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Ongoing History Daily: Why do we call it “ska?”

Chances are you know what ska music is. But where did it get that name? 

The ska sound first appeared in Jamaica in the 1950s as a blend of Dixieland, jazz, R&B, blues, big band, calypso, and something called “mento” music. Some people believe that the word “ska” was taken from the sound of a choppy click on the guitar that kind of went “skat, skat, skat.” 

Or maybe it was a dude named Cluett Johnson who used a made-up word–“skavoovie”–when he talked.  Or maybe it was because the biggest Jamaican studio bands of the 60s were called the Skatalites.

Or it might have been another musician named Byron Lee who just made up the word. 

Whatever the etymology, ska has been with us in one form or another for at least 60 years. 

What about reggae?  That story next time.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38170 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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