Sunday, September 4, 2016

May the Pulse Be With You: Grammy Winning Reggae Band Releases New Documentary, “Dreadtown” By Shelah Moody

Steel Pulse @ Mountain Winery, Saratoga

“Reggae music pleases kings and queens, so I’m sure that it will please you,” announced lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist David Hinds.
I first saw Steel Pulse at the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, HI, 1988. Ironically, the U.K.’s Grammy winning reggae band was the opening act for a local group, Cecilio & Kapono. My first exposure to the music of Steel Pulse came via the reggae show on KTUH FM, our local university radio station. I was captivated by their roots and dub sound and their militant and spiritually uplifting lyrics. Songs like “Handsworth Revolution,” “Chant a Psalm a Day,” “Stepping Out,” “Ku Klux Klan,” “Not King James Version,” “Blues Dance Raid,” “Roller Skates” and “Drug Squad” became the soundtrack of my young adult life. Steel Pulse was rocking against racism and speaking out on police shootings of unarmed black youth decades before Black Lives Matter.

David Hinds and Selwyn Brown. Founders of Steel Pulse

It was fate that led me to spot a fabulous young dread, David Hinds, and his magnificent towering dreadlock, walking out of the Food Pantry, our neighborhood overpriced grocery store, in Waikiki, 1989 on the eve of Steel Pulse’ headlining Waikiki Shell performance. I remember running through the “don’t walk” sign to catch up with David and grabbing the sleeve of his denim jacket.
“Excuse me, are you….”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “And you are…?
I quickly introduced myself and the underground publication, “Scrawling Wall,” that I was writing for at the time. I did not know that I was shaking and sweating in the Honolulu heat.
You seem like you are afraid of me,” said Hinds.
Oh no, I’m just a bit nervous because I love you guys so much,” I said.
What followed was a two hour interview for “Scrawling Wall” with Hinds, who introduced me to band members Steve “Grizzly” Nesbit on drums, Selwyn Brown on vocals, keyboards and melodic, Phono Martin on percussion and vocals and Sidney Mills on keyboards. Hinds spoke to me in depth about the influence of the Black Power Movement in America, discrimination against blacks and other peoples of color in the U.K., and the songwriting process that led him to write classics such as “Throne of Gold” and “Ravers.” When Hinds opened his jacket to reveal an oversize button depicting a cow pooping with a circle and I line over it, (“No Bullshit”), I knew that we would be friends for life.
Ironically, Steel Pulse came to town to perform during my last weekend in Honolulu and I hung out with the band members at Diamond Head Beach, where the warm sand glistened like millions of diamond chips. The Pulse was with me when I left Honolulu for good to attend graduate school in San Francisco. While tears flowed, I played their 1991 recording, “Victims” on the plane. The first single was “Taxi Driver.” Putting worlds into action, Steel Pulse filed a class action suit against the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, due to drivers refusing to pick up blacks and dreads.
In the summer of 1994, the staff of the Reggae Calendar International lost our dear friend, Joyce Ann Cooke, who was killed in a car crash on the way to Reggae on the River. Headlining at Reggae on the River that weekend was none other than Steel Pulse. A blessing came out of tragedy that weekend; my feature story on Steel Pulse for “Reggae Calendar International” caught the eye of Steel Pulse’s tour manager, who recommended me to MCA records to write the press release for their upcoming album, “Vex.”
A standout track on “Vex” was a song called “No Justice, No Peace.”
“The practice of so many injustices has left us with very little confidence in the judicial system,” said Hinds. “Above the angry groove of the drum and bass, “No Justice, No Peace,” lashes out at the outcome of the Rodney King trials. “No Justice, No Peace” goes on to acknowledge Mike Tyson’s incarceration in comparison to a Kennedy family member’s acquittal on an almost similar crime.”
Fast forward to fall, 2016. Steel Pulse is currently touring with one of the biggest acts in reggae music, multiple Grammy winner Ziggy Marley. When reggae music was rough and uncut, Steel Pulse opened for Bob Marley, who dubbed them the Young Wailers.

                                       Drummer Wayne "C-Sharp" Clarke

Though they players and the groove may have changed over 40 years, the message remains the same. Steel Pulse current lineup includes core members, Hinds, Brown and Mills, along with Wayne “C Sharp” Clarke on drums, Amlak Tafari on bass, Jerry Johnson on sax, and Makiesha McTaggert on vocals, rapper BaRuch Hinds (son of David) and David Elecceri on guitar. 

Vocalist Keysha McTaggart and keyboardist Sidney Mills

They’ve added an acoustic version of “Chant a Psalm a Day” and new songs such as “Don’t Shoot” and “Put Your Hoodies Up (4 Trayvon),” livicated to the unarmed black youth across the country who’ve been killed by police.

Steel Pulse newest members David Elecciri, guitar, and rapper BaRuch Hinds

After seeing the Pulse live at least 100 times over the years, the show is new to me every time and I wait for the point when they play “Rally Round” and I can throw my fist in the air and sing along with the refrain “Closer to God we Africans!”
Steel Pulse is also gearing up for the release of “Dreadtown,” the definitive documentary of Steel Pulse, which memorializes their 40 year career and evolution of as a band. With Hinds as executive producer, “Dreadtown” was directed by Yoni Gal of Driftwood Pictures. Past and present band members and family are featured in the film, as well as luminaries such as the Marley family, Gwen Stefani, Michael Franti, Snoop Dogg, Johnny Rotten and Alpha Blondy.
"Dreadtown" has been in the making for eight years, said Hinds, 60.
“We started out doing the video, for our song "Door of No Return." (see link: The song is about a captured slave who is actually a king. My son, BaRuch, has the lead in the video. The song is about someone of high realms all of a sudden finding himself on an auction block in the United States or somewhere like that, and being sold. The whole idea of "Door of No Return," not that I'm veering from the subject of "Dreadtown," is that there is a place called Goree Island, a small island off the coast of Senegal, and on Goree Island is a detention center or a fortress where slaves were held until they were dispatched to various parts of the world. There was an opening through the fortress that the slaves had to go through that was called the door of no return. Once they went through the door, and went throughout Europe and parts of the Americas to become slaves, they never had a chance to return.”
“I was very emotional about the whole thing and thought I was actually representing my ancestors returning through the door of no return,” said Hinds. “My point is, we decided to take it to another level and make a movie on the making of "Door of No Return." It was so interesting what developed as far as ideas and what we contributed, and the next step was to turn the whole the Steel Pulse experience and advertise our 40 year legacy. That's how "Dreadtown" came into play. We're hoping that it can be completed by the end of the year. It's crucial now, because there are so many issues involved. We started out, as you know in England where we were facing racism and all of the stuff that came along colonialism and of course, we go back to 400 years of slavery. To know that things have come around 360 degrees in this day and age; where England has exited out of Europe—racism is at the root of it all. You’ve got Donald Trump establishing his format of racism right here in the U.S. It’s as if our songs have been revitalized for that same reason. Our story needs to be out there; it needs to be told and I’m hoping that it will be something that people are very much interested in. I hope it doesn’t have a “sell by” date or gets put on the shelf after a period of time, because we are living in times where things are very much disposable. We want to know that your children and grandchildren can still have this film as a template of how things are and were. I hope that it can be part of a school’s curriculum. We want to have people taking time out with kids of all ages and dimensions and looking at it and saying, wow, this is what’s happening, and sort of have it as a debate or whatever they want to use it as. We want it to last for a long, long time, even after Steel Pulse has retired as a band.”
May the Pulse be with you at:

On Twitter: @Steelpulse

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