The Ska Files

Past reviews from the pages of RootsWorld and Hollow Ear
No particular order... just browsing material. Some styles overlap, some are unrelated... you make your own judgements!

See also: The Caribbean, reggae

Special Reviews:
Skatalites Foundation Ska
Ernest Ranglin Below The Bassline

Maximum Perversion
Moon Ska

The third wave of ska has been a tidal one. Mephiskapheles is one band that has come from the bottom of Moon to rise to the very crest of their label. One good reason is that their horn arrangements are far and away the best in the business. If you recall the early Seventies sound of Chicago (not Peter Cetera love ballads), you'll get a feel for the big brassy sound of this ska band.

Mephiskapheles have melded together one-part ska, one part 'cool jazz', and one part angst-ridden rock. Their previous irritating hit, the "Bumble Bee Song," is no model for this album. As before, we have the Nubian Nightmare grunting and groaning his way through esoteric subjects such as the creamy center of an Oreo cookie (as on "Snack Pack"). But it's the horns that carry the album. With "Foursome" and "Break Yer Ankle Punk," we're on the swing-band circuit. With "Satan on the Beach" and "Aliens," we're back in Jamaican roots territory. Whatever the song, the great arrangements on this record keep the interest stoked. This is roots-style with a definite attitude. --Wayne Whitwam

Negu Gorriak
Ideia Zabaldu

Never mind that Negu Gorriak is speaking the oldest language in Europe, they are making some of Europe's most revolutionary music. The band acts as an icon and voice for the Basque Country's separatist movement. The Basque people are the oldest ethnic group in Europe, preserving their ancient, unique language and traditions since Paleolithic times. The 2 million Basques were granted autonomy from Spain in 1980, but many still seek independence.

Their album, Ideia Zabaldu (Spread The Word), is now available in the US. The music is strongly influenced by punk rock, but also incorporates traditional sounds and hip hop elements. Although the different influences don't cross paths much in any given song, one song will be straight ahead punk rock and the next will be percussion based and another. They have disbanded with plans to rejoin upon Basque's independence. - Paul Harding

Moon Records

Few folks I know share my small but strong fascination with contemporary ska. They say it all sounds alike; it's formulated; it's too concerned with late nights and beer. OK, it's all true, (gee, smells like Seattle) but the best of these bands do it with such unabashed spirit and humor that I find it to be the only rock-based music I can think of that really lives its own life these days, whether it's the dark lack of inhibitions of Mephiskapheles or the upbeat conscious beat of Arsenals. This band in particular has captured my attention because of the solid Jamaican dub/Detroit soul connection they have made. They can stroll into a slow funky groove or jump up and rock, horns ablazing a la James Brown, and always have a unique personality. While they may know the formula by heart, they are tossing in their own ingredients and the taste is elusive yet familiar. Eat it! (CF)

VARIOUS ARTISTS Gree-tah = Scream

Latin ska and punk-rasta again, this time from Argentina, Spain, the Basque region, America and Brazil is what's in store for you here. Some of it is pretty dreadful, but a few of them hit the creative mark. Of particular note is the Basque band Negu Gorriak who manage to get in salsa, punk and politics with a Tito Puente meets Joe Strummer attitude. They offer two tracks, one with a nice tribal-beat opener that leads into the salsa thing, the other a tune I wish I knew the lyrics to called "Oliver Iparra" (Oliver North). Cover song fans will find the Psychotic Aztecs version of "Secret Agent Man" listenable, and Todos Tus Muertos, one of the reigning stars of the rasta-ska-punk scene (is there really such a thing?) dish out two of their feedback-and-distortion driven bits. Most of the rest is post-punk metal that honestly leaves me as cold as their American counterparts; matter of taste, I guess.

Niños Con Bombas
De Tiempo En El Momento De La Explosión

Rock En Español from Germany? Some of the best: Niños Con Bombas (Kids With Bombs) is a trio made up of members from Chile and Brazil, who put roots down with a drummer from Hamburg, Germany. Their US debut, De Tiempo En El Momento De La Explosión (In Time For The Moment Of The Explosion) stakes them significant ground in the recent onslaught of Latin punk-based rock.

As with most great bands, Niños Con Bombas is extremely difficult to tag as they dodge between a groove of ska, into a chaotic, moaning chorus and later to a tirade of Spanish rap or a brief poppy hook. The end result is a dramatic presentation including cabaret overtones crossed with operatic metal power. But beware, at first it may come off as bizarre, only later to sink in fully.

In Spanish, English, Portuguese and French they sing abstractly about an emotional, urban life among violence, waste and Coca-Cola, a "sticky ball [that] might squash you." Promising a US tour soon, hope that the moment of the explosion is sustained long enough to maintain the power and that there are more bombas yet to come from these niños. - Paul Harding

See also: Ska-rama, The Caribbean, reggae

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