Music News

The Ska's the Limit

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Increasingly he tuned his car radio to 1170 on the AM dial, WAVS, "the heartbeat of the Caribbean." The predominantly modern reggae that the Davie station was playing didn't overwhelm Kindle, but he was intrigued by what he heard. Soon he was haunting local record stores, seeking out vintage '70s reggae. "I sort of de-evolved," he says. "I started out listening to Bob Marley, which is the height of reggae, and wondered where that came from. Next thing ya know, I'm back in 1952. I wound up listening to big-band music because of this."

Between Marley and the big bands of Jamaica, Kindle happened upon ska. "It just blew me away," he says, "and I got deeper and deeper into it." He learned of ska's resurgence in the United States when he picked up a compilation CD called Ska: The Third Wave. "That album opened up a wormhole to some universe I didn't even know existed," he says. "I thought I was all by myself. Finally I realized there was this huge ska scene going on."

Kindle dived into the scene. He frequented coffeehouses like the New World Café, the Station Pub, and the Mudhouse -- all now defunct -- where ska bands such as Megadog from Tampa and King 7 and the Soulsonics from Fort Lauderdale would occasionally play. He attended larger ska shows at the Edge and Squeeze. He befriended ska musicians and in 1995 began publishing his own ska zine, Stop Yer Messin' Round. From there Kindle, who is not a musician, took what seemed like the next logical step.

"I would go to a show," he says, "and a break would come. The sound guy would put on, like, a Metallica tape. I started thinking, What the hell's that all about? Everybody's dancing to this music and all the sudden they all walk away from the dance floor when this death metal comes on or something…. So I'm like, shit, someone should be DJing music in between sets, so I started to kind of nudge in."

For four years and counting, Kindle has been a ska selector at various venues in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Selecting, he explains, as opposed to DJing, is the proper Jamaican term for what Kindle does. A Jamaican DJ, he continues, is someone who "toasts," or, in other words, talks and sings into a microphone while records are playing. Kindle, who goes by the name Selector Judge K when he's working, generally doesn't toast. Aside from that distinction, he says, "I don't call myself a DJ because I found that, when I did, everybody wanted me to play rave music."

The roots of selecting go back to the formative years of ska when different men with different "sound systems" would compete in the dance halls and on the back streets of Kingston for the weekend dance audience. The competition was fierce and contentious and sometimes broke out in violence. Apparently the lone ska selector in the area, Kindle is free from the traditional hazards of the trade.

His most reliable job is at Shakespeare's Pub & Grill in Wilton Manors. Kindle began doing a weekly gig at Shakespeare's in June 1997 but tapered that back to a monthly affair in March of this year. He draws an interesting crowd of anywhere from 40 to 60 people, which makes Shakespeare's a pretty crowded joint. Old English and Irish pub regulars show up, many of whom are familiar with the second wave of ska music that was popular in Britain in the late '70s. They mix with the younger crowd of stylishly dressed ska enthusiasts that Kindle attracts. "It's healthy," he says. "The older and younger people can hang out. I think you need cross-generational stuff going on. It's a pretty ugly world if you can't talk to each other."

Kindle selects mostly first- and second-wave ska. Like the old-timers and the kids, he doesn't care much for the slick pop that exemplifies much of ska's third wave. Unsurprisingly it is the third wave that is now in vogue among much of ska's international audience, though its popularity has receded since its peak days in the mid-'90s. Kindle thinks ska music will crest again soon. When it does, he figures, it will be nicely imbued with a touch of swing.

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David Pulizzi