Is Ska as Good as Old People Say It Is

Mcleod: “Your title hurts, but makes me happy – just like ska.”


Alessandro Romero, Writer

What is ska? Oxford dictionary refers it as, “A style of fast popular music having a strong offbeat and originating in Jamaica in the 1960s, a forerunner of reggae.” Or, as Merriam-Webster calls it, “popular music of Jamaican origin that combines elements of traditional Caribbean rhythms and jazz.” However, what makes this something that garners ‘the upmost importance?’ Well, I asked what ska was to my Writing for Publication teachers, who are the ones that advise the newspaper, what it was. This was prompted by them going on a little tangent about children wearing clothes from bands or genres, primarily skathat the children do not know. They replied in some fashion that I cannot remember, but it inspired to make this article – with the teachers’ permission, of course. Now, you are going to be subject to the ‘criticism’ of a teenager who has no idea about anything regarding music theory, composition structure, or whatever else falls into musical nomenclature. With an ever pretentious and self-righteous tone with no sincerity, I say to the aforementioned teachers, “Thus always to tyrants.”  

Ska in the 1960s is stylistically very different than its later generations, so It would be fair to listen to the different forms of ska by decades. Since this article is also designed to spite my teachers, I will only be listening to ska groups that they gave me: 18 from my count. It would be best for anyone’s benefit to just sample a few from the list that was given to me by my enthusiastic teachers as this article is already the equivalent to the most flaccid filibuster I have ever witnessed.  

Although an entire decade of a music genre cannot be summarized by a single or even a few songs from that generation, the example of SIMMER DOWN played by the Skatalites, Doreen Shaffer, and Andrew Tosh should provide some minor clarity to it. In “SIMMER DOWN,” the music does indeed resonate with what Caribbean style of music would sound like to the common individual while following those jazzy tonesThe theme also seems to be telling the audience to be calm and relax because anger will get you more pain. However, you came here for my uneducated opinion on the song. In my opinion, it was pretty good. I would not return to it in my leisure timebut I did like the vocals, the jazzy instrumental, and the overall relaxing but still enthusiastic tone.  

Now onto the 1980s, ska is much more angsty than its predecessors as punk rock is injected into it. For examplein Operation Ivy’s song Sound System, the theme seems to be how music can make someone ignore the grievances of the world for just a temporary moment. True, I am concerned for the wellbeing of my teachers if they listened to music that makes me aware again of the depression of life, but I suppose that we all listened to some music. In a sense, the theme is self-aware to why the audience is listening to it and embraces that motivation. If that is the case and I am not overanalyzing it, I do like the song for its lyrics. I do not love the sound of it, but the fast, persistent pace of the song kept me interesting. The lyrics were a little harder to hear, but that just might be my completely slow brain trying to enjoy the song while simultaneously being critical. 

Moving into the 1990s, ska is still injected with punk but there is variety in how much angst is present. In the instance of Sublime’s What I Got,” the music video has many settings of ruined or poor areas while the theme is about love being the thing that one has when materials are gone. The steadfast response to the narrator’s impoverished position does echo an angst that does not involve wallowing in pity but to appreciate the most important things as it values love. Again, I appreciate the lyrics more than I do the sound itself. And again, I say the sound is interesting, but because of the guitar work. In contrast to the punkish and angsty, “The World is New” by Save Ferris is a much jazzier take on ska that has a simpler theme of someone getting the narrator by during sadder times. This song was not bad as I did like the sound and vocals, but I would not go back to it anytime soon.  

According to my teachers, in the 2000s – 2020s, their dear genre of music died out and then revitalized. Ska was still being produced during the dying period, however. For example, “Point/Counterpoint” by Streetlight Manifesto was produced during 2003. As for the quality, the song itself was still enjoyable while being fast-paced and containing some angsty lyrics that have become prevalent in the genre“Point/Counterpoint” from 20003 shows that ska did not completely die but metaphorically was in a coma – it seems sleeping in its popularity. Regardless, ska has an audience still. In the instance of “She’s Kerosene” by the Interruptersthe music video has 17 million views as of typing this and was released in 2018. The music video’s large view count does signify that many come to listen to ska still. Is the song good enough to garner the attention? That is not my power to say if it does, but I did like the fast pace as well. The lyrics were interesting and ‘hard-core’ as some would say for a song about someone leaving an abusive relationship.  

Overall, ska is an interesting genre that has a lot of flair to it in certain places. Sure, it may be more attractive to the older demographic of society, but that does not mean it is not worth it. There is some thought that is put into ska music that makes for an enjoyable experience. There is angst and punk but also relaxing and enthusiastic jazz. It has variety that when being well crafted can deliver interesting themes.  Please, look into this kind of music or other music that may seem strange or old, even if it is recommended by your old teacher that you seem to not have common ground with.