Ska — as any lover of the genre will tell you — is far from dead.
In fact, the genre that burst forth in Jamaica at the time of the nation's independence in the early 1960s (and, crucially, is the musical seed from which reggae grew) is alive and well around the globe. Call it a fourth wave, a revival or a scene of stalwarts, but the horn-heavy, grooving and uptempo music continues to march forward — and the GRAMMY Museum is all-in on the celebration.
For several years, the GRAMMY Museum has hosted "A History Of L.A. Ska" — a discussion and performance series featuring local musicians, DJs, journalists, and others. Panelists reminisce about their early years in ska, working with legends, and the important role Southern California has played in the development of the culture. The most recent panel was held on Nov. 7 (but more on that later).
Although born in Jamaica, ska migrated to the UK in the latter half of the '60s and, the following decade, mixed with burgeoning punk sounds to create the genre's second wave: Two Tone. Bands such as the Specials, Madness and the Selecter struck a chord with local audiences as well as those in Southern California — which saw its first ska band, the Boxboys, debut in 1979. Then by the late ‘80s, California-based bands such as the Untouchables, Fishbone, Hepcat and Let’s Go Bowling were building a distinct scene.
As the ‘90s began, Southern California was the focal point of ska's third wave. Helmed by bands like Reel Big Fish, the Aquabats and, early on, No Doubt, a new generation further enmeshed punk and ska to become faster, catchier and more memeable. While third wave groups of the era came from all corners (see New Jersey's Catch-22, Florida's Less Than Jake and Boston's Mighty Mighty Bosstones), Southern California remained a stronghold for ska music and was buoyed by a strong subculture of mods and non-racist skinheads.
Today, Los Angeles remains a hotbed for a new generation of ska acts — many of which harken back to the sounds of the '60s. Southern California has also played host to ska legends, including Derrick Morgan (whose song "Forward March" became an independence anthem), Pat Kelly, the Pioneers and more.
"When I was first introduced to ska in Southern California, I was blown away by the level of musicianship and the love that these young talents had for the music that I grew up listening to in Jamaica,” shares Junor Francis, a moderator and veteran radio DJ/emcee who co-curates the "A History Of L.A. Ska" series with Eric Kohler. The two also host a video interview series of the same name. [Editor's note: Author Jessica Lipsky has appeared on this series.]
"While many fans of American third wave ska were introduced to the sound in the 1990s, more casual listeners may not be aware that ska in Southern California dates back four decades," notes Kohler. "To that end, Junor and I have made it our mission to celebrate and highlight the scene’s rich history, vibrancy and uniqueness."
Part four of the series — and the most recent — featured seven panelists representing a broad swath of L.A. ska history: Hepcat drummer Greg Narvas (Hepcat), singer Karina Denike (Dance Hall Crashers, NOFX), keyboardists Matt Parker (the Donkey Show) and Paul Hampton (the Skeletones), DJ and drummer Nina Cole (the Cover Ups), drummer Oliver Charles (Ocean 11, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Gogol Bordello), and multi-instrumentalist Scott Klopfenstein (Reel Big Fish, the Littlest Man Band). The panel was moderated by Junor Francis.
The four-part series is available to view on the GRAMMY Museum's website, or you can immerse yourself in the "History Of L.A. Ska" panel by panel below:
Featuring: Greg Lee, Persephone “Queen P” Laird, Joey Altruda, Brian Dixon and Luis Correa
Featuring: Angelo Moore, Chris Murray, Darrin Pfeiffer, Kip Wirtzfeld, Tazy Phyllipz
Featuring: Jerry Miller, Chuck Askerneese, Ivan Wong, Greg Sowders, Norwood Fishe, Greg Lee, Bill Bentley, Howard Paar, Marc Wasserman, Karena Sundaram Marcum, Laurence Fishburn
If the excitement on display during the "History Of L.A. Ska" panel sessions isn't enough to convince you of the genre's staying power, consummate emcee Junor Francis shares words of affirmation:
“After being baptized into this scene and welcomed with open arms, I realized this was absolutely the right place for me!”
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