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By Greg Scruggs, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For those unfamiliar with Lapa, there is a famous side street Rua Joaquim Silva that snakes past the Arcos de Lapa (Lapa Arches) and up toward the Ladeira Santa Teresa (the mosaic-covered staircase). Walking through on a Friday night one would be forgiven for thinking they had landed in an alternate universe Kingston with all the sounds, sights and smells of Jamaica.

UK reggae outfit Steel Pulse
UK reggae outfit Steel Pulse, photo courtesy of Fundição Progresso.

Roots Reggae and Rastafarian culture are, in fact, fairly popular across Brazil. São Luis de Marranhão has a nationally famous Reggae scene, for example, and here in Rio, groups like Digital Dubs Sound System regularly play the latest dubplates and forgotten classics from Jamaica.

During Carnival, the two-day Rio Sound System Festival brought selectors and sound systems together from Rio and São Paulo for two bass-heavy nights along the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

This Friday, April 8, 2011, you can get a taste for yourself at Lapa’s classic venue, Fundição Progresso. As part of the Fundição Reggae Music series, the venerable stage will host Steel Pulse, whose 35+ year career makes them a giant on the scene.

Originally hailing from Birmingham, England, Steel Pulse has been a strident voice against racism and for the rights of people of African descent everywhere. They are outspoken Rastafarians who channel their activist message through the medium of reggae, which will surely speak to the crowd in Brazil, the country with the world’s second largest population of Afro-descended citizens after Nigeria.

Steel Pulse performing
Steel Pulse performing in December 2010, photo by luvjnx/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.
Fans should expect many of their classics, including “Bodyguard”, “Taxi Driver”, “Steppin’ Out”, “African Holocaust” and “Blazing fire.”

The opening act is in turn a renowned name on the national reggae scene. Rio’s own Ponto de Equilíbrio will be opening. Consisting of eight musicians born and raised in the Vila Isabel neighborhood of Rio, Ponto de Equilíbrio busked on the beach and in bars before landing a break and releasing their first album, Reggae a Vida com Amor, in 2004.

They are now a highly in-demand outfit and one of Brazil’s premier purveyors of a traditional roots reggae sound. Their most recent release, 2010’s Dia Após Dia Lutando, starts off with a bang even before you listen, featuring top-notch cover art by world-famous São Paulo graffiti artists Os Gêmeos.

Friday night’s mellow mood at Fundição Progresso will be an excellent illustration of just how far and wide the music of tiny Jamaica has spread. From its former colonial master, the United Kingdom, where Jamaicans immigrated en masse in the 1950s and 1960s, to its larger, distant southern neighbor, where the smooth sound and protest spirit of reggae just seem to groove with a certain Brazilian espírito.

Steel Pulse and Ponto de Equilíbrio at Fundição Progresso, Rua dos Arcos 24, Lapa, Friday, April 8, 2011. Entrance R$80 (inteiro) or R$30 (meia), doors open at 10PM, show at midnight.

Remaining tour dates for Steel Pulse can be found at their web site, here is the Brazil schedule:
April 6th: Opinião, Rua José do Patrocínio, 834 – Porto Alegre,Brazil
April 7th: Dreadlocks Festival@Life Club – Florianópolis, Brazil
April 8th: FUNDIÇÃO PROGRESSO, Rua dos Arcos, 24 – RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil
April 9th: Centro de Convencoes, Av. Reitores – Cidade Universitária
Recife Antigo, Brazil
April 10th: Concha Acustica – Brasília, Brazil
April 15th: Area Alvares Cabral Av. Mal Mascarenhas Moraes, 2100 – Bento Ferreira – Vitória, Brazil
April 16th: Parque de Exposições, Av. Luís Viana – Salvador, Brazil
April 17th: Virada Cultura Festival – São Paulo, Brazil

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