Monkey Go Ska!
Interview by Abram

Monkey is a bay area latin-ska band that's been around for quite some time (having played over 800 shows!). I met them at Ashkenaz in Berkeley and hung out with them backstage while a ska-punk act was playing. Thanks to the members of Monkey for putting up with my drunken prattlings, and special thanks to Ron McKevitt for filming the interview!
I talked to Monkey for 40 minutes. This version of the interview contains the first 20 minutes. I'll post the rest next issue!












AJ: Question number one: Does everybody have a name?


DJ: Can we just enumerate everyone's name?

Monkey: Hi, My name is Micah. I play drums.
I'm Curtis, I play organ and oboes.
I'm Chad, I try to play the trombone.
There are men who call me....Vic.
Blue! I mean, Yellow! I mean...Chuck.
I'm Todd, I play bass.
Our other new guitarist has disappeared. He went out to get more drunk. Bastard!
Curtis: So, wait a minute, what are your names?

AJ: Oh! My name's Abram, this is Ron. Ron's doing this for even less than I am...I get nothing and he gets less than nothing! We've both been in a couple of bands.

Micah:What do you play (Abram)?

DJ:I play bass. Ron plays keys and sax.

Curtis:We better start hookin up in the Berkeley area!

AJ: (At this point, I'm so drunk that I forgot Micah just told me he plays drums) So, Micah, I wanted to ask you how you're liking the new gig. Your web site says you've been in the band for like two months

Micah:New gig? I've been in the band for like three years! Well, it's cool, it's been an awesome three years. We have a brand new band, the band has been reworked and renewed and revived and all kinds of cool shit. It's fun!


AJ: So what do you think about Latin/Ska fusion, as far as, like, playing trad ska? I mean, obviously, with Jamaica's proximity to Cuba and all the other islands, latin music was part of the foundation of ska, but...

Curtis: Without Latin, ska wouldn't have been around. 'Cause, both Latin and ska stem off of south African roots; so, the south African slave ships would bring over the repetitive rhythms and the structures of Latin music, ska music, calypso, etc etc. and they broke off into their individual styles. Incorporating Latin into ska is actually just re-incorporating it into the music. It's like, it split off, had its deal, and came back to unify with its origins. So, I don't think it's a big deal to mix Latin or R&B or soul or groove, any of these things, with ska because they are one and the same.


Chuck: It's almost beyond the roots. Going beyond the roots back to the original.

Vic:There are many bands that play this Latin/Ska mix and do it wonderfully, like Jump With Joey, my favorite band ever. Fantastic. Like Yeska, they just do the Latin ska thing and it works and people dig it, and can groove to it. That's what it's all about.


Micah:I mean, all you're doing is incorporating a few more rhythms and such, like, I mean, it's natural. It works. It's fun. And plus, all of us have such diverse tastes that we all do kind of our own thing. It's kind of inevitable that a band like this will get more styles incorporated into it. I think if we stayed a trad ska band we'd get kind of dull. So, you've gotta keep on reinventing yourself, keeping it new.

AJ:True, true. But like Curtis was saying, being a trad ska band does include some amount of being a Latin ska band.

Curtis:Yeah, I think though that a lot of the modern traditionalists, they have a focus that is so narrow. I mean, I really enjoy the focus, because they learn how to do Desmond Dekker so well that they may as well be Desmond Dekker.
In our case, we did that for a while, and then we said, 'Wait a minute'...this is an era of music that we have from, say, '63 to '69; and even up into the seventies with the early rocksteady and dub; we can take a chance to celebrate the other styles of music that are on the music scene and we're incorporating it into this wonderful music experience. A lot of people say that ska shouldn't have ever mixed with rock, or with punk, or with this and that; but no one ever talks bad about the Specials or Bad Manners, and all these guys were doing was mixing it with what was then modern punk rock. So what we're doing is taking a period style of music and mixing it with styles of that period.

AJ:Yeah, Americans will say that the Specials and those two tone bands are definitely ska. But I've talked to some of them and they don't consider it ska at all, more like reggae mixed with punk. The Specials only did ska at all because Reggae was too difficult. Do you guys ever play "Latin Go Ska"?

Curtis:Latin Go Ska...I want to play that. I can actually play that on Harmonica when I'm really drunk...(band laughter) But, uh...I would like to incorporate that some time. It's a fabulous song. It's got one of the best grooves ever created.

Vic: That's gotta be my favorite Skatalites song ever. And the album Ball of Fire by Ernest Ranglin was so amazing. I know the original was not written by them, but they way they do it really takes it to a new level, and that's what a lot of ska was about back then; they were taking songs that were already written and putting them to the ska.

Chad: Plus, with the focus of the new band now, we've been concentrating on getting the new members to learn a lot of the old tunes; we've also been writing a lot of new songs, one of which we're actually going to be playing tonight, called 'Voice of America'. So yeah, we all love the Skatalites, we all have that basis, and it's something we've been talking about doing.

AJ: You guys have opened for them, haven't you?

Curtis: I don't remember playing with them, but they (Roland Alphonso) did record on our first album. It was the second-to-last thing he did before he died. He did that, and then he did the ball of fire CD.

Micah: I'm pretty sure you have at some point.

Curtis: He (Micah) was a fan long before he was in the band.


AJ: You guys have gotta get Lloyd Brevett before he goes. The last time I saw him he looked like a ghost.

Curtis: Yeah, actually Lloyd Brevett borrowed our bass once. He started with just the bass equipment but then it turned out his bass was bad too so he borrowed ours. We were either there playing that show or just happened to be there with our equipment, and we got it out and gave it to him. And he, in turn, signed all of our equipment for us, so that was cool.

AJ: I thought your "Artebella" cover was great. I know that was a while ago and everything...

Curtis: Oh, thank you!

AJ: Did the song "Monkey Ska" influence your name at all?

Curtis: Yeah, that and many other things. I came up with the name Monkey or Monkey Ska about four years before the band. I got my first taste of ska from a local band called Skankin' Pickle. From there on, I went to a lot of Bad Manners shows, a lot of Selecter shows, and I got really into it. Eventually I was like, 'there are SO many songs that have monkey in them; that talk about monkeys, that talk about jungles, that talk about the rhythm of Africa. It's natural that a band should be called Monkey. Some band somewhere.


So, I conceptualized the band as being called monkey and it would be kind of a zany, wild and crazy band. Because my first exposure to ska was through punk-ska, I wanted to do a punk-ska band. And, when it finally finalized, I said, you know 'we can't do this. Everybody in the world is starting to do this'. This was right before the Bosstones hit really big, and I was like, the Bosstones are gonna get big in a big hurry, and we're going to be stuck doing the same thing that everybody else is doing. Let's go back and study things that these bands aren't studying; which are the root elements, the simplistic yet intricately intertwined rhythms that make this music, almost like, in certain cases, scary. There are certain rhythms that actually send chills up your neck.

DJ: Yeah, they're haunting. Like 'The Shadow of Your Smile'.

Micah: To most people, all a band needs to have to be ska is either a horn section or an upbeat. Maybe the upbeat holds a little more water, but I mean when you get into traditional ska, the guitar is not doing an upbeat. It's doing all kinds of rhythmic patterns and such. People just don't know, don't understand what ska is and what ska can be when you have bands like Reel Big Fish (not to talk shit).

Curtis: They're great, they're great bands. They're just, uh...

Click here to read part two!
All photos copyright 2001


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