Jamaica Magazine

Book Review: Ska – An Oral History

About the Book:
Ska: An Oral History is the story of ska music, told through the words and narratives of those who invented it. In Jamaica, and later in England, this music defined the culture and social conditions of the people. Through the words of their songs, the uplifting rhythm of their vivacious tunes, and the character and skill of each musician, ska music was the foundation for musical forms and the musicians that evolved. Hearing first-hand the stories of these tumultuous times, these creative times, the story of ska music is finally told by those who were there.

Augustyn spent over a decade interviewing ska artists and musicians and researching the music and culture of Jamaica and England. Included in her book are never-before heard words from such greats as The Skatalites’ Doreen Schaeffer, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, and Lester Sterling; Derrick Morgan and Patsy (Millicent Todd); Lyn Taitt; Laurel Aitken; Toots Hibbert; Millie Small; Alex Hughes (Judge Dread); The Specials’ Roddy Byers (Roddy Radiation); The Beat’s Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger; The Selecter’s Pauline Black; Lee “Kix” Thompson of Madness; and Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners.

The final chapter in the book closely examines how ska traveled from England to America and spread around the world. Words from American ska band members tell the story, with input from Fishbone’s Dr. Madd Vibe (Angelo Moore); The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Dicky Barrett; Issac Green; Bucket of The Toasters and now defunct Moon Records and new label Megalith; Rocksteady Freddie of The Toasters and New York Ska Jazz Ensemble; Joey Altruda and Willie McNeil formerly of Jump with Joey; Jim Arhelger of Bim Skala Bim; Jayson Nugent of The Slackers; Buford O’Sullivan formerly of The Scofflaws; Alex Desert formerly of Hepcat and appearing in such film and television as  Swingers, High Fidelity, Boy Meets World, and Becker; Tony Kanal of No Doubt; as well as many others.

Ska: An Oral History is the definitive book on ska music, as told by the artists themselves.


“While the history of Jamaican music has received it fair share of attention in book form in recent years, the development of Ska as a genre in itself has been all but ignored. Thankfully, US-based writer, Heather Augustyn, finally redresses the balance with her excellent publication, ‘Ska: An Oral History’. . . A fascinating and hugely entertaining read.” – Laurence Cane-Honeysett, producer for Trojan Records and author of Young, Gifted, and Black: The Story of Trojan Records

“If you’re a lover of ska music in any form, there is definitely plenty to savour.— David Katz, disc jockey, reggae historian, journalist, and author of Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae, People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry.

“Whether you are a hardcore traditional ska fan, have an academic interest in the genre, were raised on 2-Tone or were in the crowd at one of The Toasters shows all those years ago, you’ll definitely want this book.” — Marc Wasserman of Marco on the Bass

“A truly great music book!  Even I learned a lot about Two Tone era by reading it!”  — Roddy Byers of The Specials

“Recently received an advance copy of Heather Augustyn’s new book Ska: An Oral History. It covers the origins of ska, the 2 Tone era and a few steps beyond. It’s a boss piece of work that will be launched January 2011. I’ve been into ska for 30 years and this is the best book I’ve read on the subject. Highly recommended… by this old skanker.” — Edward Shed Mitchell writer for Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, Classic Rock and Rockabilly Magazine

“Each new generation that falls in love with the ska music riddim finds its way back to the roots. Heather Augustyn’s new book, Ska: An Oral History, is your compass to the history, culture, and music of ska! I give this book my highest recommendation for the ska fans and the general public to get to know the ska music in the words and mindset of the creators.” – Albino Brown, Ska Historian, Writer, & Archivist; Producer & Co-Host of “The Ska Parade” Radio Show

About the Author:
Heather Augustyn has been a correspondent for The Times of Northwest Indiana, the state’s second largest newspaper, since 2004. She is also contributing editor for Shore Magazine and columnist for Get Healthy Magazine. She has written for a variety of national publications, such as music reviewer for The Village Voice, writing on orchestral-pop musician Sufjan Stevens. She also was the last person to interview legendary novelist Kurt Vonnegut before his death in 2007, publishing articles on the interview in In These Times magazine, which Vonnegut edited, The Humanist Magazine, along with regional publications and magazines in Finland and Poland where her words were translated. She has been asked to speak at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opening in Indianapolis on January 29, 2011. She has also written on issues of international and domestic policy, researching and working with heads of state in the U.S. and Asia. She currently directs a regional
Montessori school’s writing and book program for elementary students. She worked as a communications professor at Robert Morris College in Chicago for two semesters and is a guest lecturer on interviewing and writing at Indiana University and for philanthropic organizations. The author is also a professional photographer and her work has sold in art galleries in Chicago and has appeared in numerous publications. She has been married for 15 years and she and her husband, Ron, have two sons and reside in Northwest Indiana.

Where to buy the book:
Buy “Ska: An Oral History” at Amazon.com

About the author

Staff Writer