Subculture speaks to Rhoda Dakar


Thursday 21st August 2014

We talk to Rhoda Dakar, the voice of 2-Tone band The Bodysnatchers, and part of The Specials' group history, about music (new and old) and recording material to mark the 35th anniversary of The Bodysnatchers' formation.

As one of the key artists associated with the 2-Tone era, you were obviously a big part of the British Ska-revival subculture. Which subculture do you think has left the greatest legacy in terms of lasting influence and inspiration for today’s youth?

A difficult one to call, really. But if we're talking today's youth specifically, I would have to say Hip Hop. Trainers are ubiquitous, many tunes have a rap part as standard, instead of an instrument solo or middle eight. The dance culture of the late 80s and early 90s is right up there, but Hip Hop wins out, as it's everywhere.

Much of your body of work has strong political motivations, be it ‘The Boiler’ or ‘Nelson Mandela’. Is it the music or the message that takes greatest importance when you work?

Music always. What you have to say is important, but if nobody's listening, you've wasted your time.

Do you think today’s new music is reflecting British society today, as it did 35 years ago when 2-Tone was at its height? 

Yes, very much so. Young people today have a common language - I hear a voice on the street and I've no idea who I'm going to see. Black/White/Asian - the kids all sound the same. Musically, some may lean towards Hip Hop, some to House, some to Afrobeat and some to Bashment, but these styles can and do mix and DJs often play a mash up. Then there are the hybrid styles like Dubstep and Grime. Today's young people are much more of a melting pot than we were and this is clear in the music they listen to.

What kind of music do you listen to on your own for sheer escapist pleasure?

Great female singers and North African/Middle Eastern music, for example Edith Piaf and Khaled.

You’re quite an expert on early reggae. For those of us who are not quite up to speed, or afraid to ask, can you explain the difference between reggae, ska and rocksteady? 

I can try, but I'm an enthusiast rather than an expert. Ska has brass, a specific syncopation and is often 12 bar, like rock n roll - My Boy Lollipop. Rocksteady is often slower, melody and harmony are very important, brass is often not a feature and there is a specific guitar picking style and I can't remember who invented that! - Ba Ba Boom by The Jamaicans. Early Reggae developed out of Rocksteady, so shared the reliance on guitar and organ, but speeded it up somewhat and featured the bass more - Elizabethan Reggae by Boris Gardiner.

What was the last record that you bought?

I'm very lucky and am given a lot of music, but the last CD I bought was Hollie Cook's new album 'Twice'. i could've blagged a copy, but was happy to put my hand in my pocket, based on her first album, which I didn't pay for! 

Tell us more about the crowd funded Bodysnatchers album you’ve been working on?

For about the last thirty years, at least once a month, somebody has asked about a Bodysnatchers album. Well, we never did record one and so there are no 'lost tapes' anywhere. I had no intention of ever investigating the idea. I'm not one for looking back. I have always embraced the Mod ethic of onwards and upwards. However, it was pointed out to me that it was the 35th anniversary of us getting together and what was I going to do to mark it. To which I answered "huh?" It had never occurred to me. Then I thought it might stop people asking, but how would I do it? A few friends had released albums through crowdfunding, so I thought I'd investigate. Hollie Cook's new album was done through Pledgemusic, so I thought I'd go with that. I started to listen back to bootlegs and Peel Sessions and was really pleasantly surprised by how interesting the songs were - I hadn't heard them in many, many years! I chatted to Sean Flowerdew, who runs the London International Ska Festival, and he thought the idea had legs. The chance to play The Jazz Café on Halloween came up, but was very short notice, so we just went for it! We were in the studio literally only last week! It's all a bit of a rush, but because of that, we've captured the energy and urgency of the time. My two old friends, Horace and Lynval from the Specials, have played on the album and it was lovely to have them make time. We've also got some of the best Ska scene musicians around to participate - I'm really very lucky to have them! Release date is 1st November and we've surpassed our funding target, so now 10% of all monies raised will go to my favourite charity, Raw Material, where I am a volunteer. 

Here's the link:

If you could have any artist, dead or alive, cover one of your songs - who would it be?

I've wrestled over this, but have come back to my first thought - Elvis Costello. Brilliant, prolific songwriter. Excellent performer. Top bloke. On his Spinning Wheel tour last year, I went to see him in Southend for a mate's birthday. We were asked to go up on stage, as we were dancing enthusiastically, although the assistant didn't know we knew him. I can safely say he was very surprised. It was brilliant and I got to sing harmonies on 'Out Of Time'! He had so many songs to choose from. What a body of work. If he chose to cover something I'd written, it would be the ultimate compliment from a great songwriter.

Rhoda Dakar sings The Bodysnatachers will take place on Halloween at The Jazz Cafe, London. See flyer below:


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