By Shelah Moody
Photos By Lee Abel
June 19, 2015. Mendocino County Fairgrounds. Boonville, CA. Around 10:30 p.m.
Although U.K.’s Grammy-winning reggae band Steel Pulse has performed many times at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival since its inception, this show was special.
When their leader and principal vocalist David “Dread” Hinds was unable to sing due to a throat ailment, world class musicians Selwyn Brown (keyboards), Sidney Mills (keyboards), Amlak Tafari (bass), Wayne “Ceesharp” Clark (drums), Rasta Moonie Pusey (guitar), Keysha McTaggart (vocals), and Jerry Johnson (sax) stepped up to the plate, proving themselves to be the quintessential definition of a band. Despite the absence of Hind’s signature ethereal tenor, Steel Pulse pulled off an incredible night of roots and dub flavored with R&B, jazz, dancehall, hip-hop and even a bit of comedy.
As Hinds played rhythm guitar in the background and directed the music, Steel Pulse co-founder Selwyn Brown and co-producer/guest singer/guitarist David “Cirious” Elecciri alternated on lead vocals. As the artificial smoke from the stage mingled with sweet whiffs of ganja from festival revelers, Brown delivered their classic protest songs such as “Handsworth Revolution,” “Babylon Makes the Rules,” and “Soldiers” in his smooth baritone.
During a break in the show, Brown acknowledged the nine black people who were massacred by a white gunman during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17.
“All of our thoughts right now are going out to the families of those who lost their lives in South Carolina,” said Brown. “This is why Steel Pulse will always be rocking against racism!”
The lyrics from “Ku Klux Klan” [Handsworth Revolution, 1978] became particularly relevant that night:
“To let me go was not dem intention / Dem seh one nigga the less / the better the show / stand strong black skin take your blow / I holler and I bawl / Ku Klux Klan”
Emulating Hinds’ vocals and charisma and even his militant style of dress, Elecciri, who hails from southern California, performed classic Steel Pulse dance tunes such as “Blues Dance Raid,” “Drug Squad” (featuring rapper Baruch Hinds, son of David) and “Stepping Out.” Steel Pulse literally became a tribute band within itself, a phenomenon that this writer had never witnessed.
Of course, we hope that Hinds will make a quick recovery and that he will be singing strong again soon.
A few weeks earlier, Reggae Festival Guide caught up with Hinds for a brief conversation after Steel Pulse’s headlining performance at the 2015 California Roots Festival in Monterey, CA.
Celebrating 40 years in the business, the band is gearing up for the release of their new film Steel Pulse: The Definitive Documentary, directed by Yoni Gal, and also, the release of their first studio album in 10 years.
Reggae Festival Guide: First, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you for years. Why do you wear sunglasses when you perform on stage?
David Hinds: I wear them for a few reasons. I’ve gotten so accustomed to it now; it’s part of looking cool, having a different identity and also, they can be used as a defense mechanism, especially when it comes to [new] cities where we perform, when I have a nervous reaction because of not knowing how the fans are going to receive us. Now, I’m pretty confident out there, so sunglasses are part of my look. Companies like Oakley and Fox have given me shades over the years.
RFG: Do you ever go onstage without your shades?
DH: I have, a few times. Sometimes I’ve forgotten the damn things in the hotel room and said, lemme just go out there and do my thing.
RFG: Ok, tell us about Steel Pulse’s new protest song, “Hands Up (I Can’t Breathe).”
DH: It had so many names to it. Originally, it was called, em, “Don’t Shoot.” That song was actually written around the time when Michael Brown and Eric Gardner were killed and during the court proceedings. Once they came out with the slogan, “I Can’t Breathe,” we had to mix and blend the two. Actually, I had to call it “Hands Up (I Can’t Breathe)” but it got mixed titles because of the series of events that were taking place.
In the Baltimore incident, there were three white police and three black police involved. So that just shows you that it’s a mindset that’s going on and (the police force) is an institution that I think needs to be looked into in terms of how they are doing their job. We’re not saying that cops aren’t supposed to do their job; but I think it should be questioned when every week or every couple of days, someone is killed. I mean, it’s the standard joke on the Internet right now. Have you heard about this kid, Freddie Gray, no the other one, no the other one. There are so many youths who have lost their lives out of foolishness.
What America has to realize now is that the whole world is looking at this, and the whole world is baffled, because the United States in the number one county in the world in terms of the power that it has. When you are going out there and trying to make changes regarding negativities in the world and you’ve got problems in your own backyard, people will say, well hey…America needs to get back that respect that it’s slowly losing because of not being able to control the racism that’s here.
RFG: So, after 40 years, what’s next for Steel Pulse?
DH: Yeah, we’re protesting, we don’t know how to stop. We’ve been influenced for a long time by artists like the Wailers, Gil Scott Heron, and Mtumbe. Although they are known for love songs (such as “Juicy Fruit”), there are other songs which had a lot of energy behind them in the direction of roots and politics.
It’s our 40th anniversary and it’s all about our legacy right know. We want to make our legacy shine. We’ve got a documentary coming out that’s been favored very much by the film [industries’ people] that have seen the trailer and snippets of the film. We’ve carried it so far with the finance that we’ve gotten without having a major label behind us. The band has been working on a new album as well as the film. The guys who worked on our documentary were adamant about using the best camera they could to film it. Right now, there’s a film out called Rocksteady, featuring Ken Boothe, Derek Morgan and Sly Dunbar—I love that documentary, I hope we can top that. The good thing about our story is that we are coming from the United Kingdom. While everybody associates reggae with Jamaica, we’re coming from the hardcore concrete streets of Handsworth, England. You are going to see the interaction that we’ve had growing up in that sort of urban area from a far-away land where reggae landed—and we did something with the music. It’s going to be moving when people see the struggle that we had, even within the band itself. We are hoping that our fans and supporters will enjoy both the documentary and the new album.
For more tour dates, visit www.steelpulse.com.
…And here’s a bit of Trivia: Which U.S. cities have the biggest Steel Pulse followings?
According to David Hinds: Santa Cruz, CA; Kauai, HI; Norfolk, VA; and New Orleans, LA.