Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jamaica Farewell

There is a fascinating article in the Jamaica Observer ("J'can Lock-Out - Foreigners Dominating Jamaican Music Form") lamenting how dub and ska music have been abandoned in the land of their birth, while these genres have taken root and are flourishing (to some degree) in Europe and the U.S. (and I would add Japan and Latin America). The writer refers to the dominance of non-Jamaican acts on the iTunes reggae charts as proof of this development.

Since we're concerned with all things ska at The Duff Guide to Ska, here's a pertinent passage from the article:
Dub music is one form which Jamaica has all but forgotten. Stakeholders have also lamented on the absence of Jamaican ska bands to profit and influence modern ska. There are currently hundreds of ska bands internationally but the musical form is dormant in the land of its birth. Up to Saturday ska music was charting in one territory on iTunes reggae charts via a compilation album entitled Ska Mania. Ska, however, is more popular in the rock than reggae categories.
They do note, however, that Jamaica's Jolly Boys have staged an improbable comeback for mento:
Surprisingly, mento a local genre which waned in popularity in the '50s received some international acclaim last month when The Jolly Boys, a mento band (produced and managed by Geejam based in Portland Jamaica), beat all living reggae and dancehall artistes to top the international reggae charts. They are supporting the album with a prolific tour across Asia, Europe and the US.
The Jamaican government is aware of the decline in this aspect of their cultural heritage (and what is arguably Jamaica's greatest export) and is taking action to bolster this musical form:
In February, minister of culture, Olivia Babsy Grange, asserted that Jamaica was losing a grip on Reggae. She called for creative initiatives which emphasise training for the development of a stronger infrastructure to support the music and to recognise the new paradigms that have emerged with the convergence of popular culture and digital technology.
Back in the 90s, I remember either reading or talking with someone about how in Jamaica ska was considered an old-fashioned musical form--something kids' grandparents had listened/danced to when they themselves were teens (and apart from the original 60s ska artists playing out for 2 Tone and 3rd wave ska audiences, to my knowledge, no new Jamaican ska acts had formed since the genre evolved into rocksteady and reggae). So, certainly ska's uncool factor in the minds of Jamaica's youth will be something that any new practitioners there will have to overcome when attempting to revive the genre.


Bob Timm said...


I can humbly suggest that what you read/heard in the 90s was a passage from one of my early articles at ska.about.com. I had a 2-parted about my trip to Kingston in 1997 and commented about the disparity between the love of old school ska and reggae abroad and in its birthplace, particularly at that time when ska was all over the place.

As you paraphrased, what I heard from many Kingstonites young and old was that ska music was their equivalent of our "oldies" music: doo-wop, R&B, rock-n-roll that is more readily associated with PBS specials, your parents or grandparents music, etc. I stayed in the dorms at U of West Indies campus at Mona and what rumbled through student unions and out of dorms every night was not a lick of reggae or ska, but all rap and hip-hop. The sound of Kingston was more Puff Daddy than Bob Marley at least for the mainstream.

I had to hunt to find people who even knew who Derrick Harriot was, much less direct me to his Record Shop.

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks! Since I was a regular reader of yours back then, I think you are completely right.

Ironic how hip-hop, which was a musical descendant of dub and toasting/DJing, and created by a Jamaican who moved to the Bronx, should come back to JA and effectively obliterate reggae in the land of its birth!

"PBS specials" indeed!