What Happened To Ska?

SkaNo Doubt: One of the most mainstream Ska bands of the 1990s.

What happened to ska music?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a moment and look at the short history of the genre.

Ska music originated in the late 1950’s as a predecessor to rocksteady and reggae, combining elements of Caribbean forms of music with American jazz and blues. Over the next several decades, the genre evolved to eventually pick up the faster tempos (and often the anti-establishment messages) of punk music, becoming what is known as “ska punk.”

By the end of the late 1990’s, ska was everywhere: On the radio, in movies, in video games. So this begs the question: Where did it go?

The short answer: It’s still here. The genre never really died; it just went underground. Bands such as Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish and Suburban Legends are still around, and they’re still touring (side note: I dragged my wife to a Streetlight Manifesto concert on our honeymoon, and it was awesome).

The long answer: Near the turn of the century, ska eventually fell out of the sphere of profitable and popular.

The peak of ska is viewed as when it was in a bunch of movies in the ‘90s, predominantly preteen movies with stupid, goofy humor. Less Than Jake even recorded the theme song to the 1997 Nickelodeon movie “Good Burger” (“I’m a dude, he’s a dude, she’s a dude, we’re all dudes!”).

As the fans who enjoyed this genre and these movies grew up, so did the bands themselves, many of which developed into harder sounds. Others, such as ska-punk frontrunners No Doubt, broke up entirely.

It later eventually metamorphized into full-on punk rock.

Another big factor in the disappearance of ska is the general size of these bands. Streetlight Manifesto is made up of eight musicians; Reel Big Fish has six. Others have more. It sounds simple, but a lot of bands have a hard enough time getting four or five guys together to play once a week.

I’m sure there are other reasons for the disappearance of ska that I’m overlooking. In the end, I don’t think it’s fair to say that ska is dead: It’s just in hiding, touring under the shadows of rock or pop shows.  

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