25 years of revolution! That’s how Steel Pulse, one of the world’s premier reggae acts, sums up their contribution to humanity thus far.  At least, that’s what the banner suggests on their website

Audio
Most of this interview with David "Dread" took place on St. Croix in 1986. We spoke again during the Steel Pulse "Victims" tour in 1991. Join Us.
 
Wild Goose Chase  
Advice to Younger Musicians  
Soldiers  
Nyabingi Voyage  
"His Dreadlocks"  
Save Black Music and Raid Blues Dance  
Heroes  
Roller Skates  
The Steel Pulse Legacy   

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But the revolution was merely 8 years old when I first met lead vocalist (and song writer) David “Dread” Hinds.  The group was in the U.S. Virgin Islands, touring in support of  “Babylon the Bandit,” their 6th album.  In an interview following the concert, David “Dread” discussed the vision of Steel Pulse, and the difficult circumstances that gave birth to some of his songs. 

Britain’s foremost reggae band, Steel Pulse rose from the slums of Birmingham, England in 1978 with a distinctive blend of earthy reggae rhythms, R&B melodies, rock, soul and tight vocal harmonies. Black heroes from Marcus Garvey to Steve Biko were exalted in song.  And the band’s unwavering commitment to African liberation causes earned them a following at home and abroad. 

“We’re still in the streets looking for freedom, justice, liberty and equality,” Hinds would remind audiences at concerts.  “We’ve never been a band who’s out there to make a quick buck,” he explained in a second interview that was granted in 1991. 

“We really try to follow the mode that was initially started in reggae music, and that is to make people aware of what’s happening around them, and to bring black people’s problems to the forefront.  So when you say Steel Pulse, you’re really talking about a concept.  And that concept is to chant down Babylon.” 

And Babylon is that nebulous world of deceit and despair that Hinds wants no part of.  “Chemicals in the food to control population/ Intentions to build a plastic nation/ Cloning cats to have dogs/ Human beings breeding hogs/ On the moon in search of aliens,” sang an impassioned Hinds in the unforgettable classic “Wild Goose Chase.” 

David Hinds (lead vocals and rhythm guitar) and Swelyn Brown (keyboards) are the only two remaining members of the original band.  The current line-up now includes: Sidney Mills (keyboards), Alvin Ewen (bass), Clifford Pusey (lead guitar), Conrad Kelly (drums and percussion), and back-up singers Donna Sterling and Sylvia Tella.  

Yet, one immediately thinks of Hinds when one thinks of Steel Pulse: the breezy vocals, the dark sunglasses, the pulsating anger, the magnetism and the regal crown of dreads,  And no matter how many times Hinds insists that the band  doesn’t revolve around personalities, who could imagine Steel Pulse without him. 

The son of Jamaican immigrants, Hinds, like most of the founders of Steel Pulse, was born and raised in England.  His father was a welder, and his mother worked in a factory.  Along with five siblings, Hinds was reared in the rough neighborhood of Handsworth, Birmingham. 

“We were always subjected to police harassment and unemployment,” recalls Hinds. “The usual thing that happens to minorities across the globe when you’re living in a country that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.” 

Some people choose the Rastafarian path, but Hinds insists he was “born Rasta,” but didn’t realize it until he was about 19 years old.  That was when Rasta elders pointed out to Hinds that his lyrics were steeped in Rasta philosophy.  At 22, he began sprouting dreds. One chunk took the shape of his derby hat and climbed upward for years before it finally toppled over. 

Along with Marcus Garvey, Hinds reveres Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia whom many Rastafarians believe is God, or Jah. And Hinds devoutly reads his Bible. “Chanting my psalms and things,” he says. 

After several interviews, Hinds emerges as a man with unshakable convictions. But he’s not rigid by any stretch of the imagination. “At the end of the day, all religions come down to one truth, and if you can’t deal with that, you can’t deal with anything.” And his advice to budding musicians, could very well apply to the rest of us: “Be committed to your originality, and be determined and dedicated to your originality.” 

In 1992, at the request of former President Bill Clinton, Steel Pulse breezed into the White House to perform at the inaugural festivities. I last saw Hinds and his “liberation posse” at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The set began with a short instrumental melody. Then the man who will never forgive science for side-stepping nature and tampering with clones, summoned his voice and his fury, and chanted down a heedless Babylon all over again.

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