Apr 23, 2019

Ska lives!


To some, this word might carry some less than positive connotations, however to me it represents nostalgia strung together by five simple letters.

Personally, the word’s first three letters summarize my very pivotal teenage developmental years.

“Ska,” if you didn’t know or simply forgot, is essentially a musical genre that seemingly combines reggae principles with rock or even punk principles.

The “skank” is the traditionally preferred form of dance that followers of this genre perform in circular mosh pits at their typically intimate ska venue of choice.

As a teenager going to see these bands perform, I would like to imagine that the sound waves that were resonating from the stage contained little notes that, while embarking on a journey to my senses, were hopping about in a jovial celebratory manner.

In my youth, this explanation alone could feed my curiosity when attempting to determine how a genre such as this can be so incredibly uplifting.

The traditional ska band is comprised of one or more guitarists who play relentless, yet addicting, repetitive off-beat patterns, a bassist who maintains a walking bass line and a horn section that varies in size and sound.

It’s no real surprise if these descriptions are not ringing a bell.

As the saying goes, “ska is dead.”

Individuals who contend that this statement is generally true have, at best, merely scratched the surface of ska as a genre.

When someone mentions ska music, a few contemporary bands might come to mind or even come up in casual conversation.

Reel Big Fish might be tossed about. So too might The Mighty Mighty Bosstones with their mainstream hit “The Impression that I Get,” or even Bradley Nowell’s legendary band Sublime.

While this modest list may contain some bands that you might have had a musical run-in with, it still does no justice to the argument that ska is very much alive.

While ska listeners are showering sweat in the mosh pits, it is not a mere cult genre that compels them.

Ska is actually an eclectic monster of a musical style whose roots are firmly planted in Jamaica around 1945.

Establishing itself almost 20 years before its cousin genre reggae, ska arguably implements the musical techniques of jazz from the 1920s and even rock which was delivered to our ears only shortly after.

The fact of the matter is that ska music is one that we, in the Western world, have been inadvertently conditioned to love and know.

With a music as seemingly well-defined and established as this, one might ask how, then, it has faded into obscurity?

The answer is that ska music is popular and has always been.

However, it’s the listener’s inability to define the genre by way of sound that allows the musical style to be lost in a sea of contemporary garbage.

You see, ska music has a liquidity that enables it to envelope the characteristics of any popular genre, including punk or reggae or rock. It’s this elasticity that allowed many people to find some interest in ska music.

Perhaps it’s this same characteristic which has been ska’s undoing in the marketplace.

No one person can realistically remain a fan of ska due to its elasticity. The genre is so indistinct that the minute any one person finds a band that they can identify with, ska has completely departed from that band and gone a completely different avenue — one that may or may not interest that same person.

It’s ska’s ever-changing nature which both works to define, redefine, and eventually unpopularize the genre.

While this brief explanation may have shed some light on the “ska is dead” controversy, a constant in this ever-changing musical expression remains: whether you like it or not, ska is here, has always been here, and will continue to be here for a very long time.

If find yourself rejoicing about this fact, then celebrate by listening to some Streetlight Manifesto, RX Bandits, or even some Mad Caddies.

If not, then get over it.

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