"We strive for a consistent chemistry," says Steel Pulse's David Hinds. "We can juggle members and still come with the same code of ethics. That's what we're about."
Based out of the U.K., the reggae band has been rockin' various elements of roots reggae, funk, rock, and Caribbean music for more than 30 years.
They visit Charleston this Saturday with a solid lineup and a hefty set of old and new material. Proceeds from the show benefit OKURASE, an organization addressing the AIDS crisis in Ghana.
"Steel Pulse isn't just a group of people," Hinds says. "It really stands for something. No matter who's in and out of the band, the principle and the motives are in effect. We have such a strong fanbase that we can tour year after year. We certainly give thanks for that because not every band can do that — certainly not in the reggae domain."
Over the years, Steel Pulse has developed a reputation as a hard-working band with a tough-love positivity. They frequently donate time, money, and effort to various causes and human rights organizations around the world.
"I wish this kind of thing was a more integral part of our career," admits Hinds. "We've endured so many setbacks and scheduled to do so many other things, in regards to touring, so we don't get to sit back, forget about touring for a while, and really concentrate on other issues."
Hinds emphasizes one of the band's latest songs, "For Haiti," as a featured number in their current set. Steel Pulse recorded the song earlier this year after the earthquake disaster in the Caribbean. The song is available for download with proceeds going to the SELF's (The Solar Electric Light Fund) efforts to help rebuild schools and buildings.
"We ask our fans to bless and support everyone out there who will always give without hesitation to help others in need," says Hinds. "In regards to the Haitian scenario and Katrina, we were pleased to raise several thousands of dollars and support."
Steel Pulse first came together in 1975 in the city of Birmingham. Hinds stepped up as the band's songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist. He and his bandmates — all of whom were working class and of West Indian descent — drew musical and spiritual ideas and inspiration from Bob Marley & The Wailers, Burning Spear, and other prominent Jamaican artists. By 1978, they were recording singles and gigging in London.
"It's been 30 years since Steel Pulse first landed in the U.S.," says Hinds. "I came through during Reaganomics. My first tour was when the Iranian hostage crisis was going on. Lennon had just been shot. The Atlanta child killings were happening, not to mention the Cabbage Patch dolls phenomenon."
It wasn't until the punk movement was in full swing that they gained notoriety and a bit of commercial success. Sharing bills with punk and New Wave acts helped them cross over and build a broad-based audience. Many American music fans caught their first glimpse of Steel Pulse in the 1981 concert film Urgh: A Music War. They performed one of their early hits, "Ku Klux Klan," at the Rainbow Theatre in London (see video clip below). The song was part of the band's 1978 debut, Handsworth Revolution, considered by many a classic British reggae album.
"One of the most consistent themes in what we do has the whole aspect of racism," says Hinds. "We know that's what has severed the world somewhat. It really cuts up the harmony that man is supposed to have. The bottom line is that, oftentimes, ignorance prevails because one culture undermines the other."
Hinds still laughs at the unusual relationship between punk and reggae in the 1970s and '80s. "It was as strange as when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin: He just sort of left it out there, then came back and saw all these germs growing up," he says. "That's basically how reggae music took off in England, more or less. It had been hanging out for a long time. Then the punks got a hold of it and decided to gravitate toward everything that society was ostracizing, which included reggae music at the time."
The current membership includes longtime keyboardist/singer Selwyn Brown, along with Sidney Mills on keyboards, Donavan McKitty on lead guitar, Amlak Tafari on bass, Wayne Clark on drums, and Keysha McTaggart on backing vocals. Their latest studio album is titled African Holocaust.
"It has been a balancing act in a lot of ways," Hinds admits. "We're happy for the recognition, and we feel like we need to at least leave the people with some kind of hope. There are elements of hope that we can throw out to people, sometimes to try to make their dreams become reality."