San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Skatalites bring original ska to Costa Rica

The Skatalites, who arrived in Costa Rica yesterday, performed Jamaican ska – a genre they helped spawn more than 40 years ago – last night at Club Capone in San José.

“Ska is the root of the tree, reggae is one of the branches,” said keyboardist Ken Stewart, who, along with four other members, met The Tico Times at Mall San Pedro, a few hours before the show.

Stewart, from the U.S. city of Boston, is one of the ever-changing roster of prime musicians that continue to carry the Skatalites torch.

Fellow U.S. musician Kevin Batchelor, a trumpeter from St. Louis, Missouri, called the experience of playing with The Skatalites “tremendous.”

A founding member, saxophonist Lester Starling, said the key to keeping the group´s vibe is to always hire “great musicians.” The band consists of nine, including a signature horn section and a rhythm section.

Indeed ska has much to do with the laidback style that singer Bob Marley poured over the world – but with a faster beat.

“Ska was before reggae, and it was faster; then they slowed it down to rocksteady, and then to reggae,” said guitarist Devon James, a Jamaican who says he has played ska for more than 20 years.

The Skatalites and their genre are famous for horn-heavy romps that drive hard on the upbeat, exemplified on the legendary song “Guns of Navarone.”

Bits of the pattern can be heard throughout Jamaica´s music.

Asked if he enjoyed his island nation´s current musical styles, Starling remained diplomatic. “That´s DJ music,” he said. “Well, that´s what the young people like, so more or less it´s good for them.”

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