I first heard the music of all-girl punky reggae band the Slits when a friend’s boyfriend gave her a mix CD with their song “Ping Pong Affair”. He might as well have given that mix to me — and all of our friends — because we listened to it non-stop for the better part of three years until we all finally got the chance to see the Slits’ inimitable front woman Ari Up perform with her band The True Warriors at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto in summer 2005.
There’s always an apprehension when you go to see a veteran punk band or musician that’s touring several decades after their initial success, but Ari Up was still full of fire: she helicoptered her massive dreads around the stage, poured two jugs of water down her underwear to douse her overheated “poom poom” and invited fans to sing back-up on Slits classics and her newer “punky reggae” tunes.
On Wednesday Ari Up’s family announced that she had passed away at age 48. Yesterday Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt confirmed to the NME that her former bandmate died following a battle with cancer. If you’re not familiar with Ari Up’s music, start by listening to the Slits 1979 album Cut and reading this excellent obit published in The Independent, which includes some interesting insight from the Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine and former manager Don Letts.
“Her vocal stance,” Albertine told the paper, “was almost like channelling sound… Punk was meant to be honest and true, and that was Ari’s voice. It wasn’t about entertainment, but moving the audience or waking them up. But it could be sexy and melodic as well.”