Jamaica is known for the development of some of the most influential musical styles around the world. The beginning of all of this originated in the hearts and minds of the Jamaican people, fusing popular musical genres as their independence was just emerging.
The popular blues and jazz sounds from the U.S. made their way to Jamaica in the 1960s and combined with the local mixture of calypso and folk tunes known as mento. This fusion of Afro-Caribbean and African-American musical sensibilities created something unlike any other genre of music in the world.
Upbeat tempos, horns, and an emphasis on bass guitar were the backbone of ska music, but the vocals were important as well. In ska music, the vocals are treated as another instrument.
The Skatalites was one of the first ska bands, or at least one of the earliest influential ska bands. The group was comprised of many talented musicians and was led by an impressive horn section. They recorded popular rock and roll songs - including songs by The Beatles - and truly pioneered the genre.
It's said that ska came in three waves, the first upon its creation in Jamaica. It then enjoyed a flirtation with international popularity in the 1980s as Britain enjoyed its fast-paced sound. But the biggest popular movement was the punk-infused ska of the U.S. in the early 1990s. It catapulted bands like No Doubt to stardom throughout the world, though it is only somewhat similar to the original ska music created in Jamaica.
On Jamaica itself ska was followed by a slower style known as rocksteady. Though it used the same instruments as ska, the emphasis was on the bass and the tempo was slower. This music included a guitar, often used to simply accent the bass; the horns that dominated ska faded to the background on rocksteady tracks.
In many ways, Jamaica's culture is dominated by its political structure. Labor unions formed on this island, and the outspoken people are always ready to make a point in any way possible. In particular, music has been an expression of their reaction to independence.
The upbeat and up-tempo exuberance found in ska and its accompanying dance steps was a reaction to a hopeful feeling about the island's independence. However, by the late 1960s the attitude toward independence had changed, and the slow, smooth rhythms of rocksteady more clearly expressed the feelings of the Jamaican people.
Both ska and rocksteady are precursors to what is, ostensibly, Jamaica's best-known musical style: reggae. Without the styles cultivated by these two musical genres, reggae may have never existed.
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