Genres Uncovered | Ska

Once a week from now on, I will sail into the black hole of music genres and re-emerge gliding on the sound waves of genres I would not normally pay attention to today. I’ll especially tap into Winnipeg’s music scene and see what insights I can dig up. I hope you enjoy.

First up… Ska.

Remember the days of driven ska music? I mean, I think of Five Iron Frenzy, Less Than Jake, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sublime who all encompassed the ska sound in some way, shape, or form. Even No Doubt had some ska influence in their tunes. It is a genre that I never really got into, but I feel like ska had its popular place in the 90s.


What is ska anyway? Originally, the genre included a walking bass guitar line, rhythmic percussion on the offbeat, and a lot of upstrokes on the guitar. This means syncopation: accented notes are displaced in the music’s rhythm. In other words, the musicians emphasize unexpected notes in the beat, but it works in a dance-like rhythm (if that makes sense).

Ska originated in Jamaica in the late 50s and was the precursor to reggae music (I didn’t know that). It was not until the 70s when the Brits fused Jamaican ska rhythms with the fast paced tempo of punk rock and the genre started to become popular worldwide.

The genre came up in a discussion with a friend the other day and it got me thinking… I don’t hear much of the ska or ska punk rock genre these days, but is there still a ska scene in Winnipeg?

We have the bold and talented Dirty Catfish Brass Band, but they’re not categorized as ska. They’re more of the Louisiana brass band, traditional jazz and soul. Their sound doesn’t rely on a bass guitar and rhythmic reggae elements at all.

This brings me to a misconception that I always thought: ska has to include brass. It doesn’t, which was news to me. Apparently, brass and wind instruments (i.e. trumpets, trombones, saxophones, etc.) were only added when ska evolved into ska punk. So it depends on the subgenre of ska (you gotta love the ever-changing convolution of music genres over time).

I did some digging and found out that there used to be a ska and reggae festival here in Winnipeg. Greg Milka Crowe (a high school music teacher here in Winnipeg) played in it yearly and explored the ska genre as a frontman with different bands in the 90s and 2000s. Check him out in the video below with his band The Scarlet Union:


The closest thing to a happenin’ ska event in our city may now be the Winnipeg Soca Reggae Music Festival, which will be held outdoors at The Old Market Square this summer—July 14-16, 2017.

p.s. To my surprise, fellow CreCommer Sean Guezen was in a ska punk rock band called The Salvadorian Garbage Men.

“None of us really knew what we were doing, but it didn’t matter,” said Guezen. “The fact that we could write funny, idiotic songs [was fun,] and it just kind of worked.”

My conclusions… ska = groovin’ fun.



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