Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska, Ska...

I love many kinds of music, but there's only one that stands in the particular category of Music-I-Can-Listen-To-Over-And-Over-And-Over-And-Never-Seem-To-Tire-Of: ska.* The bouncing syncopated rhythms, the wailing vocals and sublime harmonies, the horns (the trombones, in particular), the... I don't even really know what it is. There's no single thing or set of things I can point to; it's more than the sum of its parts. I just love-love-love it.** (One thing: it does seem to me to be the happiest music in the world, not necessarily the lyrical content which runs the gamut, but the music itself. It lightens dark moods and heightens good moods.) I listen to it in the car. I listen to it at work. I listen to it while I run. I turn it up loud at parties and sing along with a big goofy grin on my face. And so far, I have never ever grown tired of it.*** I suppose it's my desert island music.**** And since today is Chart Thursday, let's have a chart:

What music do you never tire of?

* Proto-reggae, the R&B offshoot that evolved in Jamaica in the 50s and 60s and later morphed into the stuff made famous by Bob Marley and the likes. (Let me be explicit: I'm talking about the actual old Jamaican stuff, not the various punk-ish outgrowths that have emerged in England, America, and elsewhere. Those offshoots produced some good music, but it's not the same thing and doesn't have the same very particular effect on me.)

** Though these love-relations are a funny complicated business. I don't think of ska as "my" music the way I do with old country and old rock 'n' roll. I didn't grow up listening to it. I don't play it. It's sort of exotic to me. And yet, as much as I love those other genres, I can actually grow weary of them. But ska? Ska... Ska!

*** Though I secretly fear that if I do ever tire of it, my fatigue will be proportional to my former enthusiasm and I won't ever be able to listen to ska again.

**** Hmm, and it actually comes from an island. Maybe that's not a coincidence. Maybe they were like, we're broke, we're stuck on this hurricane-battered island, we don't have much of anything except a few instruments and these cool, bass-heavy AM broadcasts of New Orleans R&B wafting across hundreds of miles of ocean. Let's mix that all up somehow and make the bestest everest music ever.


  1. I also love Jamaican ska and find it musically fascinating. It's amazing to me that it is possible to hear time passing by way of a pulse that sounds between beats. This proves that the beat in music is not in any way a sound.

    Have you ever had the experience of listening to a ska song, and not picking up at first on where the beat was? That is, hearing the off-beats as on-beat? The song ticks along somewhat awkwardly, then suddenly your ear slips into gear, and you hear the riffs and phrases settle into their proper, mellow, energetic place. It's a beautiful experience particularly available to those for whom ska is not 'theirs.'

    Also, why is British ska (or Boston ska) so tiresome? My theory is that the ska beat is played to tightly, as if reminding itself: 'man, this sure is syncopated!' Jamaica ska moves easily between the beats, as if there were no reasonable alternative.

  2. Marco3:50 PM

    I like ska (decent compil, reggae, some dancehall and dub too, but I'm partial to zouk (raggamuffin is big in Martinique), beguine, Cape Verdean and Angolan (trad-modernized), strait ahead jazz Blue Note stuff and music made by all monkey bands.

  3. Marco8:10 PM

    P.S. Ragamuffin is a zouk-reggae composite that is infectiously mellow.

  4. I never get tired of Fela Kuti!