When the legendary reggae spiritual leader Bob Marley hit the UK and US charts in the ’70s, there was a wave of inspired Jamaican bands right behind him. Acts like Burning Spear and Third World also brought their version of the powerful rhythmic-driven music to progressive American and British radio stations, scoring recording contracts with the likes of Island Records in the process.
Coming via Afro-Caribbean immigration to England in the ’50s and ’60s, a more urban-based militant, politically based band emerged in Steel Pulse. Founding members Basil Gabbidon and David Hinds say they were inspired to action after listening to Marley’s “Catch a Fire” in 1975. Fronted by Hinds, the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and potent bold lyricist, Steel Pulse would take direct hits at issues of global racism, social injustice, political corruption, and tyrannical governments, reacting locally as well to the plight of urban black youth in their home city of Birmingham, UK. Songs such as “Ku Klux Klan,” “Earth Crisis,” “African Holocaust,” “I Can’t Stand It,” and “A Who Responsible” would establish a reputation, as Hinds puts it, of “naming names.”
At their recent packed performance at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, Hinds (vocals, guitarist) and longtime bandmate Selwyn Brown (keyboardist) kept the edge to their message of social and political outrage front and center, as the evening featured music from Mass Manipulation, their first release in more than a decade.
Hinds and the remaining bandmates took the stage and owned it, moving from the still-relevant messages of early Steel Pulse classics like “Wild Goose Chase,” which addresses our destruction of the Earth, then on through songs touching the topic of technology. All with Hind’s refrain, “Who shall save the human race?” getting the crowd chanting in unison. Eventually they powered into “Drug Squad,” which references racial profiling at airport security, as well as “Babylon Makes the Rules” about Rastafarian spiritual belief. By that point, the audience was on its feet, swaying along with a packed center dance floor.
Dipping into Mass Manipulation, the band played “Stop You Coming and Come,” a mythical take on secrets of an African dynasty unmasked, and “Cry, Cry Blood” with its impassioned vocals about poverty and suffering. And of course there was political finger-pointing at corrupt government leadership, this time in the form of “Black and White Oppressors.”
In conversation with DigBoston, Hinds spoke about the personal and passionate impact of Marley’s Jamaican-based reggae and world influence. But he was quick to state that Steel Pulse was coming from a very different political and social urban environment experience—one of specific suppression and prejudice from an educational, policing, and judicial system that was all British. Hinds said boldly, “Very rarely did Marley (or reggae bands in Jamaica) call out and name people—it was more often ‘they,’ or ‘them,’ and ‘us,’ and ‘ours.’” From the very beginning of Steel Pulse, Hinds said his band “didn’t have any fear in calling-out the name. … Be it the Ku Klux Klan or the National Front in Britain,” he said, “we call them out.
“To speak universally about pain and suffering we will call out injustice. That’s what we do.”