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Steel Pulse Gets Reggae Grammy Nod

February 16, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s been nearly 15 years since Steel Pulse won a Grammy Award for ``Babylon the Bandit.″ But the reggae band is hoping to win another one this year.

``It was a close shave two years ago,″ said lead singer-musician-composer David Hinds. ``We were nominated for `Rage and Fury.′ Ziggy Marley walked off with it.″

``Living Legacy,″ which was recorded live, is one of the nominees for best reggae album. Rhythm guitarist Hinds, who writes most of the group’s songs, said about 70 percent of the songs on the album are political.

Steel Pulse is seven instrumentalists plus two female backup singers. Hinds, singer-keyboardist Selwin Brown and drummer Steve Nesbitt were born in Birmingham, England, and their parents were born in rural areas of the West Indies. Hinds, Brown and Nesbitt have been with the band since its start.

``Living Legacy″ includes ``Islands Unite,″ which Hinds wrote with the idea that the Caribbean islands would be stronger if they united for trade; ``Ku Klux Klan,″ his idea of what would happen if the Ku Klux Klan came to England; and ``Back to My Roots,″ which came from criticism the band endured ``for watering down the music and drifting away from our initial ideals of spirituality and grinding against the status quo.″

``It is true we changed somewhat to dance hall music,″ he said. ``We had lyrics of lighter entertainment and used the music as beat music. Once it was 100 percent political. We made it 50-50. Record companies wanted something they could get played on the radio. We bobbed and weaved to maintain the band’s survival in the industry.″

When those attempts to be commercial didn’t sell very well, ``what kept us going was live performances,″ he said.

The band got its start in 1975, a time when there was a ``rock against racism″ movement in England, Hinds said. ``It was the point when punk rock bands were questioning the status quo and the system. They had reggae acts as opening acts. Reggae and punk in the same venues was like a will to enforce racial harmony, with black and white in the same auditorium because of the music.″

``England had the National Front, an equivalent of your Ku Klux Klan, marching through communities,″ he said. ″`Rock against racism’ was to counteract what they stood for. We were very much a part of that. Then ska and racially mixed bands became popular and reggae bands had to retreat. Ska was the earliest form of reggae, a music form we’d left behind 20 years before. We survived. We’d already made an impression in France, Holland, Denmark and Germany. We got to the U.S., where reggae was still respected, in the ’80s.″

Steel Pulse’s first live album ``Rastafari Centennial,″ from a concert in Paris, was followed in 1995 by ``Vex,″ which was recorded in Jamaica. Hinds said those two recordings in the band’s original style were a turning point for Steel Pulse.

``The song `Back to My Roots’ was coming from a vow we made that we won’t be hitting the commercial road any more,″ Hinds said. ``We lost our souls but we got them back. In 1997, we released `Rage and Fury,′ which got much acclaim.″

Hinds summed things up in this way: ``We’re back on track and mean business. ... We’ve got bills to pay. But we’re trying to toe the line and keep the band very much alive. I don’t even know how to approach anything commercially any more.″

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