Ska: An Oral History – A Must Read

Heather Agustin was kind enough to send me a copy of her book Ska: An Oral History last year. I got it and promptly read it. At the time I had planned a new column highlighting print media – old zines, books on Ska, newsletters – really anything that you could hold and read in the bathroom. I figured this book would be a great place to start. So I read it. Then I put it down.

I’m not much of a reviewer at all in case you didn’t know. I’m more informational than true nuts and bolts review and I started to think that I didn’t know where to start with this book. I really wanted to be able to really say something about it. It’s a bold statement from anyone to name their book “An Oral History” basically proclaiming what is printed on the pages is a be all sort of documentation of a whole musical genre let alone one that’s been around for 50 years!

Really how could this book, which truth to be told should be bigger if the writer makes said bold statement, really do a complete job of telling the whole history. I had never heard of the writer before either. Who was she? How did she get the whole history down? There are a great many artists that have already passed. Had she been working on this book her whole life? Really it didn’t matter. It’s a book. It’s about Ska and it contains interviews with various people and artists that have done something to make an impact in someway on the music. That’s the key. It’s not the definitive history – it’s an oral history – there could be more and there is.

There are chapters on the usual artists you would assume would be there like the Skatalites, Toots Hibbert, Laurel Aitken and Derrick Morgan. She jumps to the 2 Tone revival with chapters highlighting the best of 2 Tone including Buster Bloodvessel, Pauline Black, Roddy Radiation, Bedders from Madness and Dave Wakeling. She also gets some good words in about the most banded reggae artist in history Judge Dread. The last part of the book touches on more modern Ska with stuff on Bucket from The Toasters, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Slackers, Sublime and other more east coast artists. There is some missing bits mainly about bands outside of those areas or in general the US Ska scene. That’s fine though as that would be a lot to cover and the scope of this book is more of an overview. The writing is fluid and engaging plus obviously well researched. There’s a lot of info packed in those pages. The basics are there and the book gives a great if quick rundown of the music from it’s early days to today. There’s a lot more story to tell of course and could make for a few more volumes of Ska: An Oral History.

Marco on the Bass did an interview when the book was originally released with the writer Heather which gives you more insight how the book came about. Read that here as it’s a nice read. You can also read his review of the book here.

Heather recently sat down with AV Club Chicago for an interview and this too is rather well detailed. Take a minute to check out that piece here.

Sorry it took so long to get up on the site!

I've been involved in the Los Angeles music scene since at least 1995 going to shows, promoting, spinning records and running labels. Ska and Early Reggae are my passion among other things of course.