Ska Legend King Django Performs at Propaganda June 9; Five Classic Jams We Hope He Plays

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via thehoneycomb.com
The one-man powerhouse born Jeff Baker but known in musical circles as King Django is one of the most influential Americans ever in ska, full stop. In the '80s and '90s, he -- along with a handful of other figures like Rob "Bucket" Hingley of the label Moon Ska and the band the Toasters -- was responsible for bringing the originally Jamaican sound to the States. As a bandleader, Django helped accomplish that through acts like Skinnerbox and the Stubborn All-Stars, the latter of which even scored some MTV airplay for a brief blip in the late '90s.

But as the scene went underground, Django didn't let up, and his musical explorations expanded. This meant ska offshoots like rock steady and reggae, related genres like soul, and a few left-field outings into styles like klezmer. 

Latter-day solo King Django shows have often leaned toward a heavy roots sound, often played for a slightly more hippieish crowd, and he's been known to crankily rebuff audience requests for early material. Still, with nearly a quarter-century of material from which to draw, anything is technically game on this current tour, which supports a live album, Brooklyn Hangover, released last year.

Here are five songs from the old-school days that he wish he would play at his gig at Propaganda coming up on June 9. Django, can you make it happen?

King Django. With Spred the Dub and the Ruins. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Propaganda, 6 S. J St., Lake Worth. Age 18 and up with ID; admission is $5. Call 561-547-7273, or visit propagandalw.com.

"Open Season," 1995


All right, there's really no reasonable expectation to expect this to be played, ever, because this particular track is forever stuck in the context of its time. The track first appeared on the Stubborn All-Stars' debut album in 1995, then notably in 1997's Give Em the Boot, the opening salvo compilation from Hellcat Records. 

I just wanted to mention it because looking back, it's hilarious. Ska dudes had beefs just like rappers in which they'd channel Jamaican toasting and lightly insult each other. Yes, back then there was a big enough scene to do things like that. 

In this track, Django, backed by the Stubborn All-Stars, declared open season on all fellow ska toasters/MCs, a salvo that got answers back from Hepcat, Rocker T, and even Dr. Ring Ding, possibly to date the only German we've ever heard successfully imitate a Caribbean accent. Django's own Stubborn Records rereleased the track last year on vinyl for its 15th anniversary

"Tin Spam," 1995


This song appeared on the same Stubborn All-Stars album as "Open Season" but had a completely different feel. It's faster, full of multivocalist harmonies, and with an overall soulful feel, like a Sam Cooke song set to an offbeat rhythm. It's actually one of the sweeter songs in the Django oeuvre, so with the whole "heavy roots" vibe he's been going for in the past few years, it's unsurprisingly he pretty much never, ever plays it. 

"Pick Yourself Up," 1997


This was the kind of relentlessly upbeat song that got ska as a whole mocked, though it still avoided the cheesy punk-mashup trappings. Plus, it's like an audio SSRI. How can you crap on something so positive? 

"Does He Love You," 1997


Unlike the Stubborn All-Stars, with which Django stayed pretty traditional-sounding, his other band, Skinnerbox, was much more wide-ranging in taste. Skinnerbox flirted much more often with punk guitar and whatever else seemed like a good idea at the time. "Does He Love You," however, was more like a straightforward reggae love song that we could imagine Django playing today. Interestingly, this is one of the few releases he put out on Moon Ska; the rest of his records went to other indies or his own imprint, Stubborn Records. 

"Tired of Struggling," 1997


This song first appeared in early versions on a couple of compilations floating around in the mid-'90s, then on the Stubborn All-Stars' 1997 record Back With a New Batch, the record that got Django the closest he would ever come to the mainstream. This was a slightly rootsier song, though, than the other tracks' danceable ditties. 

With its almost dubby vibe, there was plenty of room for reinterpretation over the years. As such, it's not a crazy bet that Django might pull it out again. After all, here's a video of him playing it on the ukulele just a few years ago. 



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9 comments
Misc
Misc

"This was the kind of relentlessly upbeat song that got ska as a whole mocked, though it still avoided the cheesy punk-mashup trappings."

Dude, that song doesn't even remotely resemble the kind of crap that got ska mocked as a whole.  I think Reel Big Fish was a target of the Open Season--for a reason...

Shona
Shona

Wow....videos of the young King Django...nice!

Arielle Castillo
Arielle Castillo

Was Reel Big Fish a specific target of the song? I think the first release of "Open Season" (1995) predated the beginning of their considerable mainstream popularity (~1997) by a couple years. Anyways, I loved this comment. 

Arielle
Arielle

Yeah check out the suits :) Love it. 

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Hello there,Thanks for writing. I'll be away from this desk until Tuesday, May 31.

Please contact Devin Desjarlais if you need immediate assistance at devin.desjarlais@browardpalmbeach.com

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Hello there,Thanks for writing. I'll be away from this desk until Tuesday, May 31.

Please contact Devin Desjarlais if you need immediate assistance at devin.desjarlais@browardpalmbeach.com

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Hello there,Thanks for writing. I'll be away from this desk until Tuesday, May 31.

Please contact Devin Desjarlais if you need immediate assistance at devin.desjarlais@browardpalmbeach.com

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