Local ska legends revealed intimate details of 'corrupt' labels in Heather Augustyn's new book Ska: An Oral History launched in the US last month.
The book published by McFarland, doesn't aim to expose corruption but the theme reoccurs in the voices of the Jamaican artistes interviewed. The book also discloses the contested root of the words ska and reggae.
Toots Hibbert, Laurel Aitken, Derrick Morgan and others speak of labels underpaying, withholding music for label benefit or coercing artistes to sign contracts.
"There was corruption and I think there probably was a lot of great talent at that time that was perhaps stunted or stifled even due to this corruption," Augustyn told the Observer in an interview following the launch of her book which includes a forward by Cedella Marley, daughter of the late Bob Marley. "It's just speculation, of course."
But Augustyn's view is guided by her scores of artiste interviews. Contrastingly, honest labels included Leslie Kong's Beverley and Tom 'The Great' Sebastian, according to Augustyn, who is also a correspondent for the Times of Northwest Indiana in the US, the editor of numerous publications whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, In These Times and The Humanist.
"But artistes like Laurel Aitken died feeling he was never properly appreciated, and I do think some of that has to do with some of the corruption he encountered," she said. "I think that happened with Aitken, and countless others. But it wasn't only the producer's corruption, it was a combination of a lot of things."
For instance, the 208 page book speaks of the fierce sound clashes between Duke Reid and Sir Coxsone Dodd and its effect on the industry. Singer Derrick Morgan alleged that Coxsone withheld the public release of the single Leave Earth in order to have unique music to counteract Reid. Additionally, when Morgan released his first single via another label, Reid allegedly coerced him to align to his camp.
The book also discusses the evolution of ska to the present, however it remains largely underground since its 90s resurgence in the US. Despite its status Augustyn hopes and expects the music to survive.
"Yes, absolutely it should survive, and I hope that as I argue in the book, if it survives just because of past merit alone, then that warrants survival. But as I take a look, in that last chapter, ska will survive in a whole variety of new ways, through the eyes of younger musicians who interpret the music in their own ways. So who knows what we might see! It's exciting, and still very much alive," she stated.
Ska fusion forms explored in the book include hardcore punk and ska or skacore; ska and funk; ska and country or rockabilly; ska and pop; and ska & hard rock. She noted that the fusion should foster its growth throughout the years and introduce it to a new generation of listeners.
"The bands who do this well and have a big loyal fan base will continue to drive the music forward and innovate ska in new ways. Bands like Fishbone, Hepcat, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, which are all very popular in the US, will continue to introduce new audiences to ska, and when those audiences really care about the music they will begin to learn more about its roots and find a rich past," she said.
Her book pays homage to a 60s musical form lost on contemporary Jamaicans. She suggested that a large concert featuring Jamaican artistes could resurrect it locally if only for profit.
"I think a ska festival would be a huge worldwide hit. Ska is still very big, especially in Europe and Japan, and here in the US. And the respect we have for the country of its birth, the musicians who created it, would be a draw. I really think it would be big for tourism," she concluded.