Ska’s reputation as a positive, danceable music has lasted through the ages and provided aural respite in troubled times. “I always believed [ska] was made to take people out… because getting out of the [negative] frame of mind is the strongest weapon we have,” Lee says. Morden sees ska as an antidote to a globally dark time. “Listening to ska in 2019 is like an escape almost, away from the constant barrage of, ‘Our president said this,' or ‘People don’t have drinking water.’”
Although many ska bands steer clear of politics in their music, the genre is inherently political. Developed at the dawn of Jamaican independence in the 1960s, ska blended indigenous rhythm with international sounds, then took flight across the globe. “It’s very interesting to see how these early sonic experiments that were created in Jamaica have had this lasting legacy,” Letts says. “It’s a testament to the power of Jamaican music. This tiny little island that spent so many years under colonization has culturally colonized the rest of the planet.”
Indeed, some of the biggest contemporary ska scenes are outside of Jamaica and the US. Mexico may have the largest and most vibrant community of ska fans and bands, with multiple festivals, a thriving subculture dedicated to first wave ska, DJ nights nearly every day of the week, and, of course, popular and long lasting bands such as Inspector, Panteón Rococó, Skapital Sound and Travelers All Stars. The horn-heavy, upbeat sounds of ska are “compatible with popular Mexican music [and adapt] local sounds such as horn lines that sound like traditional mariachi music,” Enrique Montes, the guitarist for Mexican ska/rock band Maldita Vecinidad, says in Pick It Up.
Mexico has deep appreciation for original ska sounds, and has received OG Jamaican artists such as Keith and Tex, Derrick Morgan and vocal group The Clarendonians — who, in turn, draw crowds from Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Following in the footsteps of Jamaica and Britain, Mexico has a strong soundsystem culture which keeps a love of traditional ska alive. Roberto Torres, aka Robbie Studio, runs King Crab Sound System and is an official cultural representative of the Jamaican community in Mexico; he hosts ska and rocksteady events every weekend.
“We bring the speakers, the sound amplifiers, the turntables and my collection of 7-inch old Jamaican records, and we do very large parties in dance halls, backyards or anywhere,” Torres says. “In Mexico the parties are bigger. A lot of people come and soundsystems are a very serious issue. There are many things that have been forgotten in Jamaica, but for us here, they are very important. This music touches your soul; it can make you cry, it makes you change your mood.”
The love of ska isn’t relegated to the western hemisphere, either. The Oldians and The Hypocondriacs hail from Spain, while Australia is home to the 34-piece Melbourne Ska Orchestra, and Japan’s Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra has been performing since 1988 (Japan has long had a fascination with Jamaican music, and may own 90 percent of the island’s vinyl). There are ska bands playing traditional sounds and ska-punk in the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Germany and beyond.