Dance the Jamaica Ska

Jamaica Ska brochure, designed and written by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

In my most recent book, Operation Jump Up: Jamaica’s Campaign for a National Sound, I chronicle the efforts of the Jamaican government and music industry to establish the identity of this newly-independent country through a series of events in Jamaica and the United States. Central to this effort was the ska, both the music and the dance. Ronnie Nasralla, manager for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, personal friend to Edward Seaga (then minister of development and welfare, later prime minister), and masterful advertising executive of his own company, told me on a number of occasions how and why he developed this dance and promoted it in numerous ways–one of which has recently come into my possession and I share photos of it here, for the benefit of the preservation of history.

Jamaica ska brochure, written and designed by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

These are the same photos of Ronnie Nasralla and Jannette Phillips who appear on the covers of a number of ska albums. This was an insert placed in many of those albums, and this one was included in the 1964 Original Cool Jamaican Ska album with a track list of almost all Laurel and Bobby Aitken tunes. Mr. Nasralla explained how this brochure came to be. “Eddie said to me, ‘Ronnie, move around the crowd [at Chocomo Lawn] and see what they’re doing on the dance floor and see if you can come up with a brochure on how to do the ska,’ so I did that. I danced with the people and moved around and I came up with a brochure about a week after, how to dance the ska—something they could use to promote ska worldwide. That brochure was used by the government. They put it in all the record albums and it was sent all over the world,” Nasralla says.

Jamaica ska brochure, written and designed by Ronnie Nasralla. Property of Heather Augustyn.

The photos on the cover of this album were taken by Brian Motta, who had an amateur career in motorcar racing before training at Kodak Eastman in the United States, subsequently heading up the photography department and lab at his father’s store. His father was Stanley Motta, owner of Motta’s Recording Studio, the endeavor that launched an industry, both for Motta and for Jamaica. Below are a few of Brian Motta’s photographs, which you may recognize as color (oooh, Kodachrome!) versions of the black and white film shot at the Sombrero Club. The filmmaker for that event was Cinematographer Franklyn “Chappy” St. Juste who told me, “This is Ska was filmed at two locations—Sombrero Club and The Glass Bucket Club. The intro was shot in a studio at the JIS Film Unit and at Sombrero. I was the cinematographer for the studio scene and filmed mostly at Glass Bucket, only a few times at Sombrero. Most of the Ska films—there were two released—were done in 1964. There was some filming in 1965 I think, and this would be at Sombrero.”

Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.
Brian Motta’s photo from the cover of the Original Cool Jamaican Ska album, 1964.

I have never been a record collector because I know it would be a dangerous slippery slope for me and I would quickly go broke. But I do have a small collection of long-playing albums, mostly for the jacket copy and the historical value, and this particular album is a miniature library. Here is the back jacket copy, written by Clay Perry.

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