Title: The Birth of Ska
Label: Music on Vinyl
Taking the Jamaican styles of mento (itself a combination of African and Latin rhythms plus British folk) and the Trinidad and Tobago style of Calypso (a form of music that was often used to broadcast information to the populace in song form) and then adding a sprinkling of American jazz and R&B, Ska was all about dancing. From the above, it sounds complex. Not in practice, though. As the two dancing figures on the covers of this reissued 12-track compilation would probably testify.
In terms of ‘when’, ska arrived on the scene before rocksteady and reggae, properly hitting the headlines in the late 50s. You’ll know it instantly by its bassline which tends to walk across the vinyl as its played. Which is not to imply that this music plods, in any way. Far from it. As I say, ska is made for dancing with a range of upbeat rhythms emanating from typically featured instrumentation: bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, horns with sax, trombone and trumpet all add a fascinating complexity.
Fans of ska, especially those of a relatively younger age, may have been turned on to the genre by the UK band, The Specials who combined ska with slices of punk and rocksteady.
The Birth of Ska focuses on early artists who originally spawned this unique musical genre. Issued in 1962, this LP has now been repressed on limited-edition orange vinyl and features a range of original artists such as Babba Brooks, The Skatalite Band (with Duke Reid, arguably the originators of the ska genre itself), Justin Hinds & the Dominoes plus others such as Roland Alphonso, Frank Anderson and more. Often the artists arrive to sing a song by joining forces, combining, mixing and matching which is great to see. Reading interweaving artist line ups on the rear of the sleeve reflects a sense of community and an enthusiasm for the music. Yet it’s a pity there’s not a great deal of information on those songs in terms of recording dates and the like.
Listening to a ska release, if I don’t hear a trombone in the first five seconds then I’m just a bit disappointed, I gotta tell ya. Which is odd because I’d be staggered to hear the instrument up front in and around any other genre. It’s not even a given in jazz. But yep, there it was, front and centre as Justin Hinds & the Dominoes bounced onto the stage and then bounced all over my own hi-fi’s soundstage.
The sound on this reissue is a little bare, a little thin and sparse but look, it really is the nature of the beast. For original Jamaican singles, for example, if you can play the disc all the way through without a mishap dumping your stylus out of the groove, you’re on a winner. So I won’t get emotional on minor sonic matters here. In fact, Music on Vinyl has produced a very tidy LP with no obvious frequency nasties. It’s a disciplined production and, because this is a compilation, some tracks sound better than others: Roland Alphonso’s Feeling Fine, which hangs off a notable ride cymbal, is one superior example.
The Birth of Ska is a wonderful album, packed with quality, packed with bouncy, happy grooves and packed with stylish ska. You’re assured of a skanking good time.
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