Ska band performs in Moscow for the first time

Space Monkey Mafia plays music with an off-beat rhythm, emphasizes brass instruments



Guitarist and vocalist Blake Foster plays his guitar solo while performing with other band members of Space Monkey Mafia on Tuesday night at John’s Alley Tavern while on their fall 2019 tour.

BRUCE MULMAT, Former Evergreen opinion editor

Tuesday night in Moscow, the patrons of John’s Alley Tavern listened to Space Monkey Mafia, a ska band from the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Ska is music that has a strong offbeat rhythm with a large emphasis on brass and electric guitar.

“We all have our own personal relationship with ska,” said Blake Foster, guitarist and vocalist for the band. “For me, it started with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.”

Foster said he fell in love with the sound after hearing it from a friend and then went down an internet rabbit hole of discovery.

Tim Kingstrom, saxophone player and vocalist for the band, said that he first heard ska after listening to it with his dad and then learned about the three different waves of ska later in his musical career.

The first wave of ska originated in 1960s Jamaica as dance music with a message, he said.

“The lyrics that they were singing were protesting things that were going on in Jamaica at the time, like violence and political corruption,” Kingstrom said.

Joe Barron, bassist and vocalist of the band, said that reggae came out of ska because too many people were hurting themselves when dancing to the upbeat music.

The second wave of ska came about in the 1980s in Great Britain where it mixed with punk music, Kingstrom said. The third wave of ska came about in the United States around 1990, when bands such as Reel Big Fish, No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty BossToneS made music.

“The reason why the five of us came together is because we didn’t want to give up,” Kingstrom said. “We wanted to do this for our careers.”

Space Monkey Mafia has been playing together for three years, said Dante Leyva, lead vocalist and saxophone player. Kingstrom said that the origin of the band name was “classified.”

“We are in a contract with NASA not to talk about it,” Kingstrom said.

However, Foster said that the name came from mishearing a line from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and the line “space monkey, Mafia.” Foster instead heard it as one full phrase, rather than two different events in history.

They also have videos up online. Their most viewed video is “Viva Ska Vida.”

Foster said he arranged “Viva La Vida,” “Dancing in the Moonlight,” and “Take on Me” all together in order to make a ska medley.

For Leyva, his experience in college a capella also aided in the creation of this medley, he said.

Barron said the reason they chose John’s Alley Tavern is because it was on the way between Bozeman, Montana, and Eugene, Oregon, the first and last venues of their tour.

Leyva added that the venue was also well known by other bands that they have networked with in the Twin Cities.

Each band member had to take off time from work, Barron said, and they are all lucky to take off two weeks for their October tour.

“Something that all musicians have in common is that they are very determined to make this their life,” Leyva said. “So people find a way to make it work.”