Longtime Steel Pulse fan, Tai Adelaja, caught up with Steel Pulse lead singer and frontman, David
Hinds, as the band was preparing for a performance at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina on February 6, 2005.
In the following conversation, David Hinds talks about Steel Pulse's past, present and future, as well
as the band's latest CD, the Grammy-nominated African Holocaust. Read more about the author at the bottom of this page.__________________________________________________________________
"Still Selassie I Soldiers" – A Conversation with David Hinds of Steel Pulse.
by Tai Adelaja
TA: Greetings David.
DH: Greetings Tai…..that accent is…..?
DH: I thought so.
TA: You have been in Nigeria, yes?
DH: That's right.
TA: I've heard different stories about that visit....that perhaps you had a strange experience?
Actually in this case, it was just a promoter that didn't have their act together…and that can happen anywhere. It was a blessing in disguise in a sense, because although we had setbacks in terms of the actual touring, we had a chance to get to know the country, the people and the culture better, took time off to chill with some cool people….and we loved it. It was a good thing. An experience in Africa is always a positive one for us.
TA: And you have been to several more countries in Africa.
- TA: We'll talk some more about that a little later. Right now, Steel Pulse is 30 years old, David. That's a long time for a reggae band.
DH: Yeah, I guess. (laughing)
As a fan that has shared the ride with Steel Pulse for most of those years, congratulations to you, to Selwyn, and the rest of Steel Pulse for 30 years of conscious messages and great reggae music.
DH: Thank you so much, man
- TA: Of course, for longtime fans like me, this is a big
milestone…and you just so happen to be on tour right now. Is there any one place, venue or appearance on this tour where you plan to officially commemorate this 30th anniversary or are you using every concert you play as an opportunity to celebrate?
- DH: Well…we haven't been doing that so far, because I have
this thing with the 30 years.
Sometimes I get the feeling that it's sort of telling our age. But everybody sees it as a great honor for an entity like ourselves to be together for as long as we have been, so there's that side of it too. But I'm also conscious of this thing in the commercial world where all the artists that are selling records right now are young acts, and I just have this mixed feeling about celebrating or commemorating 30 years in an industry that doesn't have respect for the longevity of a band like ourselves, if you see what I'm saying. I have mixed feelings about that. Well it seems everyone is impressed about the whole 30 year thing, but I'm just taking it all in stride.
- TA: You're being humble, David. Those of us that have
been around for the duration…from Handsworth Revolution through True Democracy…and Earth Crisis through Rage and Fury….for a lot of people of my generation….this 30 year thing is momentous. But that leads
me to another question, David: When Steel Pulse first started out, there were a few other bands – and I'm going to drop a couple of names I hope you remember – Matumbi….
TA: Black Slate….
Both of them bands like Steel Pulse….protest-minded, young, talented, with the same fervor and spirit…and a unique sound. These groups had serious potential. They were not quite as political as Steel Pulse, and still they didn't survive…..
DH: Matumbi most definitely had potential….
- TA: So, why do you think Steel Pulse has stood the test of
time, and outlasted most of these other British reggae bands? You have widespread acceptance not just in Britain but beyond Britain…in Jamaica and beyond Jamaica….you're a global phenomenon….while still
delivering, even now 30 years later, the same unyielding protest messages which, by the way, many people in our world may still be uncomfortable hearing.
Yet you guys are still around. Why do you think Steel Pulse has lasted this long?
- DH: One of the main reasons has been the fact that when Steel
Pulse got together as a band, it was never a collection of guys putting music together. It was more, in a sense, a concept.
In other words, we knew that all band members would be replaceable, but the concept had to remain. So that was one of the key things about the band that has helped it last as long as it has, because we were built on a concept as opposed to a group of guys putting together music or out of ego or whatever it is that tends to happen in a lot of bands. And not only that, another thing that's kept us together is that we never allowed outside influences to interfere with what we believed in, which a lot of the time has split bands. Girlfriend problems or something like that, you know. Or somebody saying something negative about another band member, or outside infrastructure causing people to part ways thinking they'll be on to a better thing. And we've sort of made sure that we just didn't get caught up in all that kind of, you know, isms and schisms, so to speak. So that's been the main thing, you know. I've seen it with so many bands, I mean, with Black Uhuru for example, which split at the height of their career over what I perceive as nonsense….and I'm sure if you were to go back and speak with them individually or collectively, they'll tell you the same thing…and it's been an ongoing thing when it comes to reggae acts or even bands in general where sort of outside influences have marred their togetherness.
- TA: Kudos to you guys for keeping the band together.
Now, African Holocaust…nominated for a 2004 Grammy award for Best Reggae Album. This is perhaps your strongest, most directly pan-Africanist and anti-Babylon manifesto. Don't you find it ironic, David, that an anti-Babylon musical offering such as this might, like Babylon the Bandit in the 1980s, win the biggest musical award that Babylon has to offer? What are your thoughts on that?
- DH: Well, my thoughts are that the album is coming at the
right time. I think it's coming with a lot of concept behind it, where the subject matter is varied and definitely pro-African. For something pro-African to be nominated and perhaps go on to win the Grammy
is a good thing.
And I think when it comes to the state of the music right now, there's nothing like it…and so that seemed like an automatic nomination right there. But there's another level, which is to go on and win it. This is where the industry, in a sense, has politics playing into the whole thing. And this is where, although nominated, there is a possibility that we will not go on to win it because of how the infrastructure, the industry, goes about selecting who it sees as winners…. the way the process really works, so to speak. As we know, a lot of the time, especially when it comes to reggae music, when albums are selected….because, in all honesty when Babylon the Bandit won the Grammy, deep down inside I knew that the album before, Earth Crisis, should have been the album that won the Grammy the year before, as opposed to (Black) Uhuru's Anthem. Earth Crisis was the album that everybody was talking about, and are still talking about, as a Grammy-grade album, as well as True Democracy. I haven't heard anybody talk about Anthem since it won that Grammy. I believe when (Black) Uhuru won the Grammy, there were a lot of people really trying to persuade them not to split, and I thought the Grammy was a carrot that was dangled in front of them to prevent them breaking up. But it still happened anyway. So I think the industry then said…hang on, that band (Steel Pulse) deserved to have won it last time but because of the politics with (Black) Uhuru, they didn't, so we're going to let them win it this time with Babylon the Bandit. So Babylon the Bandit won it, and in all honesty, Babylon the Bandit is was not one of our strongest albums….
- TA: True….but it seemed like it was time for Steel Pulse to
win, and that's why the Grammy panel helped you win….even for a lackluster album?
- DH: Right.
But this time around I don't think that should be the case. I think if we win it, it will be on the strength of the album, the enthusiasm of our fans and even people who are not familiar with the band but have heard the album and are amazed at the subject matter, the quality, the execution, and the delivery. I think it's the closest thing most people will probably see to how Bob Marley and the Wailers were in the 70s and early 80s in terms of what you have to come with as far as subject matter and delivery. And I think they've recognized that, and that's why we've been nominated. But like I said, politics does play a big part. Having said that, I'll be more delighted and ecstatic about the whole experience with African Holocaust winning it now than I was when Babylon the Bandit won it because, even though I was like "Grab that Grammy!" back then, I was not over-excited about it because of all the games I perceived were being played in order for it to happen.
- TA: Well, you've scheduled your current tour to coincide with
Black History Month here in the US, and the US is of course a country which, like Britain, your country, has a huge black population as well as the recent wave of immigrants, a country with a legacy of slavery,
a racist past…and some people would say a racist present as well, and also a country, David, now engaged in a so-called "War on Terror." Earth Crisis, when it came out in the mid-80s at the height of the
Cold War and Reaganomics, resonated strongly with a lot of our people, especially because of it's prophetic subject matter…where Steel Pulse was talking about things like cloning, robotics, the militarization of
space, nuclear radiation, mass extinctions, the military-industrial complex, etc.
Well, if you look at things now, it appears you guys were prophets, because a lot of the things you were warning about on Earth Crisis then – 20 years ago – have evolved to a level of sophistication that true citizens of the earth are increasingly worried about today, because it is all around us now, is it not?
DH: It most definitely is.
- TA: So, besides the obvious messages in African Holocaust
that you will be spreading everywhere you play on this tour, is there a message that Steel Pulse may be said to be trying to personally deliver to America at this crucial time in American and global history?
- DH: Well, not only to America but to the world in general as
well….and it's partly the same message from Earth Crisis. But now, I am also really calling out to the Black Diaspora, and I am calling out because, for example, I just finished watching a movie about
Rwanda and how the UN and everyone was there to protect a population that was at risk of genocide but the situation became hopeless and millions of people died. At the same time, what I'm saying basically
is that we as black people across the world need to be seen as playing an active role in elevating Africa from the level it's in now.
We've relied on so many little handouts – Live Aid was one of the more recent – and I say this because it's about the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, and Live Aid is about to celebrate the anniversary by doing more of the same thing again. And I think that the Black Diaspora needs to be seen as playing a big part in this, where we are directly serving Africa….as opposed to the way in which these handouts are always orchestrated by others…..
TA: That we ourselves are an important part of the solution……
- DH: Right.
That's what I'm saying. I think that, collectively, there's supposed to be a governing body that pays attention and monitors these things in a more sensible manner than it has been because from where I see it, I count it as being black and African living in Africa thinking that anytime they are going to get saved it's going to come from Western society, and it's always on the terms of Western society. And when you look at that in the long run, that has really never been beneficial for us. That's one of the reasons why we are in the quagmire we are in now as a nation. The Western world is always giving a man a fish so he can eat for the day. What I'm talking about is teaching him how to fish so he can eat for a lifetime. It's an age-old saying, but it's one that's relevant to this issue.
- TA: It's been 7 years, David, since the last Steel Pulse
album, which was Rage and Fury.
This new Steel Pulse music that we're hearing on African Holocaust seems to be a little more elaborate in its scope than – and correct me if I'm wrong – any previous Steel Pulse album. You may already have hinted at it previously, but I have to ask: What was the catalyst, if any, for making this album African Holocaust, and about how long did it take from start to completion?
- DH: I'd say the album was written and worked on over a three
year period, and in the course of those three years we were touring, and most important, we didn't want to put just any old fly-by-night song on the album. We wanted to put songs on the album that were really
relevant and were also prophetic in a sense, where even if the album took us the length of time that it might, that some of the songs that were written in 2001, for example, that the lyrics and the subject
matter would be relevant in 2004 and 2005....just like the old days when we wrote albums that really stood the test of time. As far as the catalyst for the making of African Holocaust, I'd say it's been a
conglomerate of things….a bit of this and a bit of that…and it all has to do with monitoring what's been going on in the world over a period of time.
The biggest subject matter is tyranny. I've been to Africa a few times myself in the past six years, and have seen that a lot of the time what has set many of these countries back are these rulers who have been there for the longest time, and they've come of age as far as retirement, but they hang on to their power, and a lot of the time they were put there in the first place by the very system that colonized them initially. But the issue of tyranny goes beyond Africa. There's the current global situation with weapons of mass destruction and the militarization of space. The strange thing about it is that the song (No More Weapons) was written long before the Bush administration's war in Iraq. So it's been about watching and monitoring the way the events in the world have been developing over the years, and then to put these issues into perspective. Let me point out that African Holocaust, the title track, was the last song to be written for that album, and it was because we had to journalize and have something that gave the whole album like a folk recognition, where, after all of that, we're saying to the Diaspora and to all peoples, that we have been through everything you can possibly imagine that has been to our disadvantage as a people, and that we have survived it. That's what this song is saying….that it's up to us to get to the other level, that we've survived the past and that we were meant to last. In other words, that we were meant to survive all this and get beyond it.
- TA: Forgive me for this next question, but I have to ask it.
Obviously I'm a big fan of Steel Pulse, but as a fan perhaps also representing the desires of millions of your fans worldwide, you guys have somehow succeeded in depriving us of Steel Pulse in Dub for almost 30
Well….you give us a little here and a little there, an occasional dub trailer to this or that song like Ku Klux Klan, or a single-song dub treatment like with Dub Marcus Say on True Democracy, but still no real Steel Pulse in Dub. I have to admit, David, that I've personally had nightmares about this. I've had dreams of walking down the street past a club that's playing a killer dub track and I walk in to find out it's the new Steel Pulse in Dub. I have a great time and go home to bed totally ecstatic. I wake up in the morning and start looking through my collection for the new Steel Pulse Dub album. Only thing is, it doesn't exist. Now, that's torture. So, the fact is, contrary to the finest tradition of roots reggae, Steel Pulse has never done a dub album. Is there a reason why and when are we going to get a dub album out of you guys?
(laughing) You appear to be well-versed in many aspects of the band's creativity. Thanks for that. But really, we've always wanted to put a dub album out. However, when we were joined to major labels, like Elektra Records, it took them a long time to even acknowledge the fact that Dub Music or the "version" side of a song with effects running all through it, was a credible commodity or something that could be marketed. And we've found that when it comes to the major record labels, they've never really recognized that as a profitable concept. And so the idea drifted on and on and on and on and never came to fruition. The other thing is, because we've been joined to different labels over the years, it would have been difficult to run back to each label and convince them to go back to select and redo our past material with a dub treatment. However, we've been in control of our own music now for the past five to six years, so we've got rights to do whatever we deem fit now. And we are going through the motions of getting a dub album together. I promise you that African Holocaust will definitely get to be a dub album in months to come, and what we're carefully doing is putting together the producers and the engineers who we think can pull it off, because as far as dub albums go, we want to know that once we put the dub album out, it'll be documented in history as the greatest dub album of all time…..
- TA: Wow!
- DH: .…and I say this because as far as I'm concerned, one of
the best dub albums I've ever heard has been the one from Aswad….
TA: New Chapter?
- DH: Yes….New Chapter in Dub.
Thank God that it was a British reggae band that put that in motion.
- TA: I'm glad you said that, David, because for me New Chapter
in Dub was the dub album Steel Pulse was planning to make but Aswad beat you to it.
I've always felt that the production values on that dub album was straight out of Steelpulseland….a taste of Steel Pulse in dub, except that it was by Aswad. I'm glad that you guys are serious about it now, and that you took the time to expound on that. This is great news for all your fans.
DH: I hope so.
- TA: I know so…trust me. Now, you guys are no strangers
From what I understand, you've been to Gambia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal. Africa is strongly represented on this new African Holocaust CD. You manage to say a lot about Africa here….over the lyrics of several songs you mention just about every African country by name, as well as the names of some of its most respected leaders and martyrs. And I say all this to lead up to this, David: Shashamane in Ethiopia now seems to be the spiritual homeland of true Rastafarians worldwide. Rita Marley, wife of the late great Bob Robert Nesta Marley, was recently quoted as saying she would like to rebury the remains of her late husband in Africa, specifically in Ethiopia, and that it was or would have been Bob's wish. As you know all through this month there's an array of events in Ethiopia celebrating what would have Bob Marley's 60th birthday….all
of this with the active cooperation of the government of Ethiopia, UNESCO, the African Union, non-governmental organizations, and so on. What do you make of all this?
- DH: Well, my views are mixed. First of all, if Marley
had wished to be buried there, why wasn't he buried there in the first place?
His burial ceremony could have been done in Jamaica, where he was born, and then his body taken to Ethiopia for burial. So I don't know about all that. She says that was his wish and I respect that. But I just find it a bit odd that it should be done like this. At the same time, maybe the legacy of Bob Marley can be taken to another level once his body gets to Ethiopia. Maybe there's something that will happen in the future of Ethiopia's political climate which will enhance the credibility of Bob Marley's body being there. Who knows? It all remains to be seen. To put it in perspective as well, Rita herself is no longer living in Jamaica but more in Africa, so maybe she probably feels like her husband should be closer to her somewhat, although she resides in Ghana right now. Really, I don't know what to make of the whole thing.
- TA: I don't either. So when is Steel Pulse going to
play Africa next? Do you have anything lined up for Africa anytime soon?
- DH: Well, there's always been talk about us visiting South
Africa, but we've been talking about that since Mandela was released. Well, he became president, served for years, now he's no longer president and is now in the latter years of his life, but we still haven't
been there. However, we've been told that there's the possibility of hitting South Africa sometime this year, and also I've heard talk about the Congo as well. I'm not sure about the Congo, because
as I understand it, there's a serious refugee situation happening out there. And Ethiopia is another country that's been put to us time and time again, and we were a bit disappointed that we weren't invited for
the Bob Marley celebrations happening out there as we speak. Having said that, I think our time will come, closer to the end of the year when it's the 75th anniversary of the coronation of the Emperor Haile Selassie, and I think that it will be a credible moment for Steel Pulse if the band actually performs there come November 2nd for that reason. Right now, we just need certain parties to put it together and make it happen.
- TA: Well, David, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to
me this evening.
I still have a basketful of questions I'd love to ask you, but those can wait for next time. As an African, I can't put into words how proud I have been over the years of the message that you, Selwyn, and the past and current Steel Pulse lineup have been spreading all over the world for the past thirty years in defense of our people….
- DH: And you can't imagine how happy I am myself as a
descendant of slaves to be equally as honored to be here relating to you on issues that we as brothers should have been relating to from Day One.
- TA: Thank you, David.
You guys are truly "Selassie I Soldiers," to borrow a line from your new CD…..
DH: (laughing) Thank you.
- TA: I wish you the best on the rest of this tour. I see
you have added one more US date, in May, to your tour schedule for this year….and I believe that's the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in Louisiana?
- DH: Wow!
Yeah, we're adding dates all the time, because that's been the thing with this band. When we put an album out, it really takes us another 2 to 3 years or so before we can even start thinking about putting another one out because the band's live work is in so much demand. That's what takes us such a long time between albums, the demands of the touring and playing wherever it is we are needed.
TA: Well, I can understand why, because you guys are truly awesome on stage.
DH: Thank you man, thank you.
- TA: I was going to ask you about that sound, that Steel Pulse
sound, and I know you'll probably be reluctant to give up this "trade secret," so to speak, so perhaps we'll talk about it in the next conversation.
Nonetheless, let me just say that the Steel Pulse sound is a killer sound, and I've heard all kinds of theories from all kinds of people about how you guys achieve that sound. I'm won't try to make you tell, at least not today, but I just wanted you to know, if you wanted to hear it from somebody, and a longtime fan for that matter, that that sound is the biggest reason millions of your fans out here have been faithful and loyal to Steel Pulse for all of these years. Thanks for sticking with it, and for bringing us some of the most conscious and stirring reggae music that our world has ever known. And I really am honored to say to you on behalf of our ancestors and all black people that we are proud of what you represent, and the message, on our behalf and in our defense, that you spread all over this wonderful world. I'm praying for the continued rise of African Holocaust up the reggae charts and ultimately for it to win the 2004 Reggae Grammy. Again, to you David and to the rest of Steel Pulse…Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!....and Jah Bless!
DH: Thank you and Jah Bless to you too!
Tai Adelaja. Copyright 2005. Used by Permission
Tai Adelaja, a longtime Steel Pulse fan, is a Writer, Percussionist and Music Producer based in Bowie, Maryland,
USA. Tai was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and studied Philosophy at the University of Lagos in Nigeria before
receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Journalism from West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.
In 1982, his freshman year at West Virginia University, Tai helped create and operate WWVU-FM (http://u92.wvu.edu/) a progressive student radio station that is now one of the highest-rated college radio stations in the United States.
His reggae music radio program was an exceptionally popular broadcast that was often used in the mid-80s as a platform for showcasing the
conscious and progressive music of Steel Pulse. Tai has more recently been Producer/Engineer for weekly radio program, Africa Meets Africa, on WPFW-Pacifica Radio at 89.3 on the FM dial in Washington, DC.
He now devotes most of his time to freelance writing, sound design, and producing under the aegis of his soundware development consultancy,