Born in Cuba in 1927 but settling in Jamaica at the age of 11, Laurel Aitken was dubbed “The Godfather of Ska”, and he was the real pioneer of the genre.
He moved to London in 1960 and arrived in Leicester in 1971. He lived in a council house in the city for 35 years.
It now boasts a blue plaque on its wall in his honour.
Ska With Laurel celebrates the huge contribution Aitken made not only to the cultural life of Leicester—inspiring and helping hundreds of young musicians—but also to music in general.
He was absolutely pivotal in popularising and developing Jamaican music in 1960s England.
He helped to bring the likes of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Prince Buster to perform in Leicester before they were household names.
He was embraced by the Mods and early skinheads of the 60s and early 70s—ensuring that his influence was felt in the 2-Tone era, particularly with bands such as the Specials and Bad Manners.
Ska music emerged in the early 60s as a synthesis of Caribbean folk music forms and American R&B. Both musically and lyrically, it was a celebration of a newly independent Jamaica, a positive assertion of black identity and a reflection of working class life.
Lyrically it often took the form of a musical newspaper, addressing social issues such as poverty and poor housing.
The music arrived in Britain among the first waves of mass Caribbean immigration and was embraced by inner city working class youth of all backgrounds.
This small but very well-presented exhibition includes audiovisual material, stage clothes, photos, posters and some very rare original records.
I recommend you take advantage of the free audio guide for in-depth information including interviews with Laurel’s friends, family and fellow musicians.
Ska With Laurel
New Walk Museum, Leicester
Until May 2011, Free