Toasters of the Town

Given Hingley's familiarity with Bertolt Brecht, a Marxist theorist and playwright known for his collaborations with composer Kurt Weill, it's no surprise that he wishes third-wavers would dip more frequently into the political side of ska. He acknowledges, though, that "living in the United States in 1998 under favorable economic conditions is not the same as living in England in the late Seventies, with the racism of Margaret Thatcher and the National Front. Those highly politicized English kids are not the same audience as modern American kids." Even so, he was proud to participate in the Ska Against Racism tour earlier this year (see New Times, April 9, 1998). "We were trying to put a little politics back into the music," he says. "Our message was well received by the kids, and of course, the media completely ignored it."

The Toasters are too modest to take credit for influencing ska's belated success in America. "I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished," Hingley grants. "But what I'm not satisfied with is the way ska music has developed today -- like a Frankenstein monster, with people jumping on the bandwagon and calling themselves ska. I'm not naming names, but some bands call themselves ska when they really aren't ska. But bands like Reel Big Fish and No Doubt have really worked hard to be where they are. The fact that I'm thankful for the way they have introduced ska-influenced music to a wide range of people is more material than whether I agree with or like their music or not."

Likewise, Sledge says he harbors no bitterness toward ska-bands-come-lately that have experienced a greater degree of commercial success than the Toasters have. "More power to them. I don't knock people for the type of music they play. From my point of view, I love what I do. I mean, everyone likes to get paid, and I'd love to write some music and have it make a million dollars so I could buy a nice big house and a fancy car. But for me, I just enjoy the music and being up onstage. To have someone you've never met before say, 'Man, you're the best horn player I've ever heard' -- it makes you feel good. It's a special kind of power."

Although Hingley has benefited from America's infatuation with all things ska, he won't be sad to see it lessen. "Now that people like us, who've supported ska from the start, have had a chance to organize ourselves and get some capital behind our labels, I'm looking forward to when this whole ska craze dies down," he says. "I think there are two reasons why ska didn't go as big as it should have, even though it showed signs of it when it took on the forms of skacore and ska-punk. It wasn't introduced enough into other styles of music; it really only reached the MTV skating crowd. Also, not enough people know about its roots. That's very important for helping to keep a [style of] music alive.

"A lot of young kids today will hear ska music, but it won't be what they hear on MTV," he continues. "They'll know skacore, ska-punk, and maybe a little two-tone, but it will be something new to them that they won't understand, and because they don't have information about its history, they won't appreciate it. That's why you won't get the same crowd for the Skatalites that you will for the Toasters. If you don't take the time to find out where a type of music is from, you won't be able to find out where it's going. You won't be able to follow its trail. My message to the kids who are listening to ska music today is to take the time to learn about its musical roots. You don't have to win a Nobel Prize in the history of it, but check out some of the older stuff in the same style."

The Toasters perform with Skoidats, Slow Gherkin, and Edna's Goldfish Friday, November 20, at Salvation, 1771 West Ave, Miami Beach; 305-532-4035. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

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