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Published: 2004/08/27
by Jeremy Sanchez

African Holocaust – Steel Pulse

RAS Records

When Bob Marley died in 1981, Yellow Man revamped Jamaica's music scene for less politically/socially-conscious dancehall-beat purposes. In the same year, Britain's Steel Pulse introduced their rocking-roots reggae (more uptempo rhythms and meatier harmonies than roots is usually known for) to the island in their first visit with a resounding, "Hell no, reggae doesn't have to come from Jamaicans." Conscious lyrics have never been a problem for sole lyricist/lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist David Hinds. Backing vocalist/keyman Selwyn Brown is the only other lasting member besides Hinds, recently losing core drummer Steve "Grizzly" Nesbitt's sticks over health issues.

Reggae purists frowned on Steel Pulse's late '80s and '90s attempts at success for their too listener-friendly pop sound. African Holocaust comes closer to Pulse’s roots (still noticeably British reggae in tempo; the influence of their local, also highly rebellious, local punk scene as children is not denied) than anything recent, obviously urged by the times for another powerful message.

No one can pass the buck. "Stand up and be counted / Never let them chop us down," orders Hinds from track one ("Global Warning"); you've gotta fight for your own rights. Wayne "C Sharp" Clark's drop beat is countered by his own rock 'n' roll ride cymbal and rock tom tumbles; Brown's lazy hop is the true roots keywork. "You're just as guilty standing there," Hinds charges, "Come show me that you care… It takes you and me to make a change."

This album is intended as a slap. African people have been victim of, as the liner notes state, "this obnoxious scattering of Africa's people around the world." Of course reggae has always held the notion that black people are oppressed, but Steel Pulse's lens on the world is a little wider. The past is set, of course, but they put it best in their liner notes, "Irrespective of the means of reckoning, Africa and Africans remain at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Thus the African holocaust continues!" Slavery is in the past, but you can't ignore the reaction.

"There Must be a Way" (truly lazy) trods in, like The Little Engine That Could. Alvin Ewin's bass steps down a few and hauls itself back up with one tug into silence and repeat with Jacko Peake (sax), Simon Wilcox (trumpet) and Chris Petter (trombone) pep-squading the tugs. Again, Hinds' chorus is worth note (I'd print all of the lyrics if I had room). Hinds repeats a plea that reverberates throughout reggae and circles of oppressed peoples, "Find some way, there must be a way, let's do it today." In answer, a chorus of men and women on the verge of change, if not in action at least in thought, echo through "Make us a Nation"; "Yes we are, we gonna make us a nation / that's based on truth and rights over one groundation."

The tracks with guest DJs are blessed. Capleton's gruff vocal delivery layers "Blazing Fire," much in the way "No More Weapons" (the best slice here) finds Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley. Hinds is speaking to the world when he says, "We no want no weapons of mass destruction." His thought evolves into, "No no lethal weapons / No weapons, no weapons." While the music can't touch the easy swagger of their less-studio earlier albums, it probably never will again, the message hasn't faded; time though has proven that the powerful probably aren't listening. Sometimes all you can do is rant, and Hinds does it so clearly.

Guest DJ Jukie Ranks comes more laidback for "Born Fe Rebel." The sound is smooth and suits the line "I was born a country rebel;" Don't let anyone's country pace fool ya. Tiken Jah Fakoly guest DJs on the title track, a song that should be heard for its lessons ("You think what you've got is your freedom / But, all it means is to be free and dumb," Hines quips.) and James Renford's choice alto-saxophone frosting.

The album's liner notes credits Haiti's 200th year of independence as inspiration. Hear African Holocaust; You'll yourself either fighting harder for universal freedom or opting quickly for some other more musically amazing album, probably a less meaningful one too. Hopefully you'll listen a few times and then share Steel Pulse with friends.

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