Skinheads and Reggae Music

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WHEN singer Desmond Dekker’s song Israelites rose to the top of the British national chart in 1968, a particular demographic was responsible for its runaway success. They were called Skinheads.

These rebellious white youth from working-class backgrounds had embraced Jamaican music which hitherto had been played in small West Indian venues throughout London.

Dekker first made the British chart in 1967 with 007 (Shanty Town). The following year, his Poor Me Israelites was released in England and became popular in the West Indian underground scene.

In 1969, it was picked up by the Pyramid label owned by Australian Graeme Goodall, who had worked for years as an engineer at Federal Records in Jamaica. Re-released as Israelites, the Leslie Kong-produced song went to number two on the national chart, thanks to the Skinheads.

Authors Michael de Koningh and Laurence Cane-Honeysett revisited the impact Jamaican pop culture had on the Skinheads in their book, Young, Gifted and Black: The Story of Trojan Records.

“The Skinheads’ passion for reggae music was invaluable in pushing the music out of the smoky clubs and independent record shops and into the mainstream of popular music,” they wrote. “It was the massive buying power of the boots-and-braces brigade at the tail-end of the decade (1960s) that moved reggae units and elevated unknown Jamaican artistes to transient stardom.”

At first glance, the Skinheads could be intimidating. As tribute to their working-class roots, they wore steel-tipped Doc Martens boots, Levi jeans and sported close-cropped hairstyles.

They identified with the rude boy culture that found its way to London through Jamaican immigrants from Kingston, and embraced the music of ska performers like Derrick Morgan, Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken and The Pioneers.

Through interviews with record label owners, Cane-Honeysett and de Koningh discovered that the Skinheads were also bad news for business. They were known to assault British middle and upper-class youth, action which hurt Jamaican-owned companies like Pama Records, owned by Harry Palmer.

“When reggae began to establish itself in the charts, the Skinheads came along and ruined it. We lost half our accounts because shops refused to stock reggae,” Pama said in a 1973 interview.

Though they helped make songs like Niney Honess’ Blood and Fire a minor hit in 1971, the Skinhead fascination with Jamaican pop culture peaked in 1969 when Rastafari and black consciousness became dominant themes.

The Skinhead movement swiftly declined in the 1970s with the rise of Bob Marley and other Rastafarian message singers. They paved the way for the Punks, another restless, militant group of white youth who found solace in Jamaican culture.

SkinHead and Reggea

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One thought on “Skinheads and Reggae Music”

  1. Afrikan artists be they musicians, actors, poets, novelists etc who have “made it” are by definition those who have broken into the white market.

    This fact can distort things abit. Whether the market for black art & culture is working class or highbrow whites, most Afrikans that we know as fine artists make most of their dough from whites.

    This is no mystery really.Check the history.

    a) However, I would say 99% of Afrikans who are now “superstars” are first and foremost regarded and accepted as incredibly talented by their own fellow Afrikans.

    It is in the Afrikan neighbourhoods that they hone their glorious talents.

    b) Whites have the most money-so all it takes for any Afrikan wanting to make good money is to get to “cross-over” into the white market.

    c) Talent is something one cant fake and when it comes to art it is sublime and so even if one is prejudiced against a certain group of persons, you might only feel pain if you try and resist their art. And art is one thing that Afrikans have.


    Jazz/Soukous/Mbalanx/Reggae/Funk/Rap/Rock & Roll (yes!!)/Calypso/Soul… it, we are everywhere to make everybody happy. Including skinheads.


    Not the patronizing “talented black artists”, that white connoisuers of “ethnic” like to brush them with:

    Youssou N’Dour, Franco Luambo Makiadi, Mbilia Bel, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Ayi Kwei Armah, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Denzel Washington, Aaron Douglass, Angela Davis, Whitney Houston-these are WORLD CLASS ARTISTS.

    Not just “black artists!”

    They have all made most of their money from white markets.

    This is because they are good at their thing first and foremost and the white demographic is rich-for reasons anybody who reads Rastalivewire is (now) privy to.

    e) When it comes to Jamaican music and skinheads, the resonance felt by these white sub-culture is not strange really.

    Ska/Reggae-before (in my humble opinion) a swathe of it (ruggamuffin) was hijacked to make it frivolous and silly from the 1990s are truly uplifting and illuminating people music genres.

    f)What I sometimes wonder about is the “gangster rap”.

    The beats are funky and downright irresistible-I am no stone. I mean fellas (thugz?) like Snoop/Ice Cube/Dr Dre et al-these guys have massive talent period.

    However, their pathetic excuses for their inclination for filthy, violent, drug-loving, mysoginist lyrics is EXACTLY WHAT WHITES LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE. It makes them confirm their stereotypes (and lurid fantasies)

    That is why gangsta-pimp rapsters they have the millions.

    Probably would not have lasted this long in the Black population. Right?

    I think a whole generation of music in America (and parts of the world too since America is the star in their eyes) has been lost in this rubbish.

    Still the dudes and gals are good musicians and therein is the challenge for serious Afrikans worldwide.Babylon confusion is everywhere……

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