I was a casual reggae fan in high school. It wasn’t until college that I got more actively interested in and passionate about reggae music. At some point during my lengthy stay at University of Delaware, I became friends with a grad student named Louie White. He hailed from Northern California and was a serious reggae fan. Louie burned some CDs for me, one of which was Steel Pulse “Tribute To The Martyrs.”
Steel Pulse’s sophomore studio album “Tribute To The Martyrs” was released in 1979 on Island Records. It is full of heavy grooves, catchy melodies, and great harmonies. Give this release a few solid listens and it may end up on your favorite reggae albums list.
As the album title and cover artwork suggest, these songs are full of political themes and messages about inequality and injustice. All the lyrics are posted on the band’s website here. I encourage you to read them while you listen to the music.
I had a radio show in college, and at some point created my first reggae mixtape “Reggae Explosion Uno.” The 20-song mix kicked off with Steel Pulse’s “Uncle George,” track 6 from “Tribute To The Martyrs.” I had no idea at the time, but this song is about George Lester Jackson, an African-American left-wing activist, author, and member of the Black Panther Party.
My first Steel Pulse concert was May 22, 2010 at 9:30 Club in Washington DC. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (a band I work with) opened the sold out show and it raged. Coincidentally, Steel Pulse played a concert on the night of Bob Marley’s funeral, which was broadcast live around the world from the 9:30 Club on May 21, 1981.
Steel Pulse was formed in 1975 in Birmingham, England, in the inner city area of Handsworth. After 37 years, these roots reggae legends continue to tour year round. Go see them live!
By Curtis Bergesen @Herbivorepr
Steel Pulse / “Tribute To The Martyrs” / 1979 / Island Records