BROWN SKANKER DANCING IN LOS ANGELES
And this is where I’ll be / Skanking the night away / When I’ve had too much to drink / I’ll skank the night away…
--“Skanking the Night Away,” Anesthesia
Si te caes, levantate / Si no puedes, pues quedate / Donde vamos porque yo tambien / a divertirnos otra vez / Noche de ska…
--“Noche de Ska,” Dskarados
The Brown Ska music scene in Los Angeles has been one of the most underappreciated and intense music scenes I have encountered all my life growing up in Southeast LA. Yet, almost no one I ever talked to knows about this music scene; it has been one of the biggest music tragedies in LA history. But perhaps it is meant to be this way.
Reggae, 2Tone, Rocksteady, Ska. Many of these labels have been attached to the LA bands that attract a wide-range of Brown youth to gigs, shows, or festivals. Complexly formed bands, the scene itself is composed of various Brown, working-class youth ranging from Punks and Metalheads to local youth and those who travel from the greater Los Angeles area. Two documentaries that I have found that focused on this scene, Los Angeles Skacore and Picking It Up Again: L.A.'s Latin American Ska Scene, haven’t explored the complexities of Ska in LA. In truth, this exploration is a difficult one that requires years of participatory observation and experience.
From the East LA backyard gigs to the big Ska festivals like Los Angeles SkaWars, Ska has been a huge influence in my own life; nothing is more fun than putting yourself in a skank pit and dancing like nobody's watching. And when, not if, you fall down someone is always there to pick you up. There is always a sense of community and shared energy when you embrace the music of a Ska show. Whether in Spanish or English, everyone is singing to the lyrics, dancing to the beat, and having a great time with one another. These spaces have always meant solidarity, and they have always been spaces for Brown youth to express themselves, whether in the pit or behind the mic.
Skanking in Los Angeles has also meant resistance. Ska has Indigenous and Afrikan roots from reggae music in Jamaica, as well as European influences. Its transnational movement and diasporic elements has made it a powerful tool for communities wherever Ska makes an impact. For LA, it has created spaces of resistance; Brown youth are able to gather together and create a politics of solidarity, of social and cultural resilience. Brown Ska bands don’t seek recognition and fame: they live for the local scene and support each other. This reality isn’t any different than the Punk or Metal scene in LA, where Brown youth transform their social spaces to be inclusive and embrace all types of peoples.
Still, it is a reality that these spaces of resistance are stereotyped by the mainstream scenes and peoples. These Brown youth are constantly viewed as degenerates, drunks, marijuanitos, and chaotic peoples. The common stereotype is that they are just seeking spaces to do their drugs and party. Although many times these acts do take place, they are not at the center or focus of these spaces; on the contrary, the lifeforce is in community, in sharing space. If things like alcohol were a crucial aspect to Ska shows, the Ska bands would be irrelevant to the whole idea of Ska being present. Instead, these Brown Ska bands vocalize their realities and conditions in their lyrics that represent their own communities: social commentary is nothing new in music scenes. Skanking, the dance to Ska, transgresses these stereotypes in LA.
One of the main promoters and organizers of Ska shows in Los Angeles has been through the work of Clemente Ruíz of Evoekore Media. There are others such as Concrete Jungle Entertainment, Emphatic Entertainment, and So-Cal Syndicate. Evoekore Media has been one of the longer-lasting organizing platforms of Ska shows, whether at club venues or someone’s backyard. And aside from social media platforms promoting these shows, the Brown Ska community itself promotes shows, by word-of-mouth, flyers, and facebook events. Sometimes its a birthday party show, a benefit, or anniversary of a bands tenure. But somehow the presence and emergence of Ska has remained in the underground.
Ska is a hidden world within LA, reaching far from the 818 to the streets of South Central LA. And as it continues to grow, more and more new listeners on the rise, we can imagine a strong and beautiful scene of Brown youth. From the shows in MacArthur Park, Plaza de la Raza, Mariachi Plaza, the reverberations of the Ska beat sounds through Los Angeles.
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
Collective member of Xicana Tiahui.
Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and other kinds of writing. We hold it valuable to our hearts the written word in the spirit of the huehuetlahtolli, and we aspire to be intellectually on point as well as accessible to our gente from the barrio to the academy.