Las Cruces, New Mexico, may sound like an unlikely place for a ska music scene, but it’s been home to at least two ska bands that have properly represented the music.
One band is directly responsible for the other; Liquid Cheese was a Ska group that called it quits in 2009, but not before they inspired guitar player Gabriel Tena to form The Casual Fridays, who will perform this afternoon at the Starlight.
Bands often inspire the formation of other bands: Casual Fridays founding member, guitar player and vocalist Gabe Tena was so inspired by the music and band ethic of the aforementioned Liquid Cheese, a band he referred to as “hometown heroes,” that putting together The Casual Fridays was done with the hopes that at one time or another they would play on the same bill.
They also formed out of necessity, in an effort to fill a void that existed in a ska-starved Las Cruces. Its formation is driven by a do-it-yourself mindset in every sense – you don’t have it, and you want it, you make it.
“The Casual Fridays were, in their founding and first days, seeking to promote and perform a music which did not exist in their community” said band drummer and manager Cruz Muniz in an email interview. “Las Cruces wholly lacked a ska scene after the disappearance of Liquid Cheese. The complete absence of ska music in the community created a vacuum which the Fridays happily filled – perhaps a testament to the endurance of ska and rocksteady.”
The Casual Fridays have zipped through a handful of musicians during their tenure. Currently a four-piece, they weekend warrior it on tour, keeping shows close to home throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado. All members have done their homework on the genre, knowing how ska became ska and what players contribute to the genre; they speak on the topic like academics.
“The history and evolution of ska is representative of the evolution of social change. Ska was originally Jamaica’s take on jazz and swing, with artists such as The Skatalites and Ernest Ranglin defining the endless depth of the music, which eventually lead to the conceptualization of reggae” said Muniz. “As ska evolved, it took on aspects which represented the strife of the working class in Britain and Europe. Later, ska became more mainstream and popularized due to its integration with disenfranchised punk rockers, and the punk and pop-punk sound which occurred during the ’80s and ’90s in America.
“We like to represent the entirety of the culture and content of ska, from playing jazz standards such as John Coltrane to Rancid. Many of our originals and new unreleased originals follow this breadth of content in composition.”
There’s no questioning their die-hard dedication to the music through the work put in captaining the ship that is the band, while sharing historical information on the music.
The dedication doesn’t end there, as the band pays attention to how ska has a hand in pop culture, knowing what modern electronic music producer or reggae artist is influenced by which era of ska, while examining trends in music that may have pushed ska to the back-burner.
But who cares about the back-burner? The band stands by the music. Whether talking on The Skatalites or The Toasters, they know it’s a genre with a historical contribution that can’t be questioned, and they hit on all of those contributions. First, second or third wave doesn’t matter, as they dip into all of those waves’ heavy hitters while also letting those waves influence their originals. Most importantly, they know it’s music that remains a sound-track for fun.
“Ska music has a unique rhythm. The up-beat tempo and up-beat music lets you know that it’s okay to have a good time.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.