Ska-LA Land

By Melissa Rojas

Jessica Hernandez, a student at CSUN, was 16-years-old and had no idea that when her high school friend suggested the ska band, “8 Kalacas” while talking about reggae, it would open a door to a whole new world of music. Since then she has been an avid fan of Latino Ska which is well known in Los Angeles. There are a lot of Latino bands scattered throughout the city like Matamoska, La Resistencia and Blanco Y Negro. The genre has always been a mixture of other genres, it’s unique in a way where it can be manipulated in different ways, sped up for a jumpy and happy beat, given a rock and roll melody, or it can be slowed down to its original ska sound.  It can also be infused with Spanish lyrics and has become a part of Latino culture.

Hernandez described the genre as, “Hardcore, unique, and rhythmic.” After her friend suggested the one band, she began to explore the genre more and fell in love with bands like ‘8 Kalacas’, ‘La Resistencia’, ‘Red Store Bums’. Their songs can be about love and also politically charged.

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Another CSUN student, Jess Perez discovered Ska while playing the video game called Tony Hawk Pro’s Skater on her brother’s Playstation when she was 14-years-old. She heard a ‘Goldfinger’ song on the game’s soundtrack and was hooked forever. During, high school she would go with her friends to shows and see local bands like The Skatalites, Red Store Bums and La Resistencia.  

“Then it just evolved and I began listening to Save Ferris, Hepcat, Mad Caddies, Viernes 13, The Aggrolites, The Slackers, Operation Ivy, The Skatalites, RX Bandits, Chris Murray, The Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra and so many more who I've been obsessed with till this day,” said Perez.

She explains in awe how unique the genre is and how it emits “positive vibes”. “It holds a variety of influences from reggae, jazz, blues, orchestral music, punk, to Cuban Spanish music,” she said.

Although ska started in Jamaica after the country was freed from English rule in 1962.  It became popular in waves, the first one being in the early 1950s and late 1960s where it was born. The second wave began, ironically enough, in the UK during the late 70s and early 80s, and was dubbed as “Two-Tone Ska” after the music label, “2 Tone Records.” Lastly, the third wave that still carries on today, started during the 1990s finally became popular in the U.S., where Ska bands added a punk rock element to it.

According to CSUN professor Peter Marston who has an emphasis in popular music criticism, ska was created “as a more aggressive and faster version of calypso. It was influenced by American R&B and rock 'n' roll records and similarly appealed to younger audiences who frequented the dance halls.” It is a combination of Caribbean mento and calypso as well as American jazz. It has a beat that was made for dancing and the instruments that can be used are bass, drums, guitars, keyboards, saxophones,  basically a lot of brass such as trombones and trumpets.

 LA Ska still contains the traditional beat but, has added a Latin beat too. The phenomenon that is this genre is that when people hear that familiar beat it becomes an identifier of their own culture which makes them love it even more.

Some well known LA bands who create these combinations are Upground, an East LA band that has combined ska with funk and cumbia. Matamoska, a skacore, punk band from East LA. Another band from LA is the Steady 45s, their goal is to revive Jamaican ska and rocksteady music.

In the eyes of Esteban Flores, the keyboardist from Matamoska and the Steady 45s, the LA Latin Ska scene is “morphing.” At first, the community was small and tight knit, everyone knew each other at shows but now the crowds who come to see the bands are getting bigger and the faces are becoming more unfamiliar. However, the crowd still contains a family-like atmosphere. “You see hardcore kids coming in, metalheads coming in,  and then ska kids coming in and that’s where the scene started mixing a lot,” said Flores. He is excited to see what the scene will look like in four years. “I can’t even predict what’s going to happen to it…”

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Jess Perez will always remember those special memories of going to see local bands all throughout the valley, spending time with friends, and meeting new ones while “jamming out.”

“This is type of music is definitely made for dancing, grooving, and getting into that pit! There's no judgment because everyone's doing their own thing. Just express yourself!”

 

Melissa Rojas