Classic Ska Essentials

Classic Ska Essentials

Ska emerged in Jamaica in the late ’50s almost out of necessity: Enterprising DJs running sound systems—a form of entertainment held in the streets that involved spinning U.S. R&B records—needed a steady supply of fresh tunes to blast. Seeing a niche, producers such as Prince Buster and jazz aficionado Coxsone Dodd built on the rhythm-nimble U.S. sounds by adding slightly syncopated, crisp guitar stabs and staccato beats, as well as breezy horns. The nascent ska genre soon had its major players—in the mid-’60s, versatile band The Skatalites anchored Dodd’s Studio One—and a thematic bent, especially as Jamaica earned its independence in 1962. By the late ’60s, classic ska shape-shifted into the more laidback rocksteady and, after that, reggae (The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff).

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