The Selecter – We have no intention of shutting up and going away any time soon

The Selecter by Dean Chalkley

With the upcoming EXIT festival less than a month away, the excitement and impatience rising with the temperature, Balkanrock has gotten the opportunity to ease your woes (or build the hype even more) with interviews with some of this year’s performers.

We had a chance to talk to perhaps one of the most influential figures of the movement, Pauline Black. A black child adopted into a white family in the 50’s, one of few female vocals of the movement, one might say she had her work cut out for her. And yet, after 40 years of being a musician and standing up to injustice even longer, Pauline remains humble, rational and optimistic to this day.

The Selecter was one of the leading bands in the 2tone movement of the early 80’s. The ska music and skinhead style, originated in Jamaica, became popular in the UK in the 60’s, but was appropriated by the extreme right in the 70’s, thanks to which the name skinhead gained such notoriety. The ska revival wave of the late 70’s/early 80’s sought to regain and correct the image into what it originally was. They used the name 2tone, just like the black and white checked print on clothing as a symbol of peace, acceptance and equality. The beat was Jamaican, the bands, such as The Selecter, The Specials and Madness were predominantly multiracial, spreading their message through sight and sound.

BR: 2tone originated as a ska revival movement set in motion by the political situation of the time. Do music and politics always go hand in hand or is there a way to keep the two separate?

P: As a multiracial band, we find that political decisions made by others often impact our lives quite directly. The Western world is currently going through political upheaval, where non-progressive, far right  forces seem to be getting the upper hand. The old divisive methods of racism and sexism are rearing their ugly heads again. We align our music with more progressive thinking and try to address those issues in an informative way in our music.

BR: These movements had (and still have) very recognisable fashion style. Did the subculture and music influence the style and identity or did the style of individuals spread in the group? How did you find your own?

P: We found our own style in a very organic way. It has a nod to the past and hopefully a nod to current trends too. We never seek to fossilize our style. You can never go wrong with a hat!

BR: Has the relationship between overall culture and subculture changed in the past decades? Do you feel that subcultures have an impact on the society?

P: Subcultures are the fertile breeding grounds for new ideas and those we are interested in tend to be progressive & socially conscious.

BR: Where do you see the future of 2tone? Do you see The Selecter in it? 

P: The Selecter celebrates its 40th Anniversary this year. We did not expect to still be extensively touring worldwide and releasing new material, but there still seems to be an appetite for our style and music even after four decades.  We are very proud of our achievements. We’ve constantly addressed the issues of racism and sexism within society, in our work for many years; many have listened, but many are antagonistic to our viewpoint. We have no intention of shutting up and going away any time soon.

BR: Can music written in a certain context still impact others that aren’t part of that context? For example, can your music have the same or similar effect on people in the UK and in Serbia?

P: The music of The Selecter is about life, the social conditions in which people live, work & raise families. That is the way that human beings who work for a living mostly experience the world.  Whatever country you live in, these issues preoccupy most of our time. But above all, music that makes you dance & feel good is understood wherever you are in the world & that is what we play.

BR: You are performing at Exit as part of your 40th anniversary tour. What were the highlights of your career? How does the band keep up with the time?

P: A fortieth anniversary is a milestone that we are intensely proud of. Coming to play in Serbia for the first time ever seems a wonderful highlight to us in 2019.  The Selecter is all about expanding its horizons. We are very happy to be an international band that has played in many, many countries of this world.  Long may that continue!

BR: The Selecter has had a few breaks during its career. What inspires you to reunite?  A specific event or is it just the need to keep making and playing music?

P: Our breaks have been few and far between. The Selecter enjoys performing and making music. It’s as simple as that.

BR: What’s it like being one of the leading figures of the 2tone movement? Does the title Queen of Ska come with its own responsibilities and duties?

P: As an original member of the 2tone movement I consider The Selecter an important part of not only the history but the future of ska music. I do not call myself ‘Queen Of Ska’, that would be presumptuous.  Ska music originated in Jamaica long before I was part of the scene and there are many ladies of that era who should wear that crown – Doreen Schaffer of The Skatalites would be my choice. But I do take the responsibility of being the lead singer of The Selecter very seriously, particularly as I am a woman of colour.  2Tone’s ethos of tolerance, diversity, love, peace & unity have always spoken to me very directly & it is a privilege to still be able to spread that message worldwide. And of course, we have a lot of fun doing it!