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Blue Beat & The Birth of Ska

Vintage Jamaican music is the theme of the week here on Sound Travels and today we picked up where we left off yesterday. Yesterday, the sound was a fifties-era style of Jamaican folk music called mento, and today we had the immediate evolution of that style into blue beat, the early sound of ska.

Most of you are probably familiar with ska on some level, the early ska sound of the late 50's and early 60's was a departure from the rusticness of mento. Blue beat as the early sound was called was far more refined than mento and in many wasys a Jamaican reflection of contemporary American music and in particular early rock'n'roll which in the fifties was just emerging from rhythm & blues. While very similar to early R&B, the way the early blue beat ska and ska in general integrated the horns into their sound is also a reflection of jump blues and swinging jazz. 

Like all forms of fashion in contexts that are foreign to their birth, Jamaica paid little heed to the currency of the styles and amalgamated their own evolution. An evolution that in these early days sounded almost like a sonic cousin to the American sound but was really ready for what it would become. It would become it's own original musical idiom, first as ska, then later as rocksteady and ultimately the reggae sound that is known throughout the world. 

Today I played many of the best artists from those early days, including the 'King of Blu Beat' Prince Buster. I also had Desmond Dekker in the set as he exemplified not only the blue beat sound, but also the ska that evolved from it. In the middle, there were some more likely suspects and others whose names have been lost to time and obscurity. Many of these cuts were recorded at legendary artist/producer Duke Reid for his fabled Blue Beat Records, the label that gave name to the sound.


Prince Buster "Madness"

Drumbago All Stars "Corn Bread And Butter"

Laurel Aitken & The Boogie Cats "Boogie Rock"

Lynn Hope "Shocking"

Owen Gray "Shook, Shimmy and Shake"

The Folks Brothers (Prince Buster + Count Ossie Ofro Combo) "Oh Carolina"

Desmond Dekker "Rudeboy Train"

Production Manager | Radio Milwaukee