Not the Square Kilometre Array

Searching the net for material about one of the world’s leading astronomy projects The Square Kilometre Array, I inadvertently used the well-known abbreviation SKA in Google and was inundated with sites about Ska, the Jamaican music genre that paved the way to Reggae and also fuelled the 2 Tone movement which swept the UK music scene in 1979.

When I was still in School, I was never a big fan of Punk (which immediately preceded Ska in popularity), but absolutely loved bands like The Specials, The Beat and especially Selecter. I adored the music, but also loved their inclusive multi-racial philosophy. Being a bit of an anorak I actually managed to get hold of some of the very rare original Ska recordings, principally by the superb Skatalites who are still going almost 50 years after they were founded. This wonderful band specialised in irreverent and highly eccentric cover versions of movie film tunes from the 1960s including Doctor Zhivago and James Bond, plus the classic Guns of Navarone.

Ska was usually played (at least nominally) in 4-4 time, but each beat was really a cluster of sub-beats forming a triplet. Usually the drummer put a heavy bass accent (and usually a side stick or rim shot on the snare) on the 3rd component of each triplet, and there would be guitar chops, other percussion, and/or brass riffs on the “off” beats. It is said that this structure was inherited, at least in part, from the marching bands that played in Jamaica and it does give a kind of strutting feel to the overall pulse. But wherever it came from the beat gives the music an infectious lilting rythm that gives anyone dancing to it an irresistible urge to jump up and down, especially on up-tempo numbers. The tripletty structure also gives those with no sense of rythm a greater probability of moving in time with at least one relevant beat. Ska also spawned Reggae which inherited its curious rythmic figure, but added a bass accent on the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar (the “on” beats”) and was generally played much slower.

In need of a bit of cheering up I abandoned my quest for astronomical learning and went on yet another trip down memory lane via Youtube, which I enjoyed enormously, so I decided to put up here a piece full of nostalgia for me which I hope at least some of you might enjoy.

Here are The Specials, recorded on British TV in 1979 (a programme which I think I actually watched at the time). They are playing the theme from The Guns of Navarone as a direct tribute to the Skatalites, whose wonderful original version you can also find on Youtube here (although it is really just audio).

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One Response to “Not the Square Kilometre Array”

  1. this is a cool video. pretty easy to feel the beat listening to ska and reggae. nice article.

    -Chris
    Discover new music at Frequency, the Music Blog

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