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Ska bands unite behid anti-racist, 2-tone ethic



Ska Against Racism Tour, The Club, April 13, 1998

During the '80s, the rise of ska music in England was strongly based on mutual respect between white and black musicians who emulated original '60s Jamacian ska musicians. This "2-tone ethic" has been a strong factor in ska ever since, with most bands consisting of a mix of nationalities. "The media says that ska is wacky and fun, but it's original intent -- to promote racial equality -- has been lost by the mainstream," says Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie, explaining why the popular Gainesville skankers have signed onto the Ska Against Racism tour.

The tour, which was organized by former Skankin' Pickle lead singer Mike Park, kicked off at the end of March and will travel all over the country for six hectic weeks. In addition to his own Bruce Lee Band, Park enlisted The Toasters, Mustard Plug, MU330, the Blue Meanies, Five Iron Frenzy and Japanese ska/punkers Kemuri.

Park realized that more than just the entertainment of the masses could be accomplished when he put together the first Ska Against Racism tour last year. "This tour is the perfect opportunity to get the word out, really talk to kids about racism," says Park.

It is highly ironic and mystifying to the musicians that despite multiracial lineups, stinging anti-racist anthems and strong leadership by example, ska music cannot seem to shake skinhead fans and occasional racist incidents at shows. "In 1993, a crowd member called me a ‘slope,' relates Park. "In '94, a beer was thrown at me by skinheads. Does this make sense? How would you react to this kind of treatment? I'm choosing to fight racism in the nonviolent manner."

Kemuri's presence on the tour is in itself an acknowledgement of the ability of ska music to overcome national and racial barriers and establish a home in countries and conditions far removed from Jamacian roots. "It's interesting, because ska started in an island nation with `a` largely one-color population -- like the Japanese -- but embraced the idea of acceptance right from the beginning," says lead singer Fumio Ito. "I'm on this tour to gain a knowledge of racism in America, to educate myself and improve myself to overcome it. In Japan we do have racism but it's different. ... We have racism against different Asian races, not different skin color."

Ito emphasizes that race tends to be a nonissue in the ska community; it's what you say and play that makes the difference. "I used to go to every ska and punk show I could, passing out demo tapes every night. We made friends with ska bands and eventually we got on compilation albums, and now we have our album out and just toured Japan. Racism is based on disrespect, but in ska there is respect for everybody. Racism does exist in everyone's heart ... but we have to learn to respect others more."

"It bums us out when it happens," adds LTJ sax man Deron. "We'll have hundreds of great gigs, but `if there is` one racist in the crowd that's the show you remember. We have to spread awareness on this issue and get people to see that if we `in the ska community` can overcome hate, so can they."

The tour is creating a platform for anti-racist causes. Groups like Anti-Racist Action, Artists for a Hate-Free America and the Museum of Tolerance have information booths and sign-up sheets at each show. "Considering the crowd at shows is 90 percent white, this tour provides the perfect vehicle with which to talk about the legacy of hatred in this country," said Blue Meanies' drummer Bob Trondson. "Malcolm X said, ‘If you want to fight racism, work with your own people. That's where the hate begins.' If we don't talk about tensions, about gender and class lines as well, we'll never remember the mistakes and never learn from them."

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