Words by Rob Sarwark
As I sit here listening to 1965’s “Scandal Ska” by the legendary Skatalites of Kingston, Jamaica, I can’t help but get nostalgic about a time and a place that I’ve never actually known. But the power of this music lies in its very universality. That said, I can’t help but notice that a considerable proportion of these songs’ uploaders and commentators on YouTube are Spanish-speaking. Indeed, some of the most die-hard ska, rocksteady, and reggae aficionados hail from Spain, Mexico, and Latin America, where millennials have found and maintained a serious affinity for these sounds, their history, and the aesthetics of soul, style, and urban savvy that go along with them. In other words, they’ve made this music and its now half-century-old subculture their own.
Chicago is a long way from Kingston, Jamaica, and almost as far from Mexico City, but these days, and globalization being what it is, it’s hard to say sometimes where one ends and the other begins. Case in point: CHema Skndl, aka Chema Skandal!, Chicago’s resident Mexican mod- and Jamaicana-influenced graphic artist. According to his blog, he describes himself as a “graphic artist and enthusiast of popular music and images of the last century.” His work is a true mash-up of styles with a nevertheless coherent and signature effect. He draws from, among other things, the campy horror of mid-century Mexican lucha libre films, British mod youth subculture, and groovy, Independence-era Jamaican verve. The result is work that lends itself as perfectly to concert posters, t-shirts, and album covers as it does to the walls of the best galleries in Chicago, Mexico City, and Madrid. In addition, his outdoor mural work – examples of which can be seen in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago – capture not only the artist’s playful side, but also his political and poetic voice, with stark proclamations of love and soul in celebration of a bustling city of immigrants.
Check CHema out at his blog and find him quietly sipping a beer in the back of the next “Jamaican Oldies” show in Chicago, where the ska subculture is alive, well, and fully aware of its rich and diverse heritage. They’re lucky to have him.