Though it was created decades ago, ska is alive and well and continues to grow.
No greater place was this on display than at the Supernova International Ska Festival held in September at the Fort Monroe national park in the United States (US). Dubbed the largest ska festival in the hemisphere, it featured 36 bands from nine countries over four days.
Also present was a music student and staff from the Alpha School of Music, who joined thousands of fans from around the world to celebrate ska, Jamaica’s first popular music form.
Alpha’s participation in the festival is part of a multiyear partnership with Supernova, and the trip was made possible through the support of the event and the Jamaica Nice clothing brand.
Neon Witter, a student at the Alpha School of Music; Clayon Samuels, senior music instructor; and Alpha Administrator Margaret Little Wilson represented Jamaica alongside performers Stranger Cole and Sister Nancy. They joined ska musicians from Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Chile, and the US.
Although Alpha did not perform, Witter and Samuels took the opportunity to observe and learn about festival production. In addition, Alpha had a booth inside the Jamaica Pavilion, where they greeted ska music fans from all over the world, sold Alpha merchandise, and promoted the Jamaica Music Experience, a new training programme for musicians outside of Jamaica.
Witter said his Supernova experience was life changing. “Observing live sound production overseas was a transformative experience,” he shared. “It also reinforced that live sound production is an essential component of entertainment, responsible for elevating live events to unforgettable experiences.”
The Alpha School of Music released its very first vinyl record, sponsored by Supernova and released by Chicago-based Jump Up Records. The seven-inch vinyl features the first student cohort at the new Alpha School of Music performing the Skatalites’ anthem, Eastern Standard Time, and a classic Jamaican mento, Rukumbine.
Ska was created in the late 1950s to early 1960s, with notable contributions by Alpha alumni, including founding members of the Skatalites like Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Johnny Dizzy Moore, and Tommy McCook. But Jamaica quickly moved on to rocksteady, reggae, and then dancehall. Conversely, the rest of the world continued to embrace ska and even fused it with elements of rock, punk, and vinyl culture. As part of the degree programme, current Alpha students are now studying the evolution of ska.
The founding directors of Supernova, Tim and April Receveur, discovered ska music while living in Tokyo, Japan, and immersed themselves in international ska culture. In 2013, they established Supernova in a small bar, and since then, it has evolved into a renowned event within the worldwide ska community.
“The festival took a big step forward this year,” said Tim Receveur.“We moved to a larger venue and four days of music. As the festival grows, we very much want to ground Supernova with a tangible connection to Jamaican culture. Our partnership with Alpha, inviting Alpha to the festival, featuring Alpha in the Jamaica pavilion and helping connect Alpha with the ska industry is one way that we stay true to ska’s Jamaican roots.”