Black Music Month: Steel Pulse

June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 18th, Rockers is highlighting Steel Pulse.

For tonight’s Black Music Month artist of note, WERS At Night is proud to honor the great Steel Pulse. Steel Pulse is one of the most successful and well-respected British reggae bands to spring up and gain popularity in the 1980s. Formed in Birmingham, England by three childhood friends (David Hind, Basil Gabbidon, and Ronnie McQueen) in 1975 at the Handsworth Wood Boys School, Steel Pulse would go on to be on of the most present figures in the 80s reggae scene. They gained enough of a following and maintained their longevity enough to continue touring and record up until the present day.

With the emergence of their first full length long playing record, Handsworth Revolution, (named for the school of which they attended), Pulse gained instant recognition for their biting indictment of racism with their single “Ku Klux Klan”. This track established the group as a politically and socially conscience force in the reggae world, a reputation they would enforce on later recordings. Because of their political tendencies and involvement with the Rock Against Racism campaign, Steel Pulse fell in with the early punk rock scene in England. This early exposure to crowds outside of the typical reggae and ska clubs gave Steel Pulse a more cross-cultural appeal, further spreading their emerging success. The punk scene was instrumental to the success of Steel Pulse because of the prejudice the group initially faced because of their Rastafarian beliefs. Punk represented the new guard in terms of the shifting rock and roll scene, which didn’t discriminate based on religious beliefs, and found ties with the group based on political stance. As the group entered the 80s, they made their American debut with a live broadcast of a Washington DC concert in May 1981 on the evening of reggae giant Bob Marley’s funeral.

The new decade saw Steel Pulse’s success grow, first headlining the 1981 Reggae Sunsplash festival, and then in 1982 releasing one of their most highly regarded records, True Democracy. Released through the American label Elektra Records, True Democracy was a new breakthrough for the band, especially for American audiences. Songs like “Chant a Psalm” and “Your House” became synonymous with the band’s sound, and the high production value on the record made it an easier record for the public less familiar with roots reggae to digest.

On subsequent releases, the band’s sound spread further, incorporating dancehall styles, hip hop, and other divergent styles into their repertoire. While the musical style has changed at various points over the years, the lyrics remain characteristic of the band’s history. Politics, social justice, religion, and African pride remain prominent topics in the group’s songs, giving people the content that brought them to Steel Pulse in the first place. Steel Pulse has played with a large array of different artists over the years and influenced many other bands to come after them. A few months ago, I myself was lucky enough to see a live show of theirs and they did not disappoint. Even though lead singer David Hind threw out his voice the night before and couldn’t perform up to his normal standard, the band still managed to pull off a great set. For managing to become one of the biggest and best of the second generation roots reggae bands, Rockers is proud to honor Steel Pulse’s contributions to the reggae world for our Black Music month series.

By Steve Cameron

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