Bringing reggae full circle

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Steel Pulse has taken a lot of flack for its latest album, but its members don't mind, keyboard player Selwyn Brown said. The time had come to make this album and they weren't about to soften corners for public opinion.

The album explores, song to song, 700 years of oppression of the African diaspora. In the past, Steel Pulse mixed its strong political messages with more upbeat songs, "but it was time to come out with an album that made no compromises."

The graphics on the album cover are scanned copies of the Cointelpro papers, said to document the FBI's war against domestic dissent in the United States.

Overlaid on the papers are the faces of African-American activists -- Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and George Jackson.

"Our music has always been politically powerful, but it has always been to uplift people's spirits," Brown said.

The music on the album is high-spirited and danceable, but the message is heavy. In "Tyrant" they sing, "Never let a politician -- oh no/Grant you a favor/He's coming with his plots and schemes after you/To control you for I-ver and ever/Chant Nyahbinghi -- congo drums/woe to downpressors ..."

Reggae is a good vehicle for stronger political messages, Brown said, because the rhythm is infectious.

"People can get into the music for its danceability, and maybe later they will listen to the message," he said. "Even songs that have got a political edge have an uplifting sound."

This year marks the band's 30th anniversary, and in those years, the members have watched reggae change from the early days of Bob Marley to the birth of dance hall music.

"The reggae music now is more club oriented. It's more about turning your mind off," Brown said. "That's a major change, but we believe that change was actually orchestrated by the powers that be. They were quite happy to let the music be meaningless as long as they were collecting their dollars."

Brown thinks that albums such as "African Holocaust" mark a full circle for reggae.

"People again are singing more conscious stuff and growing dreadlocks and acknowledging the creator."

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