Musician David Hinds is the founder and front-man for Steel Pulse, the world’s leading reggae band. In 1978, race relations in Britain were in crisis. The National Front was gathering power and immigrants lived in fear of violence. But that year saw the birth of a campaign – Rock Against Racism (RAR) – aimed at halting the tide of hatred with music – a grassroots movement culminating in a march across London and open-air concerts across England and even in France. The campaign involved groups like The Clash, Steel Pulse, Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, and others, staging concerts with an anti-racist theme, in order to discourage young people from embracing racist views. For over forty years, the band has brought conscious music and a message of equality to fans all around the world.
Steel Pulse has had a long history of fighting for social justice. How has that challenge shifted over the years?
I’ve never really been asked this kind of question before. But come to think of it, our message has transcended the national boundaries of the British Isles, where several other countries, including the USA, the French territories, the Caribbean and the entire African diaspora, who have been affected by colonialism, have recognized and embraced our cry for justice and equality. Our message has gone as far as having countries and regions using us as a political tool to gain independence; something we were completely unaware of at the time while it was happening. At that time, we were given the impression that it was just another regular concert in a faraway land, totally oblivious to the political undertones that awaited us. And so, the answer is yes, this course has meandered over the years and it is amazing to know that the whole rocking against racism situation has come 360 degrees.
Equality and justice are not abstract concepts. From the very beginning, we decided to stand for people whose voices were not being heard – the sufferah, as we say. Yes, things have changed, times have changed, but the war for justice is still being fought every day. We started by singing about injustice in our neighborhood of Handsworth, but that message resonated around the world. Now our message is universal and our fans stand with us around the world. Justice stands for all.
What are the main issues facing the world today, and how do you address them in your music?
There are so many issues in this world today. All issues have become critical because they initially started as things that were either not taken seriously, or, where all of us thought that the problems will be solved by laws, legislations and with time; not realizing that often times it’s the ones that have been administering laws and legislations, are the ones that are responsible for creating the problems in the first place. I did brush on racism and how the band has played an active role which began on our home turf, but there are more issues besides racism, like human-trafficking for instance. Many seem to believe that slavery was just a one-time thing that ended over a hundred and fifty years ago. Now, with the age of the Internet we are able to be informed far more accurately about the situation.
Steel Pulse has gone to the extent of recording such sentiments on our soon to be released album, “Mass Manipulation.” In doing so we hope to stimulate the minds of all, to care more about the exploitation of so many across the planet. Prison reform has been one of the biggest “cop outs,” in existence right now. How can reforms possibly work, if there are financial incentives to build more prisons?
Unfortunately, religion has also been used as a tool of manipulation. And when you hone in on the situation, the bottom line is racism, once again. The surfacing of Brexit and its concepts run parallel to what is happening in the United States, where one is led to believe that their life style will be compromised by “foreigners.” It is a cynical ploy foisted on a sleeping public. These are all hallmarks that have spawned the rebirth of factions such as the KKK. Nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments fuel hate, brought to us by politicians and movements designed to divide us.
Then there’s also the concern for safety, especially in public environments, with children losing their lives in schools during these mass shootings. All forms of terrorism, everywhere.
Global warming is also an issue that one should continue to address. Far too many creatures are on the verge of extinction because of this. We see a calamitous climate shift across the continents – from the melting snowcaps, to monster hurricanes, the desertification of vast areas of land, and the release of methane from the permafrost. Add to that the population problem, and leadership structures that don’t look out for the needs of the people.
Music might not be the best solution to all of this but at least it’s a medium that people of all ages and aspects of life, can share the same engagement. We know that for every thousand that listens to conscious music, maybe 10 might go on and act upon it. That one percent is better than zero percent, don’t you agree? And it’s always the people who care the most who make that significant difference – that’s who we aim to reach with our messages.
The music is the message and the message is that without love there is no justice, and without justice there is no peace.
What do you think businesses need to be doing at a time like this?
Business and governments must serve their customers, the people. Build society instead of breaking it. Become conscious. Think of the long term. Where there is no justice, there will never be true prosperity. With all these issues, business corporations should seize the opportunity to get on board to promote positivity and prove to the populace that they are not all about grabbing the consumers’ money.
Take Colin Kaepernick for instance, he was ostracized for taking a peaceful stance against the various kinds of injustice in the US. But on a humanitarian level, there was nothing wrong with what he was trying to relay to both his country and the world. So it was on this type of platform that Nike launched a brand new kind of a publicity campaign. I know PUMA is also doing something with Tommie Smith, so we are hoping to see more campaigns along these lines.
We still have plastic pollution and contamination to address, so why not make these bottled water entities design plans and ways of disposing this surplus of waste? Better still, have consumers play an active role to cut this pollution.
Prisons… How can these projects work to make sure that a prisoner, once released, has a secured job to come out to, which can work in accordance to the prisoner’s academic and physical ability? I am talking about really helping them get their lives back on path. The list goes on as to the many goals and targets that can be set by business corporations.
Do you want peace and prosperity and a world in which Nature still has a place? Then what should you be doing differently?
If one has a negative mind, then one can see a bleak future. Here are the words of the Emperor, Haile Selassie, that have helped me to live a life of hope and to put things into perspective:
“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for EVIL to triumph.”
We’ve got to continue to build a positive foundation for the generations to come.
Thanks, David, and good luck with the new album.
Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action
by Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler
IDEA BITE PRESS, November 2018