The Selecter Hits Milestone, Stays On Message

The legendary ska outfit continues to spread its anti-racist and anti-sexist message.


Pauline Black isn’t known as the “Queen of Ska” for nothing. She earned that title. Right there at the forefront of Britain’s late ‘70s obsession with the genre, Black has guided The Selecter (alongside co-lead vocalist Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson) through four decades of music.

Formed in Coventry, England, in 1979, Black and Hendrickson are now on their band’s 40th Anniversary World Tour. And they’re bringing Rhoda Dakar – the one-time lead vocalist of pioneering, all-female ska revivalists The Bodysnatchers – with them.

While the precursor to reggae and rocksteady is measured through the groups that have comprised its different waves, Black and The Selecter were an integral part of the two-tone (taken from The Specials’ Jerry Dammers’ record label with the same name) second wave that fused ska with elements of punk.

As always, Black’s focus continues to be centered on spreading her band’s anti-racist, anti-sexist mantra through politically charged songs that also want to make you dance.

But at the same time, the band’s significant milestone isn’t lost on her, either.

“Gaps and I have known each other since we started the band,” Black said from a recent stop in Monterrey, Mexico. “Most marriages don’t last that long for heaven’s sake! And it’s the same with Rhoda. We were instrumental in getting The Bodysnatchers to sign to the 2-Tone label in the first place. All these things are coming together in this rather wonderful way this year.”

She also isn’t someone who sits around pining for the way things were. The Selecter has seen multiple line-up changes, weathered long hiatuses, and seen ska morph into a million different versions of itself.

Instead, Black chooses to focus on human element of it all, from those who come to shows and help to support the message, as well as the continued evolution of the music she loves.

“When you think about it,” she said, “probably three generations, possibly four, have grown up while we’ve been doing this. And you get to meet all of these people and hear their fascinating stories. And there have been all kinds of different waves of ska as well. It is regenerating itself and that’s really what I’ve always wished for it. Rock music has evolved ever since Les Paul decided to electrify his guitar. And I’ve always felt that reggae and ska can do the same thing.”

Although there’s no questioning Black’s tolerance, her own band hasn’t strayed too far from their own blueprint over the years.

The Selecter’s most recent album, 2017’s Daylight, was written in the wake of her country’s Brexit vote, and once again followed their blueprint of politically-charged songs with injustice on their minds.

And despite the bandleader’s refusal to see today’s world as a more technologically advanced version of the one she was railing against at the band’s inception, she also believes in the importance of continuing to stay on message.

“I don’t think history repeats itself,” said Black. “We do change. But there is something going on now that is rhyming with what was happening 40 years ago that I find particularly worrying – and its personal to me as a black woman of a certain age. And while we are still able to perform, we can put out a different way of thinking. We think togetherness is the way forward. We think unity is the way forward.

There is a unifying principle that goes through this. We talk about social things. We talk about political things. But we also have fun along the way.”

The Selecter with DJ Rhoda Dakar and Unsteady, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18 and Thursday, Sept. 19. The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., Midtown. $40 to $75;