Ska music emerged from the sound system culture of 1950’s Jamaica, in which DJs used turntables, speakers, and a generator to turn the streets of Kingston ghettos into makeshift dancehalls. Competition between sound systems was fierce, and DJs regularly employed local neighborhood toughs, known as ‘rude boys’, to break up the street parties of their rivals. By the end of the decade, the scene was dominated by legendary adversaries Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, who played the latest American R & B hits to enthusiastic young audiences. Since the popularity of a sound system was contingent on new music, DJs soon began producing their own songs, resulting in the birth of ska, Jamaica’s first homegrown genre to spark an international craze.
The style is characterized by a guitar chop on the offbeat and a snare drum accent on the third beat, giving ska its almost manically upbeat sound. Artists such as Prince Buster, who had gotten his start as Coxsone Dodd’s righthand man, as well as larger bands like The Skatalites and The Wailers, recorded fast-paced dance hits whose lyrics immortalized the ‘rude boy’ ethos. The creation of ska initiated a new era of original and innovative Jamaican musical production.