In 1998, Toasters singer Bucket Hingley said that "the people who are telling me ska is dead never knew it was alive." Cute quote, but ska faces bigger problems now. Today's radio listeners don't even know ska well enough to identify its corpse at the music morgue.
A decade ago, No Doubt and Goldfinger introduced the venerable form (it predates reggae) to young fans, who embraced its perky pace, undulating bass lines, and brassy melodies. Nattily attired teens danced like marionettes with strings attached to their joints, guitarists rattled off rapid-fire reggae riffs, and wacky choreographed horn sections introduced slapstick comedy to smile-averse punk bills. Underage groups recruited trombone players from high school bands and changed their names from something like System Assault to something like Ska-Na-Na.
Skanks for the memories. Tour titles such as Ska Is Dead 2 prove that survivors have seen their good humor go to the gallows. Voodoo Glow Skulls, who emerged in 1993 with two trumpets blazing as one of ska's fastest, goofiest groups, now qualify as unlikely elder statesmen. The sextet has sharpened its aggressively sloppy live show, and its bilingual pride (several Spanish-language songs dot its discography) makes it an act popular with Mexican Americans in a gringo-dominated genre.