Skacore: Guest Blog by Jef Delvaux

The following is a guest blog by friend and fellow skamrade Jef Delvaux. If you have a topic about which you would like to opine beyond a Facebook post, please let me know–I’m happy to provide a space for inquiry and discussion!

Heather Augustyn

Recently Aaron Porter – whose name is somewhat prominent in the online digital ska-world but otherwise unknown to me – asked how the hardcore community relates to so-called skacore. Is it maligned or is rather seen as another subgenre such as metalcore? I needed a bit space to comment on that, so I took it upon myself to write a bit about it here.

An earlier version of myself hung out quite a bit on the message board of the (now defunct, I believe) hardcore label Sober Mind Records. There the owner of the label and singer of Liar, Hans Verbeke, once posted ‘Ska is de Vijand’ which immediately translates to ‘Ska is the Enemy’. The statement did not come with any qualifiers, so we can safely assume that it applied to any kind of ska. And much more recently when someone, who is in the process of mapping those who do and don’t like ska, put that question, via Twitter, to Converge. They answered, without qualification: Fuck no.

Obviously the samples on offer here are limited and will not speak to each and every hardcore kid. But, I do think that they are tracking a sense of low key hostility that is felt by many who identify with the hardcore scene. Below is how I account for it, but it requires that I first say a bit more on where to situate skacore in the broader family of genres.

The name is, obviously enough, a compound of ska and hardcore. I won’t be so foolish to give a comprehensive definition of ska here, but at the very least part of a meaningful conception of ska, is that is Jamaican dance music that was born from fusing, distilling and re-ordering musical elements that are found in indigenous Caribbean music, African rhythms, classical R&B, soul, jazz, … If you could only give one paradigm example for it, it would have to be The Skatalites. The music travelled from there and when it took hold in the UK, it gave rise to a faster interpretation of the genre known to the world as 2tone. Here the paradigm example would be The Specials. And although the origins of a later development of the genre are much harder to track, it is clear that at some point in the late early nineties a new norm had established itself, bands would play ska verses that were followed by punk choruses or vice versa. That particular interpretation of the broader ska genre became, intuitively enough, known as skapunk. A fitting paradigm example would be the band Less Than Jake.

Within this development skapunk occupies a distinct position. The earliest incarnation of ska, in Jamaica in the late fifties and early sixties of the previous century, was a unique blend of a wide variety of musical traditions and 2tone was very much a development that, for the most part, operated within the framework that traditional ska had given to the world. (If this sounds all too mysterious, I encourage you to compare Prince Buster’s One Step Beyond with Madness’s rendition.)

Skapunk bands made that legacy their own by adding punk elements to ska music. They did this, for the most part, not by fusing punk into the already rich mosaic of musical layers, but rather by juxtaposing ska and punk in one and the same song.  A consequence of this is, is that one can treat ska punk both as a subgenre of punk and as a subgenre of ska.

You may be inclined to think that if it became common to write songs in which ska alternated with punk, then it was only a matter of time before bands would start juxtaposing ska with hardcore. And thus it stands to reason that as much as skapunk is both at home in the world of ska and punk, there will be skacore that is as much part of hardcore’s history as it is part of the ska legacy.

There certainly are examples that fit that scheme. The Struggly Continues by Link 80, for example. Especially a song like Right Hook.  And as I already said, despite such musical affinities, they don’t seem to be embraced by the hardcore community.

One factor, I think, is how the term skacore is used in practice. It’s not easy to differentiate between punk and hardcore, but a – I hope – fair first approximation would be to see hardcore as a radicalised version of punk. The songs are written with an eye towards more aggressive dancing. Melody is less central to the music and the vocals tend to be more of the shouting and screaming kind. The already mentioned Link 80 checks those boxes, but the vast variety of the bands that are associated with the term skacore are in fact – given the criteria that I introduced –more akin to punk than to hardcore.

An honorary mention goes out to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, whose 1993 Ska-Core, the Devil and More may very well have coined the term.* But it’s worthy to note that even though The Bosstones are routinely taken to be a paradigm example of the genre, their covers of hardcore classics on that EP are hardcore songs enriched with horns, but that is not an instance juxtaposing ska and hardcore, and neither is their interpretation of The Wailers’ Simmer Down. I will leave it to the judgement of the reader if Someday I Suppose, the opening track from that album falls on the side of skapunk or skacore.

(For further illustrative purposes I encourage everyone to take a look at a list that compiles skacore bands such as this one over at last.fm. I am confident that even the most casual perusal through these bands’ discography will yield that the overwhelming majority fall short of being skacore bands.)

Another factor, I think, is that the hardcore world embodies a broader misconception of what ska is and is not. When I talk to people outside of my own musical community, I tend to avoid the word ska, because for many it only means skapunk. And this in turn has become associated with juvenile humour, a severe lack earnest, wrapped in an excess of hysteric offbeats, and so on.

It’s my sense that the hardcore community makes a dedicated effort to distance itself from that kind of frivolity. Needless to say, that that assumption is, at best, if at all, only true of a very specific subset of bands. It doesn’t begin to do justice to the wealth and depth of ska’s history.

My final suspicion has been articulated a long time ago in the lyrics of New Noise, one of the most famous songs of the Swedish hardcore band Refused. There they articulate that on the one hand the punk and hardcore world commits itself to a variety revolutionary hopes and ideals, but that on the other hand that very same world is remarkably conservative when it comes to its aesthetic values. Refused’s critique of a certain kind of reactionary attitude within their own aesthetic community came to mind as I was wondering why so few hardcore bands are welcoming to the rare specimens of skacore bands.

NOTE

* Heather kindly pointed this out to me.

Tribute to Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair

Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair, younger brother of Wilton “Blue Bogey” Gaynair

I was so sad to learn that legendary tenor saxophonist and Alpha Boys’ School alumnus Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair died on June 23, 2021. Bobby and his wife Anne, who died a few weeks before him on May 8th, both became friends of mine and were two of the kindest people on the planet. I knew something was amiss when I wrote them a letter this past March and never heard back, which was not typical. Though Bobby, whose full name was Ferdinand Hagerfield Gaynair, would have been 93 this August, it still came as a shock to hear the news since he was such a vibrant character. He was warm, funny, and a hell of a musician.

In 2017 I was honored to be part of a team including Roberto Moore and Herbie Miller who advocated for Bobby Gaynair to receive the Order of Distinction for his “outstanding contribution as a pioneer in the development of popular Jamaican Music. That advocacy was successful and Bobby flew to Jamaica for the award. I cried watching footage of Bobby receiving his medal and declaration during the National Honours and Awards Ceremony on October 16, 2017 at the King’s House in St. Andrew.

I have devoted an entire chapter to Bobby Gaynair in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I co-authored with Adam Reeves, and I have donated my recorded interviews with Bobby Gaynair to the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University where they are being transcribed and digitized for public use and historic preservation.

The following is the material I wrote which was submitted to Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia Grange by Roberto Moore and Herbie Miller.

Bobby Gaynair, tenor saxophonist. Photo courtesy Bobby and Anne Gaynair.

Bobby “Little Bra” Gaynair

Born Ferdinand Hangerfield Gaynair, in Kingston, Jamaica on August 15, 1928 to Mary Foster and Fitz Henry Herbert Gaynair, “Bobby,” as he was called, was the baby of the family. His brother Wilton was the middle child, while sister Joyce Veronica (pet name Blossom) was the oldest. When he was just seven years old, his father died of diabetes, which meant that his mother was left unable to properly care for the three children. He entered Alpha Boys School in 1937 at the age of 10. His brother, Wilton, was 12 years old and entered at the same time. “We went together. My sister was taken away by my relatives. She was about 15,” he recalls.

Because of his love for music, Bobby was immediately drawn to the band. “I was allowed to listen in the evenings to the band practice. They had a little bungalow and the band practice there. The music was so nice. They were playing classical music, overtures. The leader of the band was a very good musician, and a former member of the military band, Mr. George Neilson. They practiced in the evenings, every day. I listened to them and I was so amazed hearing the sousaphone and the trombone and clarinet and trumpet. I was a rookie and Mr. Neilson asked me how old I am and if I like music and he said I was one year too young, I have to wait. I was so disappointed. But he said, what else can you do? I said I can do dancing. He said if you can do dancing that means you’ve got music in your head. So I make a couple movements, dancing, and everybody, the bandleader, like my movements and they give me a pet name that never leave me. They call me Go Go Walk,” he says with a laugh.

Brother Wilton was old enough to enter the band, and soon Bobby was old enough to join as well. “My first instrument was a clarinet too, just like my brother. But I got sick with a bad foot. We were playing a ball game and I had damage and I couldn’t go to band practice for a while. They had engagements out and I had to stay home. So during that time, we got another bandmaster, Tulloch come in. When I was able to move around and was good enough to practice, him say now you go and pick up that baritone saxophone. It was a baritone saxophone I learned on. Everybody thought it was too big for me. I had to learn from the rest of the guys in the band and I was self-taught. After Alpha I played an alto sax. I play the clarinet, the saxophone, the piano, the guitar, and I can play the flute. I’m versatile,” he says. While still at Alpha, Bobby began performing outside of the school, as did many members of the band. He says that while still a student he performed with Carlisle Henriques’s band, a large 18-20-piece orchestra comprised largely of Alpha Boys. The band played every Friday night at the Carib Theatre, which Bobby describes as like “Carnegie Hall” in that one had to be very good to play there. Henriques, whose nickname was Tuby because he was “short and stubby,” was not a musician, says Bobby, only a manager, a booker, and an organizer of the band. He says that Henriques frequently came to Alpha to hear the band, loved them, and took them out to play. Not only did this conglomeration of boys play at the Carib, but they also, according to Bobby, played at Vernam Air Force Base, an American military airfield during World War II. Here they played at the base’s club, entertaining U.S. soldiers.

When Bobby graduated from Alpha, his first job was with the Redver Cooke Orchestra. He says that he stayed with this band for “several years” and performed all over the island. He also performed at the Palace Theatre with The Commandos, an orchestra led by Delroy Stephens. Bobby also performed for other bands, filling in for his brother when Wilton left Jamaica for Europe. “He followed in his brother’s footsteps,” says Anne. “When Wilton went off to Germany, Bobby moved into his position as a horn player with all the best bands. Tower Isle, all the hotels up and down the coast. Wherever Wilton went, Bobby was next in line. They would audition other musicians like Tommy [McCook] and when they got to Bobby, he got the job.” Bobby performed with guitarist Fitz Colash, Don Drummond & His All-Stars, Baba Motta, Cecil Lloyd and His Orchestra, and others.

Bobby Gaynair made a number of recordings including “Blockade” with Johnny “Dizzy” Moore and Rico Rodriguez; and “Schooling the Duke” with Don Drummond and Johnny “Dizzy” Moore; and “First Gone (Going Home)” with Count Ossie and Rico for producer Harry Mudie. Wife Anne says, “That song ‘Oh Carolina,’ Don Drummond was really instrumental in writing that, from what I can gather from Bobby. Bobby was the one that was with them doing the repeater drum.” He performed on a number of Skatalites tunes and was a member of Clue J & His Blues Blasters, playing on songs like “Milk Lane Hop” with fellow Alpharians Dizzy Moore and Rico Rodriguez, and for Prince Buster on “My Queen.” He says, “I played music to survive with the different bands, on and off because it wasn’t regular. You get a job when there’s an engagement. With all of that, I survived.” Gaynair was also a member of Lynn Taitt’s band, The Sheiks, but not before he left the stage for the hills for a number of years to live in the Wareika Hills.

While living in his shack in the Wareika Hills, Bobby says that one day he was approached by a manger of The Sheiks in front of all the bredren. He recalls, “One of my friends, the manager of The Sheiks, came in the camp and asked me if I could come to the Teachers Convention to entertain the teachers. But they had to go through government and make sure we weren’t subversive. Me, who was in the bottomless pit, was the most dangerous, because I was a drug user—that is what they call marijuana, a drug. So they had problem taking me through immigration and I had my beard on so I couldn’t hide, I had my full-grown beard. But he liked me and he asked me to come and I look at the brothers and it was like the Father, without any warning, was just taking me out of the bottomless pit to a paradise. The Father is so great. I didn’t even get a break to make the proper arrangement because I had to leave everybody, just went. You couldn’t get a passport in those days with beard on your face, but I was passed through so quickly. All I had to do was be civil and quiet and humble when they question me. The time was so short to leave Jamaica, I didn’t even get the time to take a good shower. Coming from out of the dirt, I was like a little worm. There was a lady I left in Jamaica and she was pregnant with my last daughter. I have three daughters, two in America and one in Jamaica.”

Bobby Gaynair left Jamaica in July, 1964 to tour as one of 228 people, the majority of them members of the Jamaica Women Teachers Federation, for a tour of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. He applied for a working permit to stay and work in Canada. In the subsequent years, Bobby Gaynair rarely performed, though he did have a stint with the band Earth, Roots & Water in the late 1970s. He met his wife Anne in Toronto and they married. Anne had two children from a previous marriage which Bobby helped to raise, and Bobby has a total of four children—Annette, Rose, Paul, and Jacqueline. Anne and Bobby have been married for 45 years and they live in Sydney, Nova Scotia near where Anne was born in Cape Breton. Bobby remained close to his brother Wilton throughout his life and even helped to raise Wilton’s son. But the allure of touring never appealed to Bobby, only the music. Anne says, “Bobby didn’t want to travel. He said, no, I’ve had enough of that. Bobby’s radical with the system. He always got away from it, he couldn’t stand the politics. He just wanted to play his horn.” Bobby still performs regularly, every day. He says, “It’s too late to turn back now!”

Bobby Gaynair at Alpha Boys School in October, 2017

Read my blog on Bobby Gaynair’s recollections of Anita “Margarita” Mahfood at Count Ossie’s Camp here:

http://skabook.com/margarita-the-rose/

Click on the following links to read more about Bobby Gaynair:

https://jamaicans.com/cultural-stalwarts-receive-national-honours

https://www.pierfuneralhome.com/2021/06/gaynair-bobby-ferdinand-hangerfield/

https://capebreton.lokol.me/ska-pioneer-enjoying-a-quiet-life-in-whitney-pier

https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/honour-bound-gaynair-happy-at-nat-8217-l-award_113926?profile=&template=PrinterVersion