For those of us who still have cable, the closing ceremony of the 2020 Olympics delivered a taste of Tokyo that the pandemic has long sought to sour. Yet one act in particular had us singing a decidedly unexpected, yet familiar tune: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Skankin’ on the world’s stage, the group breathed new life into the genre that gave checkered Vans a purpose.
Hailing from the shores of Jamaica, ska music found its groove in the 1950s. Although artists like Millie Small and Prince Buster found some success in 1960s England, the music went out of favor — the first time — with the rise of rocksteady and reggae.
Ska then found a revival amongst rockers in the late-1970s, piggybacking the anti-Thatcher ethos of the punk and new wave genres. Relabeled as Two-Tone, bands like The Beat, Madness, and The Specials melded horns and guitars with politicized lyrical rhetoric. Two-tone found its tribe amongst “rudies” (see also: rude boy culture) — another byproduct of the ‘60s Jamaican diaspora.
While British ska never quite took off in the Land of Milk and Honey, it did inspire yet another wave in the early-1980s, producing bands like the Toasters, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Fishbone. Then came the ‘90s, a sublime group from Long Beach, California, and a bleach-blonde bombshell with incendiary red lips and a fresh attitude that blew up the entire ska scene, no doubt.
And here we are. What is dead may never die, as they say, and ska is rising again harder and stronger in pockets around the globe.
P.S.: Don’t snooze on Girls Go Ska, our favorite all-lady ska band hailing from Ciudad de México.
Hell of a Hat / Preorder an Inside Look at the ‘90s Third Wave Upswing
Girls Gone Reggae / Mexico City Band Defines Girl Power
In Defense of Ska / Aaron Carnes’ Podcast Breaks Down the Skank
Rock Steady / No Doubt, the Genre’s Still Hella Good
This Is Skatune Network! / Jer Hunter’s Bad Guy is Impossibly Good
Consequence of Sound /The Bruce Lee Band Artists Talk Latest Release
Ska Or Nah? / TONY HAWK LIKES SKA
Ernest Ranglin’s Roots / The Life of the Legendary Guitarist
Reade Her Lips /We Are the Union Lead Sings Her Truth
Need more two-tone in your life? Writer, researcher, podcast host, one-time ska musician, and overall badass, Jill Blake, has the goods. She’s selected a marathon that’ll get your toes tapping in no time.
Ghost Town / The Specials
The last single recorded by the original seven members of The Specials before they split up, this song tackles themes of urban decay, deindustrialisation, unemployment and violence in inner cities, all set to one incredibly slick beat.