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Decades On, The Selecter Maintains A Steady Groove And A Political Eye

The Selecter's latest album is called <em>Subculture</em>.
The Selecter's latest album is called <em>Subculture</em>.

The British band The Selecter began singing about race, gender and politics in the late 1970s. They were part of a musical moment that came to be known as 2-tone, which combined elements of early Jamaican ska with the styles that were bubbling up in the UK at the time.

"We, came along at a time in the late '70s when reggae music, via Bob Marley, was very popular here," explains vocalist Pauline Black. "British black kids began to experiment, making crossovers between punk music, a bit of soul, and a bit of reggae — and you mixed all that up. Mod, as well, came into that whole little concoction."

Thirty-five years later, the band is still at it, though years of breakups and reunions have left only Black and fellow singer Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson from the early lineup. Their latest album is called Subculture, and its themes are both reminiscent of the past and resonant with the present. Black says that while the song "Breakdown" might read as a response to the recent conversation about police violence in the US, it was actually written before the events in Ferguson, Mo. last year.

"Which is surprising, maybe, to an American, but we've had things going on over here as well," she says. "The subjects that we sing about, which are about racism, about sexism, about inequality — obviously, we're doing that for other disaffected people who maybe don't have a voice, and their concerns can be given a voice through what we do."

Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about their music and their working relationship, which Black sums up as "the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of ska." Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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