Time to Ska!
It’s going to be a sort of a throwback on this week’s World Music Show (11/5), however, it’ll also be tinged with a current thread that will all come together at the end. Sound vague but tantalizing enough to draw you in for a couple of hours? Good.
Now, for those of you who are perhaps like me and grew up in the 80s and listened to what was called “Alternative” or “New Wave” radio, then hearing a cover of the Smokey Robinson song, “Tears of Clown,” was probably your first introduction to British Ska band, The English Beat. It could have even been your first hearing of that Smokey song, not knowing it was Smokey’s song, but that’s another story.
Or perhaps it was the song, “Mirror in the Bathroom,” that introduced you what was being called the Ska Revival. Either way and which ever song got you hooked, the band took the Ska Revival sound and introduced a whole generation of 80s kids to a danceable and even political form of music.
In late October of this year, I got a chance to sit down with the leader of The English Beat, Dave Wakeling. We talked about how the Beat got started, how their political messages were turned into danceable hits and how contemporaries of the Beat helped them gain a large following, thanks in part to merchandising.
But first, a brief history of Ska.
This style originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s. It was the precursor to Rocksteady and Reggae music. It combines elements of Caribbean Mento and Calypso with American Jazz and Rhythm and Blues. It’s also characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the “off-beat.” Ska began to come into its own in Jamaica in the 1960s when Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Duke Reid built sound systems to play American rhythm & blues and then began recording their own songs. Also in the early 1960s, Ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British Mods. Sadly, it later it became popular with many skinheads.
Music historians typically divide the history of Ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960s; the 2-Tone Ska revival of the late 1970s in Britain, which fused Jamaican Ska rhythms and melodies with the faster tempos and harder edges of punk rock; and the third wave of Ska, which involved bands from the UK, other European countries (notably Germany), Australia, Japan, South America and the US, beginning in the 1980s and peaking in the 1990s.
It’s in this 2-Tone era that The English Beat formed, along with band such as Madness and the Specials. It was during a time of great unemployment in Great Britain, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister (which we’ll discuss). Their sound mixed political messages along with a Jamaican beat and some “toasting,” from Ranking Roger. As for their name, well, it changed depending on where you lived. In England, they were just The Beat, in Australia, they were known as the British Beat and in the US, where I heard them, they were The English Beat. The reason for this triple naming is that they had to avoid legal action due to an American band also called The Beat.
The band did three albums in the 80s, “I Just Can’t Stop it,” “Wha’ppen ?”, and “Special Beat Service,” before breaking up. Members went off to form General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. One of the band’s founders, Dave Wakeling, is still touring right now as The English Beat, featuring Dave Wakeling. His main writing partner, Ranking Roger, tours in England in the band The Beat, featuring Ranking Roger.
Throughout the years, their music has appeared in movies (most notably at the end of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and TV shows, and there a few attempts to bring them back together on shows like VH1’s “Bands Reunited,” which was unsuccessful. It took a number of years for Wakeling to come back into a zone to where he could get a band back together (an updated version) and put them on the road. It was during touching that he started writing other new songs again, even producing a song for a Scooby-Doo! Animated cartoon called “Dance of the Dead.”
According to Wikipedia, in 2006, the UK version of The Beat, featuring Ranking Roger, recorded a new album, but it remains unreleased. In April 2011, Wakeling and his band flew over to the UK to perform at the London International Ska Festival at the Clapham Grand music venue. And they played the Dorset Steam Fair Show in August 2011.
For me, it was a very special treat to be able to sit down and talk with Dave in person. The Beat were one of my favorite bands back in high school. And after hearing them, it led me to explore the earlier sounds of Ska and it opened up another world of beats for me. We met the morning after his show at The National on his tour bus before they were about to head off to Maryland for another show. I hope you’re able to tune in to check it out. I’ll hopefully be able to post an edited version of the interview on our website or on our Facebook page—stay tuned.
As for the second hour, I’ve got a slam-bang hour, with new music from a host of bands including San Lazaro, Compass and Dom La Nena. Plus, I’ll throw in some local music too from Afro-Zen Allstars and Bio Ritmo.
Starting it off fresh, will be the band Aquaserge, who are a 5-piece band out of France who’ve been dubbed as an Avant-guarde band and even a 60s FreakBeat band. Either way, they’re fun. Off their EP called “Guerre,” we’ll hear their track “Les Plus Beaux Jour,” or “The Best Days.” I’ll follow that with the lovely voice of Carla Bruni. Mixed in will be a classic track from Jacques Dutronc, called “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi” or “And Me, And Me and Me.” As well as another classic French pop tune, this one from the lovely Brigette Bardot. We’ll hear her song “Moi Je Jove.” Or “I play.”
From the past to the future, we’ll continue with some newness. But actually I’m deceiving you a bit because the two songs I’ll feature aren’t really “new.” From their newest greatest hits CD called “The Best of Bossacucanova,” here are the songs “Bye Bye Brazil,” and “Waldomiro Pena (Da Lata Remix).” Then, from the new CD by the band San Lazaro called “La Despedida,” we’ll check out the songs “Rompe El Cascaron,” and “Esperanza De La Rumba.” This band is Australia’s favorite Psych-Latin outfit, apparently—at least that’s what the Internet says…
The thread of new music pushes in on in our third chunk of music. The track “Bonde do Compass” from the band Compass, is a collaboration with the Mexican Institute of Sound and a Mexican DJ/Producer. It’s a great mash-up of styles. I’ll follow that with another new track off Dom La Nena’s new Covers EP called “Cantando.” The song is “Scenic World.”
Rounding out the set will be a cut from the German multi-instrumentalist and singer Leni Stern, who also plays the N’goni, which is an African instrument sort of like a banjo. We’ll hear her song “Fisherman,” off her new CD called “Dakar Suite.” However, before her, we’ll hear some local music from an-off shoot of the band Bio Ritmo and Quarto na Bossa. The trio is called Miramar and they put out a great CD of Puerto Rican boleros based on the life of a Puerto Rican female composer from the late 40s and 50s known as Sylvia Rexach. It’s really great music on this and I’m happy that they’ve gotten a lot of worldwide attention for this, too.
Continuing in our now local theme, we’ll hear the big band who excels in Afrobeat. The band Afro-zen Allstars, who play all over town and who were at my August BirthdayBash, will thrill you with the song “Here is Freedom.” I’ll follow that with another local band, Bio Ritmo doing their song “Motocilengua.”
Closing out the hour and the show will be an Afrobeat tune from Nigeria, circa 1970s from the band called The Anansa Professionals.
Be sure to let me know your thoughts on this week’s show or on past shows, too. Plus, if you have any suggestions, let me know as well. Also, you can follow the show on Twitter @wcveworldmusic and on Facebook at The World Music Show on WCVE. And for kicks, try streaming the show via this website. The World Music Show airs every Saturday night from 8-10pm on Richmond Public Radio, 88.9FM.