Skatalites: Inventors of a Genre

Article Contributed by Philip Emma | Published on Saturday, March 3, 2007

Deep in the heart of Chinatown lies a dark and gothic like cave we in Philadelphia like to call the Trocadero. This particular venue holds a nostalgic memory for me.  It wasn't since the early 90's (when I was in high school and went to see Anthrax at this venue) that I had the opportunity to see a show here. It's a great venue. On the other hand, the atmosphere at the Troc tonight had a whole different feel to it. It was light and bright with Rasta sounds and swingin' ska fans. presented a night of old and new reggae/ska sounds. It was the first night of the legendary Skatalites new tour. People of all ages came out to see the inventors of the first truly Jamaican music. It started as a mix of boogie-woogie blues, jazz, calypso, mento, R & B, and African rhythms as early as the mid 1950's.  Amazingly, there are still 3 remaining members of the original lineup that we were blessed to see: Lloyd Knibb, Lester Sterling, and Doreen Shaffer. But, first there were two opening bands to set the vibe.

The first band was called the Players. They were a fun 7 piece ska/reggae band from Baltimore that got the crowd movin' and warmed up with their powerful sound. Their vocals had a hint of Brad Nowell from Sublime especially in the song titled "Stool Sample", and their horns blew it up for the Peter Gabriel classic "Sledgehammer."  One awkward moment for me though was when they covered "Confucius" (a Skatilites song) while The Skatalites themselves were walking into the venue. I have never really seen that before.

The next band was a 4 piece reggae band named Moses Livingston & the Raggamuffins. It was a big relief for me to see a real roots reggae act play in Philadelphia. Moses Livingston is a great reggae singer from Jamaica who has sung with Rappa Robert, Tippa Lee, the Delfonics, and the Honorable Luciano. His voice has a classic roots sound to it with its deep, fast, and melodic flow. This local band was a breath of fresh air on a cold winter night.

Next, it was time for the creators. The Skatalites took the stage with a countdown and went right into a familiar Skatilites opener "Freedom Sounds." The crowd of mostly white ska swingers went crazy. It was so interesting to see ska dancers. These guys know how to move. It looked like a combination of swing dancing and moshing. After "I Should Have Known Better," the Beatles cover, the epic James Bond Theme graced the stage, and the crowd went wild. This continued through next song where the talented brass section teased The Flintstones theme song and Pop Goes the Weasel. My favorite part of this show was the horn solos. One could clearly hear the terrific jazz influence that formed into an offspring. After "Two for One," the band brought out original singer Doreen Shaffer. She belted out songs like, "Can't You See," "When I Fall in Love," and "Sugar, Sugar," among others. Her presence mesmerized the crowd with her gentle tones and phrases. When Shaffer left the stage with warm love from the crowd, the band rocked again. It started right with the very famous "Simmer Down." This song was written by The Wailers with the accompaniment of the Skatalites in 1963. It was Bob Marley's first big hit, and was written and directed to the "Rude Boys" of the Jamaican ghettos. This song was written with all intentions of sending them a message to cool down all of the crime and violence going on in Kingston.

The rest of the night's songs continued to fuel the crowds dancing and fun. There were chants of Kingston, saxophones crying, and countdowns to close with "Freedom Sound." I felt truly honored to see this legendary band that keeps on playing through all of the adversity that it has overcome over the years.