** Originally published in the Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times:
On a wide but quiet strip of Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, in the run-down Casa Honduras dance hall, the ska kids are waiting for the next band to start.
Couples are making out in the corners of the venue, attached to a Honduran restaurant. They sport dreadlocks, Afros and spiky punk 'dos and are dressed in everything from camouflage and combat boots to Chucks and suspenders.
A sound check ensues with a band called Blanco y Negro. Once its members get going, blasting the room with a frenetic Latin-punk sound sung both in English and Spanish, the young crowd forms a circle and begins to skank. The dance has them lifting their elbows and knees rhythmically to the ska beat, rushing and pushing against one another when the music accelerates into punk or metal.
Bodies are in motion, sweating, pounding skin to skin. Though just eight miles from downtown L.A., by the sounds and faces, this could be a jam in Mexico City or Tijuana.
Ska — the Jamaican sound that expanded into a variety of rock and reggae subgenres in the United Kingdom and then the United States in the late 1970s through the '90s — is booming again in Southern California. It is experiencing a comeback after a decade of relative exile, but this time around it's influenced by ska from Latin America.
Underground shows are happening in backyards and warehouses across Southern California, with mini-scenes developing in areas such as South and southeastern Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
"Do you remember the swing days? This is the new era of that," said Hollywood resident Josh Morales, 24. "But it's more ska-reggae."
"It's like a combination of cumbia with ska," Morales said as the band Los Chiles Verdes began warming up for its set. "It's like Spanish rock.... I don't know. It's hard to explain."
** Read the rest here. Read more ...
** Top photo: A member of Chiles Verdes warms up before a ska night at Casa Honduras in South-Central L.A. / Photo above: L.A. Times photo of a slam during a Los Rudos show in Orange County, by Times photog Genaro Molina.
* A NEW UPDATE, ANALYSIS:
I first met Los Rudos in early February 2011, while I was in Riverside presenting at Writers Week at UCR. There, in a coffee shop, I ran into a friend, Mario, who years ago announced he was leaving L.A. and moving to the Inland Empire.
He had done it and stayed. We had completely lost touch.
I tagged along for a beer with Mario at the bar next-door. That's when Los Rudos went up and played. Ever since, whenever I've been in the region, I've tried to make it to ska nights to report on the scene, following the fliers and updates on Facebook.
I think I really fell in love with Riverside.
In early January, nearly a year after I first them, I caught up with Los Rudos at another ska-night at a pizza joint. The Redstore Bums, all-time favorites, were headlining.
The scene didn’t seem much different than when I first came upon it, although a $10 wristband charge did indicate some level of maturation. Older rockabilly or pachuco guys mixed in with the younger set.
Los Rudos played, but singer Rojas had earlier informed me that the other vocalist, Tinajero, was now a mostly inactive member of the band, but might still come back and play with them later. The second singer had joined the reserves, a generalized option for young people in the Inland Empire, with the March AFB base nearby.
Outside, I met Luiz Seliz, a musician from a band known as Los Vecinos Rumberos, a more reggae-influenced outfit, he explained. Seliz had been a member of the ska band Cerebro Negro, he said, but that band now calls itself Cerebro, after shedding and adding members.
The night was a reminder that in the dynamics of an underground music scene, the life of a young group is often fluid. Seliz, who was born in the U.S. but raised partly in Michoacan, said the scene is constantly shifting, unable to be entirely summed up or nailed down.
"This is all word-of-mouth," he told me, wearing a scarf colored with the rasta red, green, and yellow. "If you like the good vibe, they start coming."
The article in Calendar came about with the full awareness that I could never adequately cover every significant or interesting band in the movement. Space and resources would also make it impossible to fully delve into the complexity of ska in Southern California, such as how the scene is lived in places like Boyle Heights or Watts, or historical sets that have happened at Self-Help Graphics, etc.
As ever, there is no single story.
Historian Jorge N. Leal informed me via email Sunday, for example, that a diccionario of ska and hardcore in Spain and in Latin America has just been published by Fundacion Autor in España. Check it out.
More to learn. Skank on.
*** Previously, "Skanking in San Bernardino." * Post edited.