Saturday, May 18, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Prizefighters!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

There sure are some mighty sweet vintage rocksteady and ska sounds on The Prizefighters' superb new album Firewalk (CD/digital/cassette/LP, Prizefighter Sound System/Jump Up Records, 2019), which are clearly influenced by rocksteady greats like Alton Ellis, The Gaylads, The Heptones, Slim Smith, Delroy Wilson, etc. and The Skatalites (though they're a bit more organically raw, like Japan's Ska Flames--see The Prizefighters' boss instrumentals "The Accolade," "Bebop Rocksteady"--an incredible cover of one of Yoko Kanno's soundtrack compositions for the Japanese animated sci-fi TV series "Cowboy Bebop"--"Kashmir Rock" or "Mars Rover," amongst others). But all of this bright music doesn't really mask The Prizefighters' white hot outrage at the increasingly dismal state of affairs in America (they hail from the heartland: Minneapolis, MN). "Temper Running Hot" comments on the police's disgracefully hostile and violent (at times deadly) treatment of black Americans--sung in manner close to a stage whisper, but seething at the injustice of it all: "They only want to chat/with the hammer back/Violence in the street/and the country road/Each breath could be your last/as the sirens flash." "Along for the Ride" calls out people who casually associate with those in racist or fascist groups, but may not be really committed to their twisted cause, with this warning: "Are you on board, or just along for the ride?/Life's too short to choose the wrong side...Oh, you keep such bad company/Either way, you'll have to pay for their crimes."

Then there's The Prizefighters' stellar anti-racist track "Stop Them," which was written in direct response to the white nationalism/supremacy unleashed and supported by the overtly racist policies and messaging of Trump and his wretched administration--and, as the band puts it, is "less a protest song and more a call to action" for all good people to unite and collectively counter this bigotry and hatred of everyone not white, Christian, right-wing, and male. "Stop Them" is the ideal fusion of relevant socio-political message with move-your-body music (and very much in the tradition of 2 Tone). This cut is super-sing along-catchy and rightfully uncompromising in its anti-racist/fascist stance, much like The Special AKA's "Racist Friend" or Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Fite Dem Back." Check out these lyrics (which ding both Trump and his daddy's beloved Klan):

Now the fascists are back in town
Marching through our streets
Now their jester wears the crown
They keep popping up like weeds
We've gotta put them back in the ground
And hang out their sheets
They will never never never stop
Until we stop-a stop-a stop-a stop-a stop them

On a more uplifting note, album opener "Just Let the Music Play" encourages unity--both racial and economic (as in trade unions)--and doing what you can to enjoy life, stay inspired, and survive in an unforgivingly dog-eat-dog, Ayn Rand-ian capitalist society ("We'll stand united, there's nothing we can't do/We'll keep on fighting and aways will stay true"). While the album closes with "Firewalk," whose lyrics--"When the ground gets too hot/You must do the firewalk--suggests that these dark days are a trial by fire of sorts, a test of one's faith, fortitude, and courage. How we behave towards our fellow human beings and the tough choices we make under duress will reveal our true moral character, forge bonds between people of good will, and shape how one's life will be evaluated come judgment day.

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