BANGALORE: Combining elements of Caribbean mento, Calypso and American Jazz, Ska is characterised by upbeat rhythms and accented bass lines. Born in 1950s, this particular genre of music originated in Jamaica and has steadily amassed huge popularity over the years. With its catchy tempos and energetic guitar riffs, ska reflects the freedom and attitude of a contemporary society. Fusing reggae, rocksteady, and rhythm and blues, this particular genre has now found its way to the Indian rock and roll scene too.
Formed in New Delhi in the fall of 2009, ‘the Ska Vengers’ offer explosive and fully unscripted energy mixed with some proto punk elements with great ease. Emerging from the Indian underground music scene, the band caters to sounds that are both refreshing and experimental. In 2011 alone, the band performed all across India, collaborated with Bangramuffins, authors and activists and completed their debut album (mixed by JD Rock Award winner Miti Adhikari).
The line-up comprises Samara C (vocals), Delhi Sultanate (vocals), Stefan Flexi K (organ/vocals), Raghav Diggy Dang (guitar), Tony ‘Bass’ Guinard (bass), The Late Nikhil Vasudevan (drums) , Rie Ona (saxophone), Yohei Sato (trombone) and Juan Carrenza (trumpet). City Express catches up with the band to find out more about their love for music and future plans.
■ Your music is often described as socially and politically charged. What are the various elements that define your identity?
As a band our identity is defined by what each member brings to the table. And, we would like to think that we compliment and balance each other reasonably well. Some of us come from a reggae dancehall/sound system musical upbringing which can at times be a bit darker and more aggressive in terms of what you embody on stage. For us reggae, ska and dub are profoundly and inherently political, not just in the lyrical content but in the very sound of the music. Reggae and ska originated in Jamaica and dealt with the colonial experience. They express dissidence.
In order to represent this music in India, we need to correlate our cultural and historical experiences. We find inspiration in the many peoples’ movements that are happening in the country.
■ How important is music to our existence today?
Before we even speak of today, we think one has to realise that music has played a fundamental role in human existence through the ages. The evolution of language in humans is intertwined with the evolution of music. As a species, music played an important function in the evolution of the neural and cognitive mechanisms of our brain. It is a quintessential human cultural activity and exists in all cultures on the planet, whether big or small. It is omnipresent in today’s world.
So many of our social or group activities are accompanied by music, from republic day parades, to warfare, marriages and advertising, if you go to a mall there is music playing in the background. It is important to understand these mechanisms better but it is very clear that music has the power to manipulate people’s emotions and impact mass behaviour.
■ Woman of the Ghetto has a refreshing sound. Tell us about this track
This track is actually an Indian version of a Jamaican version of an American song by Marlene Shaw by the same title. Our version is inspired by Phyllis Dillon’s song ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ released on Duke Reids Treasure Isle recordings in 1969.
In Jamaican music so called ‘versioning’ is very common. Basslines or instrumental tracks often have their own name and keep recurring in songs through the decades. The instrumental track of Woman of the Ghetto — the bassline is called Sidewalk Doctor.
Unlike other versions, Sidewalk Doctor is not been versioned very much in reggae music but a few tunes on this instrumental do exist. In a way, this song is a tribute to the origins of the music on two levels. One because Duke Reid and Treasure Isle were crucial to the creation of ska and rocksteady music. Duke Reid is an iconic figure. Secondly, the song is a tribute to the ghetto origins of the music.
■ Any future projects we need to look forward to?
We are working on a short film to accompany a track called ‘Rough and Mean’ from the forthcoming album with director Q.