By Shelah Moody
Photo by Kim Sallaway
Jade Steel is not your average reggae singer. His music combines the best of traditional Jamaican music and the reggae-loving vibes of the Emerald Triangle—Humboldt County, Mendocino County and Trinity, CA. Along with writing and producing his own music, the soulful roots, rock reggae artist also illustrates his own CD covers and graphic novels.
Steel has performed at internationally renown music festivals such as Reggae on the River, Reggae Rising, Popkomm in Berlin, Germany and De Bus in Jamaica to name a few. Recently, he left the audience wanting more when he opened for West African singer Fely Tchaco at a peace concert presented by the AfroSolo Theatre Company in San Francisco. See Youtube clip
Steel is currently on tour promoting his latest CD “Children of Humboldt.” On Sunday, July 17, Steel will perform at the 27th annual Reggae on the River Festival in Humboldt County. The talented singer/songwriter/producer will be accompanied by Humboldt County’s Emerald Triangle Band.
“I’m very proud of Humboldt,” said Steel. “I look forward to singing for the people of my hometown; it will be fun to show everyone what I've been up to. We've been pretty secretive of this new album. I think it's going to be great. I feel honored to be a part of this years Reggae on the River Festival.”
Q: Tell me how your family ended up in Humboldt County? What was it like growing up there?
A: My Father was from Hells Kitchen New York; he grew up with James Baldwin, Little Richard and many others. He passed away before we really got to know each other too well. We moved up from San Francisco, my mom was tired of cooking for a commune of people. I think they just wanted to get away from it all. Growing up there was nice until I got older. I needed more culture and sophistication so I ended up traveling across the world seeking adventure and knowledge through music. I was in my own band since age 15; Corrupted Youth, then Cold Steel followed by Jade Steel & Emerald Triangle band.
Q: What is the inspiration behind your upcoming CD: “Children of Humboldt?” Who are the Children of Humboldt?
A: It's an homage to my hometown. The CD was going to be called "Diamond in the Rough," but "Children of Humboldt" made more sense. The Children of Humboldt are the ones who grow up there. Some leave, most of them grow up. Many have died due to the weed industry and the theft behind the scenes. In my song "Children of Humboldt," I say, "I want to send out all my praises, to the children who are missing, if you hear these words I'm saying, I wanna thank you all for listening."
Q: Talk about the producers, musicians and DJs who worked with you on “Children of Humboldt."
A: My producer is Andre Jonson. I've worked with DJ Matteo Rizetta, DJ Steffan Franz, and more.
Q: Who are some of your biggest musical and spiritual influences?
A: I have thousands of albums in my collection-- from rock to reggae, from Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Slayer, Metallica, Incubus, Seal, and the Police to reggae bands such as Bob Marley, Maxi Priest, Jimmy Cliff, Tarrus Riley, Gregory Isaacs and so much more. I consider myself to be a reflection of many. We all hear the same music with different ears. We all will sing our own song. Spiritual influences? Many as well, I'm not super religious but very spiritual. However I've found that it is better to not talk about my beliefs too loudly. It raises too many skeptical questions and debates that become personal. I love many religions and consider them to be a learning tool. I'm a true rocker to the bone and proud of it. If people need to believe in something that makes them feel stronger, I feel that is a choice and I approve of that choice whatever it may be even though I may not always agree with it.
Q: You have so many musical choices. Why reggae?
A: I don't feel I'm just a reggae artist. Our music is also designed for big rock arenas. My goal is also to be in rock festivals all over the world. I just love reggae as well, why not? Johnny Cash did it. Bob Dylan's doing it. If you listen closely to my music you will hear that I am really into rock and roll. Reggae is cool, I like the vibes but this album is about my art and was meant to be a healing album for me. I never expected it to turn out as powerful as it has become.
A lot has happened to me in the past five years; my father passed away, I was robbed and I was injured. I fell backwards off of a mountain and broke my leg. I was told I might not ever been able to walk the same again. My true passion is rock. I don't want people to get the wrong idea, I can do both. I grew up around the world famous "Reggae on the River" festival that takes place every summer. I appreciate reggae music. In Jamaica, I've heard them say I sound like a white Luciano. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciano_(singer) I've also heard elders compare me to a Rasta man, but I do not consider myself this. I have too much respect for the true Rastas to front like that. I'm an artist and hope people will love me for just being that. In the words of Ziggy Marley "I've got to be true to myself."
Q: Tell me about the story behind “Machete” from “Children of Humboldt” and how the late Lucky Dube inspired you to write the song?
A: I was devastated behind the news of Lucky Dube's killing. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucky_Dube) So I wanted to write a song for Africa. Lucky influenced me on this. However this song is for Africa. The lyrics are: “Don't forget those taken away, fallen prey to, Machete.” It is much deeper than one person. I hate what is going on there. People should not be burned and hacked up into pieces for their beliefs or because they didn't vote for some warlord they don't believe in. Sometimes I feel so helpless, so I write songs that will hopefully be heard and make people think. “He was a soldier most his life, who dreams of wife and child” is the first line in the song. I'm glad this will be out. People need to hear this kind of stuff. It's really happening, even now as you read this.
Q: What has been your experience like, traveling back and forth to Jamaica?
A: Jamaica is a magical country; very inspirational. I have many friends there and have always loved the Jamaicans and reggae music. Like I mentioned before, I have too much respect for Rastafarians to front like I am one. I feel I'm a people person. It's always fun to travel to the islands and I love performing my songs. I feel blessed, to be well received. In Negril, Jamaica, I opened some shows with my now dearly departed friend (Chellem Bassie) for Yellowman, Culture, Ken Boothe and many more. For this and more I give thanks and praises everyday. I will never forget my experiences in Jamaica. The last time I was there, my producer, Andre Jonson, and I ran into Jimmy Cliff at an ital food shack near the airport in Montego Bay. One of the thing's I didn't appreciate in Jamaica was the way certain restaurants and hotels treated the locals; friends I made who were not allowed or had no interest in stepping foot within because they were too poor or simply "not allowed." It was evident to me that segregation still existed on some levels and in many places. There were places that only catered to tourists. This bugged me and I soon became leery of places where the staff had to wear the same color patterned shirts.
Q: As an environmentalist, what is Jade Steel doing to save the planet?
A: I always do what I can, from recycling, to helping the homeless, from Goodwill to donating a percentage of this new album to saving the rain forests. I consider myself a true environmentalist in the fact I'm always trying to make a difference. Long ago, I learned to scuba dive and since then on every dive I've always grabbed some trash from the ocean floor each time. Also on land, if I see trash I try to stop and pick it up. Singing and trying to heal the world through positive music is always a good start. I've fed the homeless and needy many times in my walk of life. I give when I can and when I can't I don't beat myself up too bad because when I can I do. I wish more people would do the same. I've always detested people who litter Mother Earth.
Who: Jade Steel and the Emerald Triangle Band
Where: 27th Annual Reggae on the River Festival, Benbow Lake State Recreation Area, Humboldt County, CA
When: 10:30 a.m., Sunday July 17Info: (707) 923-3368 www.reggaeontheriver.com. www.jadesteel.com.