With the Specials, JERRY DAMMERS led the British 2- Tone movement, storming the charts with Too Much Too Young, Stereotype and Ghost Town. Now, as we enjoy the latest ska revival, Dammers traces the roots of Jamaica’s national music.
ost of what I know about ska was learned from playing it. but when I went to Cuba I found out a bit more about its roots. which lay in the differences between black music in the Caribbean and on the US mainland. I was told that in the USA. the British and other slave owners banned all African instruments and music in order to destroy the slaves’ culture and break their spirit. But in the Caribbean. the mainly Spanish slave masters actually encouraged what they saw as African tribalism. They thought they could divide and rule the slaves because the different African tribes would never unite against them. But the policy backfired when African voodoo religion helped bring the slaves together in revolution on Haiti. And it also meant that complex African drumming skills survived much better in the Caribbean than in the States.
The end of slavery and the coming of radio and recording increased musical communication between the former slaves of the C zuibbean and the USA. Jamaica and New Orleans were the meeting
point of the two cultures. As well as being the home of jazz. New Orleans started forced
another more down-to-earth musical people to
revolution in the late 1940s when Professor Longhair started adding Afro-Caribbean
dance rhythms to blues piano — leading some shakin people to call him the founder of funk. A lot~
9 of musical roads lead back to the fingers of me Professor Longhair and I count myself as
one of his students (I learned more about the piano from his records than anyone else’s). Anyway. the Jamaicans returned the
building 0 . ’ , ' . ' . ‘ . Wm me LOlllpllanl of the Caribbean influence on US R&B by caning the music on their sound
amount systems. of bass The first R&B record to combine the walking boogie bass line with off-beat on a swingtime stabs in the right hand may have record been by New Orleans pianist Fats Domino, but Jamaican musicians soon gave this rhythm their own feel. The guitar and the horns joined in on the ska off-beat which was played with much less swing. tuming it into a more exciting second rhythm going at twice the speed of the main beat. Like AfrrrCuban jazz. ska was a fusion of Caribbean and US black music. originally separated by the slave owners‘ different policies.
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Maybe the African influence was also what made Jamaican record producers use the whole recording studio like a musical instrument. completely changing the sound of the bands. They forced people to dance whether they liked it or not. by shaking the whole building with the amount of bass on a record or. if the sound system was outdoors. by creating the effect of an earthquake. They also added to the confusion by having really loud drums very quiet and far away in the mix. creating weird illusions of space. These effects were pushed later in dub until you could almost see the music — with or without ganja. And some old ska records still have a heavier bass sound than anything produced today.
When played for hours. ska could work a crowd into what BBC commentators described as a ‘near-religious frenzy of dancing’ which obviously had its roots in African culture and caught the mood of the island as it celebrated independence from its colonial masters. It was declared the national music of Jamaica. and when many left the island to settle in Britain, ska became hugely popular here too.
In Jamaica the famous rude boys ruled the streets and came to