If the best things in life come in three, then this long-lasting musical genre is certainly no exception. Ska came in three distinct varities, each of which has drawn influences from the one that preceded it as well as numerous other styles of music. Despite the unique features of each sub-genre, there are a few musical consistencies between the three, most notably prominent horn parts, distinctively syncopated drums and guitar chops and Lyrical Dissonance, which is practically a genre trademark.
First Wave: Jamaica
The original ska style was a precursor to rocksteady and reggae, appearing in The Fifties in Jamaica at the same time Rock and Roll was developing in America. Many of the original artists took their cues from Rhythm and blues and Rock and Roll records imported from America in addition to more traditional styles popular in the Caribbean such as calypso and mento. There was a bit of a dichotomy between developments in the ska scene and new sounds coming out of America; in the period before the arrival of The Beatles which saw American pop music starting to slow down, ska did likewise. This eventually branched off to lay the foundations for the genre's close relative, Reggae. Notable performers included Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Toots And The Maytals, the Skatalites and some early work by Bob Marley.
Second Wave: 2 Tone
The second style appeared in Britain in The Seventies around the same time as the Mod revival. 2 Tone fused ska, Punk Rock and a few other styles popular on the mod scenes. Notable groups included The Specials, Madness, the Beat (known as the English Beat in America), Bad Manners and The Selecter.
See Two Tone for more details.
Third Wave Ska: Ska Punk
The third wave of ska began in America with the formation of ska groups in the early 1980s, inspired by their British predecessors. The 2 Tone-influenced New York band the Toasters were among the first to appear in 1981, with front man Robert "Bucket" Hinckley forming Moon Ska Records and paving the way for many other ska acts to follow. Another prominent east coast group forming in this time were The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who fused ska with Hardcore Punk to create the sub-genre known as ska-core. However, third wave ska really got going in the states with the appearance of ska punk and the Orange County ska scene, pioneered by bands like the Uptones.
Third wave ska enjoyed its greatest success in The Nineties, with ska punk groups such as Sublime and the Bosstones topping the Modern Rock charts while bands like Save Ferris and Reel Big Fish had tracks included in several film soundtracks. However, the genre of American ska began to wane by the end of the 1990s, and several bands switched over to play different styles. Even so, ska punk still has a devoted following.