The Portland Ska Flag

By Casey Sims
From Vexilloid Tabloid #51

About eight years ago a group of friends who attended Willamette University in the late 90s formed our band, Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.  Our bandmate, Don Olsen, teaches art at local  colleges—so we always have fun posters and materials.

Our band is influenced by ska music, which originated in Jamaica in the early 1960s.  In subsequent years, ska turned into rocksteady, which turned into reggae, and by the late 1960s reggae had become  a world-wide phenomenon.  The most famous ska band (and our favorite) is The Skatalites, studio musicians in Jamaica playing behind singers such as Bob Marley in his early years.  As cultural ambassadors, The Skatalites used the Jamaican flag to communicate  their identity in their materials.

The Jamaican flag, adopted 1962.
The Jamaican flag, adopted 1962.

On a trip to Chicago several years ago, Don noticed several people with a tattoo of the Chicago city flag.  Don took a closer look at the Portland flag when he returned, and realized that if he turned the Portland flag on an angle, it reminded him of the Jamaican flag.

He combined the designs into a great composite, and I wrote our band “message” to go with it:

Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae originated in Jamaica in the 1960s and spread throughout the world, including the Northwest.  In this tradition we have combined the flags of Portland and    Jamaica into one, to represent the place  we live and the music we love.  Do you like to dance to the offbeat too?  Fly this flag to celebrate Jamaican music, Portland style.  Respect.

Don Olsen’s design for an OMSEC flag combines those of Jamaica and Portland.
Don Olsen’s design for an OMSEC flag combines those of Jamaica and Portland.

We made a 3’ x 5’ version which we hang behind us during concerts, and we made the postcards to send out to our friends.  Our goal is for people who love living in Portland and listening to Jamaican music, as we do, to fly the flag in celebration.  It’s been a lot of fun to share with everyone, and we have gotten quite a positive response from many people, especially as more and more people become familiar with the Portland flag.

Flag of Portland's Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.
Flag of Portland’s Original Middleage Ska Enjoy Club.

One fun tidbit—a couple of years ago I invited Mayor Sam Adams to our show by sending him a version of the flag, and he liked it so much he tweeted it to 50,000 people!

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

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