British roots reggae band Steel Pulse headlines
Republik Music Festival Maui
Since the release of their groundbreaking debut album, “Handsworth Revolution,” in 1978, Steel Pulse has railed against racism, colonialism, social injustice and environmental destruction on classic songs such as “Earth Crises, “ Ku Klux Klan,” “Tribute To The Martyrs,” “Ravers, ” and “Bodyguard.”
On their latest album, “Mass Manipulation,” the legendary British roots reggae band addresses a range of critical issues including global warming (“World Gone Mad”), the horror of “Human Trafficking,” the police shooting of unarmed African-Americans (“Don’t Shoot”), the exploitation of Africa’s resources (“No Satan Side), the New World Order (the title track) and racism in Louisiana (“Justice in Jena”).
Four decades after their debut, the band sounds as strong as ever on this powerful collection of potent songs.
Released to wide acclaim, The Guardian praised “the singer’s [David Hinds] songwriting and Bob Marleyesque vocals have lost none of their plaintively galvanizing qualities as he addresses social justice.”
“We’re overwhelmed with the appreciation,” says founder/lead vocalist Hinds. “We can’t believe it. It’s the most notable, acclaimed and commented album we’ve ever done. ‘True Democracy’ and ‘Earth Crisis’ both had their accolades, but this one has become something else. Not having a product out for quite some time, we were apprehensive. We were not sure if the music was going to be appreciated or not. People have said they’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Covering so many relevant social and political issues on the album, Hinds reports the songs were created over time.
“No matter how long it took for us to record the album, things still remained current because the issues are the same, like ‘Justice in Jena’ on the album,” he says.
The Jena Six, as they came to be known, were six black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, who were convicted in the 2006 of beating a white teenager. Provocative events before the attack included the hanging of rope nooses from a tree in the student’s high school courtyard. FBI investigators found that the noose hanging “had all the markings of a hate crime.”
“Although ‘Justice in Jena’ was written some years ago, racism is headline news in the United States with police shootings and Ku Klux Klan rallies and Charlottesville a couple of years ago,” Hinds continued. “All these things made it current no matter how old the song was.”
Like one of his early influences, reggae legend Bob Marley, Hinds has a knack for fusing intense lyrics with amazingly catchy melodies.
“Despite the fact that the lyrics may be politically heavy handed, the catchy melodies and grooves and the Steel Pulse signature, how it feels and swings, it all helps to accent the subject matter and make them more palatable,” he notes.
Another memorable song on the album, “Don’t Shoot (Got My Hands Up),” addresses the murder of African Americans like Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police.
“I’m choking I cannot breathe,” he sings. “I beg you don’t taser me, I’m down on my bending knees.”
The one cover on the album is a bit of a surprise — a reggae version of Steve Winwood’s hit “Higher Love” (subtitled “Rasta Love”), with Hind’s son assisting on vocals.
“I could have written my own version of ‘Rasta Love,’ but the song was out there, and I couldn’t think of anything that I could have written that could have beaten the quality of the chorus line and the sentiment of positivity,” Hinds adds.
“After all the tracks, we needed something that lifts us on a positive note and leaves us with hope. When we got it together, Steve Winwood was no longer available to have him on the track. Our plan is to re-release it with Winwood. We share common ground.”
Both musicians were raised in the same Handsworth area of Birmingham.
“He grew up in the same neck of the woods that I grew up in,” he explains. “We walked the same streets. Handsworth is my stomping ground. You can’t get more ghetto in Birmingham.”
Currently compiling dub versions of “Mass Manipulation’s” songs, Hinds was helped by Maui’s Marty Dread who connected the British reggae star with Italian-born remixer Gaudi (who had previously worked on some of Marty’s songs).
“I met Marty Dread about five years ago,” says Hinds. “He mentioned Guadi, an Italian guy living in England, and he said, ‘Nobody does dub mixes better.’ Guadi has done about three dub mixes for me so far and he’s remixing ‘Higher Love.'”
Like UB40 and the English Beat, Steel Pulse was formed in Birmingham at a time when second-generation immigrants from Jamaica were coming of age. Steel Pulse’s militant music brought them to the forefront of Britain’s Rock against Racism movement, opening for bands such as the Clash, the Stranglers and XTC.
The group endeared themselves to their punk audiences by wearing outrageous costumes that symbolized defiance, including wearing Klu Klux Klan robes and hoods.
“It was a shock to the American system,” he recalls. “At one of our first shows in Boston, a guy jumped on stage and attacked the percussion player while he was wearing the costume.”
Hinds says he’s looking forward to returning to Hawaii.
“I always look forward to coming back to Hawaii. I’ve always said if I could live anywhere in the United States, any island would be fine. It’s a completely different ball game than what’s going on on the Mainland. I feel more at ease.”
Steel Pulse headlines the Republik Music Festival Maui on Sept. 27 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s A&B Amphitheater on a bill with the Original Wailers and Trevor Hall. Gates open at 5 p.m. The festival continues on Sept. 28 with Tribal Seeds, Matisyahu and Groundation.
Tickets are $39.50, and $79.50 for VIP each night (plus applicable fees). There is a $10 discount if purchasing both nights at the same time. Prices increase $5.50 day-of-show. Parking is available for pre-purchase via the MACC Box Office. VIP tickets include premium viewing/standing-only area front-of-stage, access to the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard with designated bars and restrooms, and remote seating area with tables and chairs. VIP ticket holders must be 21 and older.
It’s time once again to pay tribute to rock gods Led Zeppelin with ZepMaui X at 7 p.m. in the MACC’s Yokouchi Pavilion & Courtyard on Saturday. Now in its tenth year, around 30 of Maui’s best musicians will perform classics by the British rock legends.
With guitarist Nils Axel Rosenblad at the helm, some of the female lead vocalists rocking the night include Gretchen Rhodes, Nara Boone, Lawaia Aweau and Karrie O’Neill.
Tickets are $45 and $79 for VIP. Ticket prices increase day-of-show. Ages 17 and younger tickets are $17 (plus applicable fees). All tickets are general admission.
Hawaii’s top-selling female vocalist, Amy Hanaiali’i, will present a special performance for Mana’o Radio from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Lahaina Loft, 736 Front Street. All proceeds will benefit Mana’o Radio.
General admission tickets are $20. A $150 VIP ticket for a party of four includes early entry, an assigned table and complimentary pupu platter and glass of wine. Tickets are available through eventbrite.com.
Acclaimed musician Carmen Grillo makes his Maui Coffee Attic debut at 7 p.m. Saturday. Over the years, he’s performed or recorded with Tower Of Power, Smoky Robinson, Huey Lewis & The News and Boz Scaggs. Vocally sounding close to Scaggs, Grillo’s most recent solo album leans closer to funky Tower of Power funk territory, with the TOP horns punching up many tracks, plus a taste of early Steely Dan on “Tryin’ to Make it Happen.”
He will be joined by Jerry Kovarsky on keyboards, Jay Molina on bass and James Somera on drums.
Tickets are $20 advanced, or $25 at the door. Call 808-250-9555 to reserve seats.