Ska, along with Reggae and Rocksteady is perhaps one of Jamaica’s greatest musical exports of the past 50 years.
As with most new genres of music, there is too much evolution to be specific as to when and how ska was invented. Ska is characterised by an off-beat upstroke on the guitar, also known as a ‘skank’. In musical terms, it is an upside down R&B rhythm with the guitar playing on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar (offbeats) as opposed to the traditional 1st and 3rd. It may be the case that one musician described this to another as a ‘ska, ska, ska’ which then stuck.
Originating on the Caribbean island of Jamaica in the late 1950s/early 1960s, artists, entrepreneurs and sound system operators such as Prince Buster, Duke Reid (who went on to found Trojan Records), the producer, Coxsone Dodd and Derrick Morgan were there or thereabouts.
Ska has been a staple in Jamaican music ever since, yet it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the genre really began to visit a worldwide audience. With the English 2 Tone movement lead by bands like The Specials, The Beat (The English Beat), The Selector, Madness, The Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners etc, becoming the ‘Dance Craze’ du jour, ska had, almost overnight, increased its fan base 100-fold.
The ‘offbeat’ guitar pattern has permeated into virtually every style of modern music and Jamaican singers and musicians associated with ska have become household names, admired and respected the world over.
Anyone looking for some further reading (and listening) could do worse than than click this link to the Trojan Records Freedom Sounds anthology.