The Three Waves

The evolution of ska music took place in three different waves.  The first wave began in Jamaica in 1960.  At its beginning, ska was popular amongst working class Jamaican youth until the records began to be released in the United Kingdom towards the end of the decade.  Youth were particularly attracted to this type of music due to its combination of new and old.  They were able to keep some of their cultural traditions alive with interjecting new and exciting elements from American music.  This first wave of ska was closely related to the larger urban youth culture centered around the Rude Boy.  Though they are better known as reggae stars, many big time reggae musicians, such as Bob Marley, got their start as ska musicians during this first wave.

Bob Marley, a well-known reggae singer that got his start in the ska industry.
Bob Marley, a well-known reggae singer that got his start in the ska industry.

The first wave of ska came to an end as the public began to tire of its upbeat, fast sound.  Musicians started to slow down their ska creations while keeping its essential elements intact.  This music became known as rock steady, which put an end to the first wave of ska.  Rock steady was fairly short lived, and pretty soon, musicians began to slow down their creations even further, creating reggae.  The reggae movement really took off, although ska and rock steady were still played on the island and became known as roots reggae.

The second wave of ska happened mainly in the United Kingdom through labor migration and commodity circulation.  At this time, the look of ska musicians became as important as their sound.  Ska musicians were wearing pork pie hats, white socks, mohair suits, and two tone shoes.  The two tone shoes were symbolic of this wave’s alternate name—the Two Tone Movement.  Also called the ska revival, the Two Tone Movement got its name from the tendency of ska musicians at this time to dub an additional layer, or track, over their music using effects such as reverb or echo.  Further playing on the name, the largest ska recording company in Great Britain decided on the name Two Tone Records when it was formed.  This second wave of ska crossed social and economic boundaries in its fan base.  Instead of solely reaching working class blacks, the fan base expanded to reach mainly middle class whites during the ska revival.  It was guided by the aggressive multiracial youth culture in London that was primarily promoting social rebellion.  Though this wave crossed transnational borders, it did not last very long and was quickly replaced by New Wave music.

Pork Pie Hat
Pork Pie Hat
Two Tone Shoes
Two Tone Shoes
Mohair suit
Mohair suit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third wave of ska occurred in the United States of American in the 1990s and continues into today’s music industry.  Many college bands that started in the 1990s, though few gained musical success, chose to create ska music to share with their peers.  One of the most successful and well known ska bands from the 1990s is New Doubt, featuring Gwen Stefani as their lead singer.

Ska band No Doubt.
Ska band No Doubt.