrics in some songs speak to that hate we harbor and antagonize it, pushing it to act or else fall victim to weakness. There is so much anger, and hatred for each other in everything we do, listening to music filled with hate will not make you want to laugh, dance, and make the world a better place. Instead, it will fuel the rage and be more of an anthem of hate for people looking for a fight.
If we stopped referring to each other in hostile ways and embraced change and positivity, our songs might sing a different tune. In a time when acceptance seems to have become a four-letter word, it is hard to see what good anything will do at this point. If we start small and change what we watch, what we listen to, and what we pass down to our children, we would be off to a good start. We can absolutely change our disposition and be better people if we want.
Ska was based on community victory over corruption and oppression. Why do we want to call the women in our lives such vulgar terms and eye roll about human rights? Why is it okay to promote violence in what our children watch, play, and grow up surrounded by? It’s not okay but human beings are generally prone to follow what the cool kids are doing. Calling people snowflakes, hating trans folks, being a right-wing extremist, QAnon, crazy political terrorists, and throwing in christianity where it doesn’t belong are all dead ends in that nothing fruitful will grow from that tainted soil.
Something as simple and silly as listening to happier music with a positive message can change your stance and make you a kinder person. Just think what we could be if hate didn’t exist. That will sadly never be a world we live in, but we can start with ourselves and our children. Teaching positive interaction and acceptance of those who are different from what we’re used to is an excellent place to start. Music isn’t going to save the world, but a positive and upbeat mindset will start the ball rolling with everyone you encounter. Kindness creates kindness, hate creates hate. This is our one life and we should make the very best of it.
Q: What are some of the early ska bands?
A: Toots & the Maytals, Skatalites, Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, and Milli Small.
Q: Which ska bands were the most famous for political statements?
A: The Specials, Operation Ivy, Desmond Dekker, The Clash, Suicide Machines and Bob Marely projects though he was reggae. Much reggae is also firmly grown from injustice and making the world a better place.
Q: What are some current day ska bands worth listening to?
A: The Interrupters are probably the most well known new ska band. Some others are Streetlight Manifesto, Gentleman’s Dub Club, We are the Union, Reel Big Fish and the Taxis. Of course, Madness and Rancid, including side projects by the members are still going strong.