"A Philosophical Look at Ska and Jamaican Music" Why? Radio episode with guest Heather Augustyne
2:59PM Sep 2, 2021
Jack Russell Weinstein
DISCLAIMER: This transcript has been autogenerated and may contain errors, do not cite without verifying accuracy. To do so, click on the first word of the section you wish to cite and listen to the audio while reading the text. If you find errors, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the episode name and time stamp where the error is found. Thank you.Why philosophical discussions about everyday life is produced by the Institute for philosophy and public life, a division of the University of North Dakota's College of Arts and Sciences. Visit us online at why Radio show.org
The original episode can be found here: https://wp.me/p8pYQY-edl
Hi, I'm jack Russel Weinstein host of wide philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode, we'll be exploring Scott and Jamaican music with my guest, Heather Augustine. I'd like to set a scene for you. It's 1981. I'm 11 years old and in sixth grade standing in a concrete school yard in upper Upper Manhattan. It's my lunch hour and I'm holding one of the original Sony Walkman so it's big. It's not mine. So my best friend mandsaur is a Russian immigrant who moved to New York a few years earlier, he lent it to me so I could listen to his new tape madness one step beyond. I turned it on and everything tilts. There are three moments in my life I regularly describe as feeling the world shift on its axis. One is in grad school when I was introduced to the problem of the one in the many another is watching my daughter be born. But the first one is this. I can feel the chill autumn air right now and the weight in my hand I can be consumed by the music. For the few of you who this means anything to the only artistic rendering I've ever known that has come close to this moment is the penultimate scene in the movie SLC punk, but if you've never heard of it, don't worry, it's not important. I'm not going to tell you that one step beyond is a work of genius, or even my favorite song. What happened that day is that I adopted an identity. For the first time I was given something to become, it's gone under various names punk rude boys skinhead. We'll get into that later. what's relevant is that I was given a mirror to see myself through and access to a community I hadn't yet met. This Jewish preteen and Spanish Harlem was given a tape by his Russian friend containing a 1979 cover version of an English band of a largely unknown 1964 instrumental and for the rest of his life, he would be irrevocably tied to the protest music of former slaves on the island of Jamaica. This music is ska, and in honor of our guests, I'll simply describe it as fast reggae but that's just kind of a joke for her. You'll get to hear examples of the music during the show. For now, it's time to Muse on a philosophical puzzle. Why is it that so many of us define ourselves through what we listen to? How is it that music speaks to us with an intimacy that no other art can manage? It isn't just me claiming this. By the way, it's the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who wrote that music stands apart from all other completely and profoundly understood by our innermost being. Teenagers get this, especially those who struggle with friends or expressing their emotions, many become so identified with a sub genre, that their dress, mannerisms and vocabulary change seemingly overnight. to outsiders, then their friends look the same conforming in their nonconformity. But to the initiated, the subtle differences of shoelace hair color, how they fold their pants cuffs are the duct tape that they wear on their hoodie contains all the information they want you to know, communicating to their tribe in advance the ground rules for how they want to be treated. For some of the really lucky ones, that connection never leaves, and they may find themselves as I did in their 50s holding on to the idea that this affinity makes them special, enjoying private new discoveries about a very old musical friend. Music gives listeners dignity, even when the song itself isn't particularly dignified. It's a vehicle for the least social emotions and a means to put into words that which listeners cannot yet say. But there's something else and this is why I have chosen today's guest in particular, some music carries the weight of history, klezmer Irish music, Gregorian chants. You can't understand them without attending to where they've been. And it's the same with ska, it has baggage. It's not always evident minute, some skies just bad. And some is made by people who listened to people who listened to other people who listened to other people who once heard the real deal. We're actually going to talk about this on the show. What happens to music when it leaves its original context, does it lose its authenticity. But even the songs with four degrees of separation still have little threads that can be pulled. If someone bothers to ask, Hey, why does the guitar player strum up rather than down? Then an old world opens up again and the suffering cries of the oppressed might once again be acknowledged. This is a philosophy show so I'm not going to spin tracks or try to persuade you to like what I like. Instead, I'm going to pose a question what's the relationship between the sounds we hear in the story we learn from Forget lyrics, title and marketing. How does music keep and lose its meaning. Scar was built on the rhythms of the plantation. If it no longer communicates that, can we still call it SCA.
And now our guest Heather Augustine is an author, photographer and a continuing lecturer at Purdue University Northwest. She's written seven books on Jamaican music, including ska and oral history, ska, the music of liberation and women in Jamaican music, which was just released this past May. Heather, thanks for joining us on why,
jack, thank you for having me. That was quite an introduction. And I think the themes that you're touching upon there are, are really important, and they lend themselves to any genre, but I'm really excited to dig in.
Well, as I told you, when I first contacted you This is, this will be broadcast in January, but this is my Hanukkah gift for me this is this is this is this is, you know, this is the benefit of being the host of the show, I get to choose who I want. And so I've been I've been waiting for years to do this. And I'm so excited and to our listeners. If you'd like to participate, sharing your favorite moments from the show and tag us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, you can do it. Our handle is at wire radio show and you can always email us get at ask yud.edu listen to all our previous episodes, including other episodes on music. Why Radio show.org Alright, so I want to start Heather simply by asking why do we talk about musics in terms of genre? Why is it important that we're talking about ska, as opposed to just music?
Right? Well, it's easy. It's easy, it makes it more accessible. When you know we can put a name on something, it's just like naming anything else, it just kind of gives us a frame of reference. So for people who do know what sky is they can say, Oh, yeah, that and it's whatever they associate it with. But for others, you know, who don't know what it is? It requires a little bit of explanation. But I think it's just for accessibility, you know, to know what we're talking about, of course, then when you go deeper, you know, it's very slippery.
That slipperiness that that. That sense that the genre has boundaries. I know that for people who follow SCA, there is a always a debate, is this song sky? Is this song. dancehall? Is this song, reggae and people get really animated about that stuff is? Is that just is that important? Or is that just inside baseball? gatekeeping people try to find something to talk about.
Yeah, it's definitely a little bit of inside baseball. And it's, it's, you know, it's I think it's attached to what you talked about earlier about identity. And it really does kind of come down to that. And if somebody can say, you know, well, this isn't scar, this is, you know, reggae or something like that they're kind of flexing a little bit to use a young person's term, they're kind of showing, like, I have some knowledge about this. And so therefore, I can, you know, show that this is part of my being my identity. And, you know, I mean, I think there is some, it is a little bit helpful to be able to make those distinctions. But I think when, you know, when you talk to one person, they're going to make different distinctions than another person. And that just comes from what they identify with, what they hear what they associate it with. And it's because the music is deeply personal.
Alright, so so I would suspect most of our listeners don't necessarily know what sky is, if they've heard it, they couldn't identify it. And I want to play two different songs, something from the late 1960s which we'll talk specifically about Pretty soon, and then something from 2013 and I want you to tell us a little bit after each one, what we're hearing. The first one is the art typical 1960 Scott song It's by toots and the maytals and it's called 5446 was my number. Daniel again, no, no, no, no. I wouldn't do that.
Okay, so that's a song where someone is decrying the rumor that he has informed on a friend. And then we get something that sounds quite similar but very, very modern from a band out of London, and it goes like this
weekend. Okay, so how does someone who's new to the music come to this? And other than the pleasure of music, which itself is a whole different conversation? What would you as a score scholar want them to hear?
Well, the first thing I would want them to hear is the beat. So I think that's what's kind of the common thread running through, I would argue that neither one of those songs
But the common thread and what makes them connected to Scott and why I'm believing that you played them is because of that rhythm. And that rhythm is on it's it's very different from the American rhythm and blues or that rock beat, which is very kind of like straight on heavy. And it's the opposite, really. So it's, it's stressing the off beat. So it sounds, for lack of a better word kind of syncopated. But it's not really syncopated, but it's, it's that off beat. And so it's the up strum on the guitar, as you'd mentioned during your introduction, and it's that I think what gives it the energy and makes it what people call, you know, upbeat, lively, energetic, and it is that rhythm and that rhythm is is common in ska in in Rocksteady and reggae in dog in dance in some dance hall. That was there was some dancehall in that there's some different rhythms. But that's the common thread. And that's all connected to Jamaica.
And so in a second, I will ask you a song that I should play that will contrast that to give that syncopation and then I may make some sound effects on the on the radio to make myself and, and pointed out but this rhythm is the rhythm of protest and the rhythm of slaves and the rhythm of this history. Why How does a rhythm Be that as opposed to just something that people play in, like, talk a little bit about, if you will, how you start your book on liberation, and the way that rhythm was the voice of the slaves themselves, right?
People have talked about the rhythm of the slaves as the talking drum. Because I guess I'll go even before that, but when when the slaves came through the Middle Passage and they came on the ships, they had nothing but their music, their culture, their identity, and that was stripped away from them by the oppressor by the kidnappers, and the only thing they could keep with them was their, their music, their culture, their identity. So the drums and the rhythms that they brought with them to various countries became part of a way for them to communicate with one another quite literally. In in the hills of Jamaica, you know, rhythms and the horn The are bang, a way to communicate with one another to rise up to revolt. The Maroons in the hills would communicate with one another that there would be a slave uprising. So quite literally, it was a way to communicate. But also it was a way to communicate with one another in order to have that connection to their motherland. So, the rhythms of You know, the the countries that they had come from in Africa became part of the music in Jamaica and so some of the groups of slaves have developed these rhythms like the booboo drummers, that booboo were a group of, of slaves that had revolted and had gone to live kind of in their own communities, and they drunk, they were drumming communities as a way to stay connected, those rhythms became part of the Jamaican music when it started to be developed, because it kind of all we could get into that, but there were a lot of different forms of music that merged together. But but the foundation of it was really that African drum.
So Jamaica becomes a both a waystation in the Atlantic slave trade, and the center of some plantation life, it becomes a colony for from England, so even after the slave trade is over, the Jamaicans are under the foot of the English, right in the 1950s. And then I guess in 1962 61, or 62, Jamaica is liberated, right and, but in this process, they get there's American military bases in there, there's Calypso, there's an early form of Jamaican music called mento, they start to get radio transmissions from American radio. So the here r&b, you can hear a lot of Otis reading in writing the first song that I played, and they start to develop this musical culture. But then it becomes a vehicle for status entertainment, combat for fun and competition that a lot of people recognize from the hip hop, right? culture, why what what's going on there? What's going on in Kingston in particular, that all this stuff combines to let us get this particular blend of of Scott which again, I'll play an example of right after the after this part of the conversation.
Right? Well, the the part of it that's competitive, really comes from from Calypso, and some of the even before that, some of the, the celebrations that were taking place in the Caribbean in general, and one of the forms of like a procession that would take place in the Caribbean was it was it was called a con Bray. And it was it means burning canes, and it's stick fight. So they were, you know processions of people and as part of it, they had kind of like, the leaders of these two groups come together and they had kind of like a mock stick fight, to display their prowess that tradition carries through and into the music. because music is participation celebration procession, it's associated with festivals and all this. And so, that boast it becomes boasting, essentially, like I am the you know, I am the best I am the the leader of this, I am the king I am the and, you know, it manifests in different ways. So, we have a lot of, you know, beef songs, which is part of the hip hop culture Now, I'm not saying it comes directly from Jamaica, but it definitely comes from Jamaica. There's many ways it comes, it's not a linear path, it's a circle. It's kind of like a melting pot. But, um, but another way that it comes through to and this is directly tied to colonialism is they take on the names of King Prince, sir. And these monitors are a way to boast too. So it's, it comes it's from the stick fights. It's also from colonialism, like I'm going to take back this, you know, identity and I'm the king now. So, they also would, I like I said beef songs, they would make beef songs off of one another, and you could go like five songs deep on some of these beef songs back back and forth to one another. They would also do this boasting and competition live at sound system dances where they would clash and try to play the best song to have the best crowd reaction. They would try to have the best song recorded by the best artist and played at their sound system dance so that they could be crowned the king and they literally would be carried into the dance on a throne with a crown and an urn mine A cloak on so it was really theater in a way.
I want people to get the picture of this and then I'll ask you what you want me to play. Because the sound systems, these aren't nightclubs as we envision them, they're often empty lots these folks are very, very poor people didn't have radios didn't enough stereos. So they were handmade, massively sized speakers, right, that people would dance to all night. But then also they'd attach these speakers to cars that look like two three storeys, high cars, trucks, and drive around battling with each other calling attention to them to get the most people into the room, or into the area to make the money and to and to have the pride what what song I play that will give us a sense, and What year is it from, of what this might sound like?
Well, I think I think school in the Duke is really a good one to play. And this song. School in the Duke is a beef song. And it was a song by that was recorded by one of these sound system operators. And his his name was coxsone Dodd. And he wanted to kind of like throw off the competition, which was Duke read. And so schooling the Duke was, you know, his way of saying, you know, I'm going to teach you how it's done. And, and so this song would have been what they call a one off, or a special at the time, it was a recording made just for the sound system. It's by Don Drummond. Don Drummond was a master trombonist. And he was well known at the time, he had spent about 10 years in the jazz industry. And I say industry because he was playing at at clubs, and it really was a whole precursor to what we're talking about right now. But he was well known. And so this song would have what they called flopped the competition, meaning gotten the biggest reaction at the sound system yard. And, and it was a way of sticking it to the competition.
So Hi, there, what did we just hear?
Well, this is what somebody might call protos score. So you can hear it doesn't have the step beat that we talked about earlier. It really sounds a lot like jazz. That's because it was, but this song would have been popular because jazz was popular all over the island. It was especially popular in dance clubs.
the jazz is part of it. And the horns, I think is is what you're really hearing. So Don Drummond with the trombone is soloing. That's a big deal, because that really wasn't done a lot up until that point in Jamaica. But he was really the star of the show. So you're hearing Don Drummond who's virtuoso. He was very prolific, he wrote a lot of music. And so people would have come to the dance to hear this song because Don Drummond was a star.
How much do the people know when they hear this music? Right? I mean, most people when they hear music, especially new music, they don't know anything. They just they react emotionally. And if they go to the clubs to dance they want you know what Aristotle called? catharsis. They want it they want to let that emotion release. The deeper you are in a music genre, the more you understand, so when when people danced, did they understand the weight of the history? Do they understand the beef? Did they have loyalties? Or was this just popular music and people treated it like popular music, and they liked this song until they liked that song and then they went about their business.
I don't really think it was that shallow, but it also wasn't that deep so I don't think people realized, you know, oh, I'm shaking off the, you know, the chains of the oppressor. It wasn't anything like that, of course. But music was much more than just popular, you know, flavor of the day, it was participatory. And it always had been so, you know, even before Scott, the music of the people, quite literally was folk music. So, it had come, you know, music was a way to gather to celebrate, to get away from the work day, the oppression and, you know, do all those things that are connected to the homeland and things like that, but it was participatory, always it was dancing and music were so intertwined. It was it was an act. It was, you know, it was not a passive. It wasn't, you know, you couldn't really Laming listening to it on your Walkman is such an anathema to what was going on then because it was you know, it was a an activity. And so, from that folk music, came sky, and it's definitely connected. So ska music wasn't listening to what was popular the day it was being involved in the the music itself. So they, like you said, you know, they didn't have stereos, they didn't have radios. I mean, maybe somebody you know, in the yard would have a transistor radio, so they could pick up the radio stations, but it wasn't standing around listening to it. Nobody had record players that was for the wealthy. So music was you know, it was part of the audience always it was being played in a dance played in a hall. And so the music and the dance are inseparable.
When we come back from the break, I want to talk more about this participatory aspect. I want to talk about the migration of sky outside of Jamaica and the subcultures and the political content. And I want to ask you about the debates over what Scott really is. But before that, you're listening to Heather Augustine and jack Russell Weinstein, on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. We'll be back right after this.
The Institute for philosophy and public life bridges the gap between academic philosophy and the general public. Its mission is to cultivate discussion between philosophy professionals, and others who have an interest in the subject regardless of experience or credentials. visit us on the web at philosophy and public life.org. The Institute for philosophy and public life because there is no ivory tower.
You're back with wide philosophical discussions of everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. I'm talking with Heather Augustine about SCA and Jamaican music and the way that music and identity and the world people live in interact. And I you know, I was, as I talked about, in the beginning, the show I was very active. In discus seen when I was younger, I went to all the clubs that I was allowed into before I went away to college, I was a DJ in college. And then I go to grad school, and then I go live in Europe for a while, and I lose touch with some of the music. And I lose touched on the music in the 1990s when there is a massive boost of ska in popular music combines with punk rock, in the Southern California area, in part because of stuff that happened in England that we'll talk about. And there are these bands that people talk about one's name, the aquabats one's name, real big fish that I didn't hear until like five years ago. I find this stuff unrecognizable because I jumped the 90s and ended up listening to Scott again after I became professor and lived in Grand Forks and this was the 2000s in the last decade. And the genre becomes something else. And so Heather, I guess the first question I want to ask is when SCA leaves Jamaica does something bad happen, right? It goes to England. It's combined with punk rock music and a variety of ways bands become a mixture of white and black. There's this thing called the two tone movement that talks racial harmony and English politics. When it comes to America, and particularly 90s, it becomes almost entirely white. Most of the bands that in the 1980s, a little more complicated, but in the 1990s, they're mostly white, they're middle and upper middle class. It, the bands don't necessarily take themselves seriously, there's a lot of joking it becomes fodder for MTV and other things. Is this bad? And is this a violation? Is this cultural appropriation? What is something like this due to a music that has such deep roots?
Well, I think you're you're really kind of hitting a nerve here, because it is. This is the point of debate that that people have is that, you know, it's not bad. It's not bad. It's, you know, especially because it you know, it, it serves a similar purpose, but not in the same way. But I mean, the for suburban youths, you know, it was still participatory, it was an outlet for whatever they were experiencing, certainly not the same level of oppression, or maybe not even oppression at all, but it was still serving a purpose. And that was to bring enjoyment, energy, you know, escape, expression, creativity, all of those things. Was it appropriation? I think, when it comes to appropriation, if they're if it's done in a way that is disrespectful, then of course, that is offensive and harmful. But this was not done that way. If If you want my opinion, I think this was maybe most of the kids who formed ska bands during this area, because that's really what it was, was a lot of high school jazz bands or marching bands that they say, hey, let's get together and make a ska band. There was probably no even awareness of the Jamaican ska in their world. They were just listening to what they had heard, which during your intro, you said was, you know, a band that was influenced by a band by a band by band, so it had already been so diluted, at that point, that that's why it doesn't sound like the original. But for some, it really, I think, maybe led them down that rabbit hole of Hey, what is this music? Where did this come from, and then they do go trace those roots, and maybe do find a deeper love and that I think has can lead to some really deep and profound creativity even more because it's more informed, it's richer, it's more layered and more respectful too.
So I want to play again, two songs. I'll just play them short and back to back. The first is a song called easy snapping, which you and other folks often identify as the first the very first ska song and then I was going to play a song by one of my favorite card bands, the interrupters Amy the boys if you're listening call me but but actually play a band by real fish with real big fish which I mentioned earlier called sellout. And I I want you to have this debate for us. I want you to have the philosophical debate as to whether or not these are the same or different kinds of music and and why so we'll start here with easy snapping.
And now let's hear real big fish sell out.
of Yes. with me tonight. The record companies only give me lots of money.
Okay, so they sound different I mean, easy snapping it's, it's, it's, it's it's almost the Lawrence Welk of of scar. And it's very of the time. It's, it's, it's, it's, I know that, that if young Jamaicans heard us talking about ska, now, they'd think that we were their grandparents, right. I mean, it's not in Jamaica anymore. I'm not sure real big fishes, particularly hippie there. So So there's that. But, but, but is this the same type of music? And I guess, no, have the philosophical conversation for us. And then we'll step back and we'll have the philosophical conversation about the philosophical conversation. What's the debate as to whether this is or isn't the same music?
Well, the debate is, is that it is so far removed from the sound, the quality of the instrumentalism, the musicianship it's silly, instead of rooted in something more serious, or, you know, authentic, I guess, to us, you know, that word it is. It's so far removed from that, that is it even part of that same animal anymore. Um, and so that's why we try to put different labels on these things. And some people have called it you know, third wave ska. The second wave being what you talked about earlier, the the UK version, the two tone version, the first wave, of course, being Jamaica. So we it's so problematic that people try to put different genres, you know, sub genre names on it, because cash, it doesn't sound the same at all. So how, how could it be the same thing. But then again, there are similar elements, like we talked about before the rhythm, that syncopated rhythm is still there, the horns are still there, these musicians are still probably trained in some jazz or marching band or something somewhat classical. So they have those, that knowledge of those, you know, chord progressions and things like that. So there are similarities. So, yeah, and it is, it does all lead back to Jamaica, even if they weren't aware of it, necessarily. So that's the debate. And I think what you'll find, too, is that for many fans, they like all versions of that sky. They like real big fish, and they like the satellites and Don Drummond. There's something appealing about it, and what is it the energy in the spirit, it's uplifting.
I want to, I want to do something. And if if, if the radio station had a repeater, if I could, if I could record over my voice in a cycle, it would be better. But I want to point out to the listeners, exactly. What it means that this rhythm is, is the score rhythm and identify so so if I, I've got I'm going to reproduce a couple, two different sounds with my mouth, you have to imagine them playing at the same time. The first thing is, I'm going to reproduce what sometimes gets called the skank, which is the upward stroke of the guitar. And it's Schweich schwenke schwenke schwenke. And then if I was to do this thing that starts off, called toasting, to Jupiter. So if I go, Swank, Swag, swag. Swag. Cool. Swag, swag. shank. That's hard, too fast. Swag. Swag. Anyone who knows the genre knows I'm doing a scar song. Right? And that's a ska song. With just a rhythmic element. That's what you're talking about. Right? When we're talking about the legacy of the rhythm. It's that right?
That's right. And it's, it's, I mean, to put it like even even a little bit more technical terms, it's the the upstroke is on the two and the four beats in the measure instead of the one in the three. So the one in the three would be more of the rock'n'roll. And the the two in the four would be the score. So the stress is on those beats in the measure. instead.
I'm glad you brought that up because I want to play just a minute of a marvelous video that's on YouTube of Bob Marley explaining exactly this as to what The difference between ska reggae and rock steady our
follow the music stack Jeff from reggae. He used to be a music. I was like, aka af belows needs to play before discussed that, you know, even be black Joe eggs. Jana Jana, Jana and Jana is a period that plenty from the develop to the perception. ching ching ching, ching, ska. And then for Rocksteady that Jeong Jeong Jeong forever knows, check it, check it, check. See if she different.
He gives us three different rhythms there. I know for a lot of people who aren't used to hearing the Jamaican English, it might be a little hard to understand. What's he What's he describing here? What's happening? And again, why is it important rhythmically?
Because really, what we have here are three separate what we would call genres that are unique and in in an invention of Jamaica. So, you know, I think it's important because it's definitely tied to Jamaican identity. But what's he talking about here is that that scab beat is the foundation of the rock steady and the reggae that comes after it. It's just that the rock steady. It's it's a different rhythm, yes, but it's a bit slower. The horns are gone. For the for the most part, vocals come in, and it's more connected to the American rhythm and blues style of what was happening at that time. And then reggae is really a different beat altogether. what we would call slower, which is what you alluded to in your intro when you called ska fast reggae and it is because reggae is reggae. the tempo of reggae could be faster. But there's something different about reggae, and it's typically slower. But what is different about reggae it is that that rhythm, which is almost a double rhythm, if you will, it's a dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. You know, it's it's completely different. But it's all built upon that original ska rhythm of it being on the two and the four beat.
Okay, so so scar becomes huge in Jamaica for a fairly concentrated period of time, mid 50s to early 60s or mid 60s, I guess, before it branches out into these other things, right. people develop clothing styles and attitudes initially called rude boys, they dress. They were modeled on gangsters. They dressed a certain way. When the economy plummeted, and especially for musicians, and a lot of folks moved to England. They brought the records with them, they brought the clothing and the style with them. And this infected a small group of English teens who also identified themselves as rude boys. But something else goes on is that this a group of working class young toughs become enamored with this music, and we know them as skinheads. But this isn't at this point, the violent racist skinheads, these are people who are very interested in Jamaican and African culture, right. What is it about the migration of ska, that someone you know, in the two tongue movement, Jerry Dammers, and folks who were in the specials saw that was a unifying force as opposed to a dividing force. How is it that this music before a lot of trouble started? How is it that in the 1960s, it was a music for black and white audiences, not just black audiences?
Well, I think part of it was is that they, the black and white communities were living in proximity to one another, I don't want to say together because was fairly segregated. But but they were living in the same proximity to one another. They were in similar conditions, because unemployment was such a problem during you know, the Thatcher administration. And so there was a similar kind of oppression going on, not the racism in the white community, of course, but that's a whole separate issue, but they found themselves in similar situations in in similar areas, and so they were hearing the white youth. They were hearing the music of the West Indian immigrants who had come there looking for work during, you know, the Reformation era and reconstruction after World War Two, but there wasn't work. There wasn't. It was they were terrible conditions. And so they were in this similar situation and singing about the same things from two very different points of views. So like people that you mentioned, like Jerry Dammers, he's hearing these muse, the music of the West Indians that they brought with them the records, he's hearing this in his in his neighborhood, he's hearing it in what they would call shoe beans, or, you know, house parties, and they loved the music. I don't know why, I don't know. You know, like, what is it about the white youth that they like what they hear, I don't, I don't know why they had an affinity for it. I guess that would just be like a matter of personal taste, because that's why I love it. I love what I hear. I think he loved what he heard. He wasn't the only one, of course. But there were plenty at that time. Who were they were hearing it it was underground music in a way because it was being played at house parties. So maybe that was part of the appeal too. But then, like you said to it was the other things that they were listening to. It was it was punk music, you know. And that's what Bob Marley describes when he talks about punky reggae party, and that's literally quite, that's what it was. So that's when bands like the specials, the selector madness, they blended their tastes together. And it it comes out as this yet a different form of ska.
There's also something going on. And you can tell me if my assessment is right about this. There's something going on in America that prevents a kind of embracing of this in the way that England does, is that America, which is racist in a very particular American way. Refuse to think about pop music from white artists in pop music from black artists. in the same category, there would be the you know, the billboard rock and the Billboard Pop. But if anything came from a black artist, it would be r&b. This actually came up recently with that song Old Town road, right billboard made Old Town Road, r&b instead of country because it was sung by a black artist and there was a big a big to do about it. When we listened to music, to the categories that we put the music in come first, or does the music invent the categories? Is music powerful? I mean, yeah, I will pose the question like that when we listen to music when we have genres, which comes first, the way our mind organizes the music, or the music itself.
In America, I think it's the the way that the music is categorized, which is why probably a lot of your listeners haven't heard of ska. Because where's the SCA category? Where do you put Scott on the radio? Where is the sky radio station? Where do you put it? Do you put it on an r&b station? Do you put it on a pop station? You know, they may, people may have heard of real big fish because they were able to break through and sell out into the mainstream. And that's why they are easy to categorize and put on that radio station. But then why haven't listeners heard hubcap or toasters, because it's difficult to categorize. And so the categories prevent us from hearing the music for what it is. And so that's, I think, I think a uniquely American thing, it's a commercial thing. It's because music is music is not heard, unless it can sell or unless there is some way to access it. So how can you access it in America? We don't have underground house parties here in you know, I mean, we do and that's how, you know, like, you know, house music in Chicago and things like that are heard but eventually, but you don't hear it on the radio. And so, you know, think about that. How do you access your music? Is it what an algorithm delivers to you? And how does that happen? It happens through categories.
I think it's also really important for any of our younger listeners to understand that there was no internet, right? That we have access to all of this stuff. Now there's a handful of very, very good An interesting podcasts out there, you recently did a podcast that these two guys do this podcast called horn pub, which is very, very nice for being exposed to the full range of of more contemporary sky of some philosophical issues with that with their approach, but that's okay. Scott boom is a new podcast that that's coming out about a book that's coming out. It's it's there's some really good stuff. But when I was the toasters were my favorite band for years. And then I would would go to Bleecker Bob's in New York, there were these thing called imports, right? These these yams, international albums, that would be twice as expensive that you'd find in the bands. And all you would know about the music is the album that you would happen to come across that you would judge by its cover. And because it was in the score slot, right, then something happens. My sky radio show was on college radio, which was the one area of radio that would tend to mix the races. And there was this magazine called CMJ, the college music journal and college music journal started this trend of summarizing these songs, and then having these really minute genres, you know, acid pop, a dog house, right, I invented that. But But you know, and the DJ was supposed to know what that meant. They could play things without hearing them or, or research things to follow other things. And so the way that people found music was completely different. Until 1994, when the World Wide Web was introduced, right? Does this mean that music is more tied in with people in the community back then than it is now it's possible now to be completely immersed in a music genre and have no face to face contact with people, especially during COVID-19. But it was impossible when I was growing up to listen to ska, and not meet other ska fans, because you were competing for the same records and you were going to the same record store. Does that change the nature of music does does does the face to face element? The the the return to the sound system kind of thing? Is that? Can you hear that in the music? I guess that's the philosophical question. Can you hear the community in the music when it's more face to face?
I think so. I personally do. I think that was always part of ska music. Like we talked about the folk music, it's music of the folk people participatory. I mean, think about it right now. I mean, how much are we missing? live music during the pandemic, whatever your musical choice is, if it's if it's going to an opera, if it's going to, you know, a massive festival, I think people are really missing that because music is experiential. And if you can't experience it, then there's something very different about it, that the, the identity comes out of it the the, you know, the, I don't know, it's, it becomes kind of maybe a little bit more mechanical. But I think that I think music has to be experienced. And if it's not experienced, or you know, that's, I mean, listen to a song on your Walkman and try not moving, try not tapping your foot, you know, so there's something that makes us part of the music that's just kind of inherent in whatever it is. And that's why some music calls to us and some music doesn't. There's something that is part of us, that makes us part of it.
One of the reasons why I chose the two songs that I did in the beginning, even though I knew that they were we'll call them boundary songs, not quite ska, is that they were both styles that I thought would pull the listener in immediately. They were overtly emotional, overtly rhythmic, overtly music that you could imagine dancing to a club and I wanted to do that rather than one of the more old style muted ones, because I wanted people to be pulled in. And I have to tell just another story. I feel like I'm talking too much on this episode. But but right before the pandemic started, I saw the interrupters in Winnipeg and I had had the tickets for eight, nine months, and I was super excited. And I was going to go with my daughter who hadn't quite become you know, solidly and physically a teenager yet and so I ended up going with my wife and we went in the balcony, because since my daughter was still young, I didn't want to be on the floor. I wasn't sure how she would react to the chaos of writing a pet a pet and mashing and skanking and all this kind of stuff and everyone on the floor would As insane and crazy, as they often are in a ska punk show, right? And everyone in the audience was completely subdued and didn't move. And I stood up, and I started to dance in my seat. And they told me to sit down. And I was, I was, first of all, I was baffled. And second of all, I was furious. It was an incredible performance and one of the worst musical experiences in my life. And to be honest, for about two, three weeks, I fell into a massive depression. Because it called into question exactly what I want the show to be about, which is, if I can't participate in the music community, can I listen to the music, and it took me a few weeks to listen to the interrupters again, I was really I really thought that they had been taken from me is that, you know, without this becoming therapy, which is that experience uncommon? Is that experience of of feeling ripped away from the community? Is that just me being crazy and neurotic? Or is that something that that the music itself communicates?
Oh, it's definitely some of the music itself communicates and you know, you could you could argue that about any music, really, but it's so unique to ska, that. I think that's part well, like we talked about, I mean, that's the part of what's where Scott came from, it was always participatory, but and when that's missing, then there's something changed about the music itself. So the very my very first story and you talked about how the toasters were one of your very favorite bands, same here, and they still are, that was my that's my story. Everybody who's a ska fan has one, they'll say how the music just changed them when they first heard it or whatnot. For me, it was going to a scotch show. And it was the toasters and my brother Charlie took me and I This was in, I think, about 1993. And this was you have to remember right after the grunge era, and a lot of arena rock, and a lot of sitting in your seat, or at the very, you know, most maybe standing up with a lighter, you know, and holding the flame and that was the expression of the music, then, well, I went to the toasters, and I was in the back. Because the crowd was massive and packed, and they were moving, they were dancing, they were mashing, they were expressing themselves. And it was the best thing I had ever seen. I went, Whoa, what is this, and that was it. And then I found, you know, as I'm researching the music, and years later, that that is part of that music that even in the UK, when the specials that we were talking about when they performed on stage, members of the audience would jump up on the stage, they were there was no separation, there was no barrier between the band and the audience. And when I say it's not just one or two people, I mean, it was a massive group of people up on the stage. And they welcome that for a while until things got a little rough. But because they wanted there to be no barrier. And so having to sit in your seat, yeah, after after that, you know, the knowing that this is part of ska music to have to be forced to sit in your seat during a fantastic band like the interrupters. I mean, I wouldn't be depressed to
I want to play a snippet from toasters East Side beat from the sky boom album, because it's the best version. And, and I want people to listen to just this 36/32 snippet. And imagine standing still during it, because I think that that gets to the point. And what's Of course, interesting about East Side beat is Rob Hanley, who's the the lead singer bucket of toasters and founders founded his own record label called moon. And the first part of the song he's just referencing all of the high school bands that are on his label to true is one of the examples and so when you're in the community, you know that but but let's listen to this for 30 seconds and just imagine sitting still.
Okay, now, I want to Shift the discussion for a second and talk about around the same time that I saw the interrupters I got to take my daughter and my wife and my daughter's friends to see the SCADA lights. And we danced and it was it was everything It was supposed to be actually the SCADA lights came on right half of them are 700 years old right in half. And because this is SCADA lights are what the the original biggest band in ska in Jamaica starting in the 1950s and have been playing regularly ever since. And one of the great moments of my life is skanking, which is a sky dance with my daughter Edina while Doreen Shaffer Gaga was was singing. I'm Doreen Shaffer, it was the skylights vocalist, she's got a bunch of solo albums out to so far we've heard largely male voices. And so far with the competitiveness especially, there's a certain kind of maleness that comes out of punk rock that comes out of the Jamaican gangster rude boys seeing the skinhead scene. But women are really important part of this right and Doreen Shaffer in particular, is, I mean, a saint of ska, right? You've written two books on women in Jamaican music. What do we learn about the music from the women's experience of it? And what do we learn about the women's experience from the music?
Hmm, well, I mean, women, I, we don't learn as much as we should, because the women were not allowed to voice. They were backup singers. You mentioned Doreen, and she was one of the few who were allowed to be a soloist. But at the time, women were really relegated to being backup singers or part of a duet duo. And they were told what to sing. So really, we can't, we can't learn very much from them in the Jamaican era. And there are a few of them because women weren't allowed the choices that men were allowed women had, you know, certain roles to play. And as you know, child bearer child, you know, care. hortense Ellis, I think is one of the most amazing voices in Jamaican ska music from that era of and reggae. But she had nine children, she didn't have the choice of having a career and expressing herself and making music for people to celebrate and dance to she had to raise her children she had to pay, earn a living. So that's part of why I wrote the, you know, the book that I did on them are the two books that I did on them. And it's because I think that it makes their contributions even more valuable because you realize that it had to go through so many barriers in order to be on vinyl. But in later areas of ska, I think, especially at the American ska music, I think what we can learn from women's voices is that women were allowed a space now, women had space on the stage in the spotlight, thanks to the you know, so many who had paved the path for them, but they women had space and each woman is able to express herself in the way that she does. So that we have very different images. We have some American SCA that the women are kind of, you know, more tough and a little edgy and a little badass. And then there's other women who are very sexy, and then there's women who are, you know, sweet and demure. And so it's a personal expression, and they're allowed to have that now.
I want to play just a bit of the original voices. I've got a lovely version of Dorian Shaffer doing sugar sugar but you like Hortons LS so which would you rather I play?
Okay, so Sugar Sugar by Doreen is very, very sweet. I love it. I wish I wish you would. But hortense Ellis, woman of the ghetto is so soulful. It's not Scott's more reggae. But you hear the pain in her
voice. Okay, so let's listen to women of the ghetto. Let's listen to that right now.
That's really remarkable. How does she do that with nine kids? I mean, how does? How does that, um, there's another woman who has a profound impact on all of this who's largely invisible, and that's Sister Mary Ignatius. Who runs an orphanage right? Alfa boy schools, will we That's right. Will you talk just a little bit that and why that was so important, because this this is an example of both the the invisible impact of women, but also the way that one small thing can explode into, you know, a worldwide free long phenomenon. what's right, what's off about boy school and why is marriage nation so important?
So Alfa Boys School was established by the Sisters of Mercy, so many women, and it was established in 1880, in Kingston right in the heart of Kingston just kind of a little bit north of the downtown
orphanage. Right? It's an
it is it is essentially Well, I mean, not in a traditional sense, but it's that what they call the school for wayward boys. Many didn't like that title. Many of the boys that went there didn't like that title. Not all of them were, you know, what they would call bad boys. But But essentially, they were boys that were maybe truant from school or little, maybe they, you know, the parent was missing in the household. And so then, you know, they were sent there because they have poverty and things like that. So essentially, they went there to get an education, but also to learn a trade so that when they did graduate, they would have a job, brick making gardening, tailoring woodworking, things like this. One of the trades was music, because at that time, you could get a job in the, you know, 40s 30s 40s, you could get a job in one of the orchestras, the jazz clubs playing for tourists, and the elite. So they had a classical program there. That was taught by a band Master, typically from one of the military bands, the boys could get a job in the military band after as well. sister, Mary Ignatius Davies saw the potential of the band for her boys. And so she would, she helped to grow that program. She acquired instruments, she recruited band leaders after they had graduated from alpha, she would recruit them back and say, you know, please lead this band. And, you know, the boys, if they had a proclivity that she saw for music, she would put them in the band. And she really helped to grow this program, she would play the boys music, she had a lot of love for music. She even played the saxophone herself. And this was during the days when none still dressed in a traditional habit. So that was quite a sight to see. She also brought in band leaders to recruit the boys so that they would, I mean, get a job in the Eric Dean's orchestras and all the big orchestras of the day. So without her, these musicians would not have been able to develop the music that they did, which was scar so many of the musicians that are associated with kind of the creation of ska, members of the satellites. The band that you just mentioned, came from Alfa boys school. So Don Drummond, Johnny dizzy, more, I could, there's a roll call of musicians who went to alpha boy school and it's really because of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, that she was able to develop that program because she had a deep love for her boys and a deep love for music.
You know, and and the population of Kingston, Jamaica in 1955 is about 340,000 people. And so the, you can have a massive impact in a small place like that Jamaica was only about I think 1.7 billion around that around that time, and so the influence becomes much wider and much You know, you can feel that how long does it take? Okay, so, so trying to I'm trying to think about the question that I want to ask is because we have to start winding down. Um, do you think, Okay, So? So? Do you think that being popular is good or bad for a music genre? I mean, obviously, it's good for musicians, they make money, right? They, they can live they can eat they can explore, the more they have, the more freedom they have. But as as, as someone who is really deeply immersed and in love with a genre, and genre that has for a very long period of time fought with pop music, we haven't talked about Millie smalls and my girl lollipop. Or my boy lollipop the mic girl is is, is the bad manners, bad manners. We haven't talked about the the couple of hits along the way. But Scott's always fought with popular music. In Jamaica, in England, in the United States, around the world, there are tons of compilations and bands from Mexico and France and Scandinavia. Right? Is his popular music good or bad for his genre?
Well, I guess it, it depends on in, you know why it's popular, if it's popular, because it's just, you know, on on the radio on the pop station, it's gonna, it's gonna go away as fast as it came. But if it's popular in, and the music has a depth to it, and it's, you know, there's something about it, that's gonna last I mean, look at Heck, you know, Led Zeppelin was popular, it's, it's good music, it's still popular. So there's, it depends on what you mean by popular. But, and that's why the scatter lights lasted, I think, because they were popular. And they still are, you know, among a certain group popular not in the way of like mass numbers, but the depth, the depth of that popularity? And is it is it, I think it is a it's only bad if it's not if it there's something about it, that's not gonna last. So I and I, what is it that makes it last, and I think that it is the talent and the quality, you know, those things are not going to go away. That's why we still listen to the toasters because those are good, solid, trained, skilled musicians. Yes, they're playing something that is, you know, that was popular at the time, they still are. And that's because of the quality of the musicians chip. I'm not going to say I'm not going to call out names about those who have gone away, but, but that's why I think things are trendy is because maybe it's popular at the time, and it sounds kind of catchy. But if there's no substance behind it, which in the case of ska comes down to musicianship, then it's gonna gonna, it's going to go away very quickly. And but the bands that weren't coming out that were coming out of Jamaica, I mean, those were really skilled musicians, and those bands are still listened to today.
And that's really important. And then I have one more question. I lie, I always lie. I always say I'm gonna ask the question. But, um, but but that's really important to tie in the last parts of our conversation, because when ska migrated to England, in particular, but also in the 1990s, in the United States, it followed the punk rock method of you learn to play an instrument while you're while you're in the band. Right? Right. Right, we're playing things that are, you know, it's the it's they're, they're, they're, they're learning to play the bass while they're learning to play the baseline. But they're alpha boys school, made it so that all of the young people in Jamaica, who were who were inventing this genre, we're already incredibly good musicians. Yeah. And that changes the music too, right? It changes the level of experimentation, the experimentation goes into a different way. But I think that's part of what you're talking about. So one of the ways to understand the difference between, we'll call it what some people call trad traditional SCADA, the the sort of the lineage where you can really hear the connection between Jamaica and whatever people are playing Now, there is a musicianship and a quality and a connection to jazz, and improvisation. That comes from basic skills. Whereas the Scot punk stuff, which can be really wonderful, is much more do it yourself.
Right? Well, and if you think about a tune, that's what, why those musicians in Jamaica, who were trained and skilled, were able to really play anything. So it's not like when ska stopped being popular, that those musicians went away and had no job. No, they played Rock Steady, they played reggae, they could change instruments, they could move to England and play with the two tone band there. So they still had abilities that could change with the music as the the trends changed. So without that, then, you know, if you learn to play your bass on stage, you're not going to be able to play maybe more sophisticated baselines of the next genre that becomes popular.
And you use the word that I wanted to ask you about just now. So for the last question, what do you think makes music sophisticated? And is what makes ska sophisticated? An example of that? Or a separate category? When we talk about sophisticated music, as opposed to good music? Which is a whole other conversation? What makes music sophisticated? And does ska just fit into that? Is that a universal claim? Or is it particular to what you are interested in?
Scott can be very unsophisticated. And I think that comes from the lack of musicianship, personally, what makes ska sophisticated I think, is a deep knowledge of the instrument and the the theories, the techniques of music, to be able to know you know that this particular point in the music, maybe a minor scale would be better, and then go back to the major scale, because you want people to feel a little discord and then resolution so that they feel that emotion of there's hope things will get better, you know, they'll feel that transition in the music, if you don't have a sophisticated knowledge of music, you're not going to have the ability to do that. And to sense the feeling of your audience, and to give them and deliver what you want, you're playing the music more for yourself, and maybe just doing what you have the ability to do. So it really limits you. And so when you hear a piece of music, whether it's Skype or anything else, and there is what I'm calling that level of sophistication, it is. It is something that makes it not only just good music, yeah. But it's also something that makes you appreciate the musicians and the people behind it so that you are connecting not just with the music, but you're also connecting with the musician, so that you are I think maybe receiving their skill and you're you're being a receiver of what they're putting out and their their personal output. And with just putting music that's trendy, that doesn't happen as much. So I think music and when it's sophisticated, that there is a communion going on between the producer and the receiver.
I think that that is a really good way to walk away from the conversation because of course, it's a universal claim rather than just about SCA, I hope. And I actually didn't ask you this in advance. So if you say no, we will edit it out. But I hope you're willing to send me so I can put on our web page. Five or 10 songs that you love that people should listen to. I know you sent me some examples of jazz, you know, jazz influenced or anything but but I would like and I'll do the same for my own list. I would just like 10 of Heather's favorite ska songs that you think people will groove to and and and and listen to Morris I will you do that for
I would love to do that. Nothing would please me more and I'm going to put it together with your audience in mind specifically so that we can have a musical communion.
That would be wonderful. Heather this has been just such a treat and such a great way for me to end a fairly difficult period. Thank you so much for joining us on why. Thank you, jack. It's been an honor. You have been listening to Heather Augustine and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussion but everyday life. I'll be back with a few thoughts right after this.
Visit IPP ELLs blog p QED philosophical questions every day. For more philosophical discussions of everyday life. Comment on the entries and share your points of view with an ever growing community of professional and amateur philosophers. You can access the blog and view more information on our schedule our broadcasts and the y radio store at www dot philosophy and public life.org.
You're back with wide philosophical discussion but everyday life, I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking to Heather Augustine about sky and Jamaican music. And I guess I'll start out by talking about the fact that I'm a little nervous about this episode. Scott is tremendously important to me. But I also know that it's very hard to talk about music on the radio. And I want it to be accessible and interesting and compelling. And I want people to maybe be motivated to listen to more. But at the same time, philosophy is very important to me. And this is a philosophy radio show. So what I don't want is for this to have been a show about me talking about my favorite music with no philosophical content, right. So I wanted to find the balance in this episode. And I honestly have no idea if I made that balance or not. And you as the listeners will judge that. And I hope you will drop me a line and tell me if it's true. Ultimately, though, what I want all of us to think about, and one of the reasons why I really liked having Heather on the show is there's something very special, very unique about music, in that it is purely experiential, as she said, we participate in it. But it's also often identity forming, it carries history, it carries meaning, but it also carries a future and desires and passions. And even if you ended up not liking sky, even if you never listen to another sky song again, as long as you live. I'd love it. If you saw that patterns in the music that was important to you. I'd love it if you were able to use this episode, to look at the relationship with the music that you love. And ask, what is it that it gave you that helped you be you? What is it that the music brings to your life other than distraction, other than entertainment, that helps make your experience on this world, more human, more whole, more full. For me, that has always been a connection with other people and other ideas and other stories and the rhythm, the emotion. The connection with ska has always morphed that with the Brut musical experience that of course, as the child of musician I grew up with. So listen to ska, look at your own life. I hope you enjoyed this episode. But take these questions and apply them to whatever music is important to you. Because this isn't about which music is better. It's about how and why music speaks to us and how and why we can speak back. You've been listening to Jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life Prairie Public Broadcasting and the University of North Dakota's College of Arts and Sciences and division of Research and Economic Development. Skip what is our studio engineer. The music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis soul. For more of his music, visit jazz flute weinstein.com or myspace.com slash Mark Weinstein philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the Institute, there is no ivory tower.