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Skalapalooza: United They Jam

Pop music: The Toasters are plugged into the message of social consciousness that all-day jam aims to spread.

April 03, 1998|JOHN ROOS

Arguably the most socially- and politically-aware band featured in the cross-country Ska Against Racism trek is the Toasters. In fact, it's a perfect fit for the cause.

Credited with reviving 2-Tone ska in America around 1982, the New York group's latest release, "D.L.T.B.G.Y.D. (Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down)" continues its trademark blend of infectious rhythms and uplifting themes of unity and empowerment, with songs such as "Fire in My Soul" and "Devil and a .45" packing a solid punch.

The Toasters are led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Robert "Bucket" Hingley, who founded Moon Ska Records in the early-'80s. The all-ska, indie label has grown from a one-man operation into a company with a full-time staff, warehouse and retail store. The Toasters, Let's Go Bowling, Bad Manners, Skavoovie and the Epitones head its 30-act roster.

How does modern ska holds up against the music's first and second waves?

"Definitely, the unity vibe needs to be worked on," Hingley said. "With such a rapid expansion [of ska], a lot of the kids have no clue where this music came from and, ultimately, what it meant back in the days when blood was definitely thicker than money.

"However, it's really not fair to compare contemporary, apolitical American kids to the crucible that was raging in the U.K. at the time of 2-Tone. That was just as much a political movement--anti-Thatcher and anti-National Front--as one of style and fashion. Some bands have strived to keep that social-consciousness alive, while others never even knew it was there."

Still, the U.K.-born Hingley understands why many of today's youth have been attracted to ska.

"It's fun. Kids want to dance, not shoot heroin," he said. "It's an exuberant style that mirrors an upbeat economy, one reminiscent of pre-independent Jamaica, and fills a vacuum left by the nihilism of grunge."

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When asked to join the Ska Against Racism package, Hingley says he and his mates didn't waver.

"Our message is one of a proud working-class heritage that cuts across self-imposed social stigmatizations," he said. "Racism has always been a core issue for the Toasters. The fact that a mixed-race band playing in some areas of the U.S. is still a political statement . . . well, it simply sucks for where the nation should mentally be in 1998."

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