On the 28th anniversary year of International Reggae Day, July 1 will commemorate another Jamaica-birthe genre by saluting ’60 years of ska music.’
A precursor to the bass-heavy, universal sound the world has embraced, ska will be lauded for imprinting an indelible legacy in entertainment as Jamaica celebrates six decades of independence.
Before reggae there was ska. It was the beat to define Jamaican music in the late 1950s. Initially, “the quick tempo of ska with its distinctive horns was largely instrumental,” Andrea Davis explained.
However, “the singers of the day … soon found a way to add their distinctive vocals with many of their releases becoming classics in the genre.”
Davis is the visionary whose Jamaica Arts Holdings claimed first dibs in declaring a 24-hour global celebration devoted to the genre. She dubbed her brainchild International Reggae Day and in the beginning years staged concerts, symposia, cultural visitations, art exhibitions incorporating radio and television broadcast promotions.
Since then her affiliated JAH has established a reputation for hosting annual salutations to the genre by combining musical revelry with fashion displays, tree plantings, cultural acknowledgement using Rastafarian associations as a synergistic link to its spiritual grounding.
Launched in Kingston, Jamaica on July 1, 1994, JAH invited reggae aficionados to honor the beat that now globally defines the island of its origin. It took a new millennium for the governor general to issue an official proclamation in 2000 but throughout the early beginnings until now, reggaefarians on every continent have been singing and dancing in praise of the genre they hail as “Jah music.”
This year, a pause on its offshoot dancehall as well as limited emphasis will shift the focus to commemorate the emergence of Jamaica’s ska — spotlighting how the Caribbean beat exploded into a global sphere to influence fashion and a punk movement in the United Kingdom.
According to the pioneer, the music soared when The Wailers, The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Millie Smalls, Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker, Stranger Cole, Laurel Aiken and others verbally articulated their vocalized versions.
Recordings such as “Money Can’t Buy Love” by Eric Monty Morris, “Humpty Dumpty” and a string of hits produced by Prince Buster, along with his own back-to-back political commentaries titled “They Got To Go”/ “They Got To Come,” “One Hand Washes Another,” “Time Longer Than Rope” and the call to unity, independence theme to “Forward March” reaped a bounty dancehalls and barn yards profited.
Simultaneously, The Skatalites harvested hits with “Eastern Standard Time,” “James Bond Theme,” “Rockfort Rock,” “Guns of Navarone,” “Addis Ababa,” “Street Corner,” “Beard Man Shuffle” and a myriad of chart-topping recordings. Featuring Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Jackie Mittoo, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevet, Don Drummond as messengers of the music, the super-group delivered Jamaica Jazz in the form of ska.
Described as ‘hypnotic,’ ‘pulsating,’ ‘infectious’ the genre spawned ambassadors and messengers of the music.
To further amplify its dynamism, a calypso band leader named Byron Lee capitalized on the emergence of the sound by enlisting The Dragonaires to record a testimony that also gave instructions on how the world should execute an accompanying dance.
“Not everybody can do the…not everybody can do the twist…but everybody can do the ska, it’s the new dance that goes like this…”The lyrics delivered a virtual how-to move body parts while stepping to the beat.“Ska ska ska…Jamaican ska, it’s the new dance you can’t resist.”
According to Davis, the 24-hour hybrid global event will integrate participation from Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in Canada; soundsystem and Zoom sessions in the UK, virtual events hosted from Johannesburg, South Africa, Beijing, China, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Hawaii. As usual cities throughout the USA will host radio and internet broadcast tributes. Clubs and reggae venues will also honor IRD with concerts and special appearances.
Leroy “Dreamy” Riley founder of irietimes.com said this year the portal will acknowledge the date by programming music from the ska heydays preceding reggae. In addition to ska tributes, special commemoration events will honor reggae legends The Mighty Diamonds and reggae recorder Denroy Morgan. Both Tabby Shaw and Bunny Simpson of the Mighty Diamonds died in April.Music for Love International, an international charity will release “One Perfect Love” in tribute to Morgan.
The album would have marked Morgan’s final compilations