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Reggae icons to make musical history

SMILES: (From left) Apache Indian, Selwyn Brown, Mukhtar Dar, Amlak Tafari and Sharon Palmer

MUSICAL HISTORY is being made and played in Birmingham next month when legends from three respected reggae institutions will share a stage together for the first time at the Simmer Down Festival 2014.

Internationally acclaimed reggae icons Steel Pulse will play alongside Apache Indian and members of Musical Youth at the family festival in Handsworth Park, which is expected to attract at least 15,000 people from several generations.

It’s a spectacular home coming for these award-winning artists who have toured the world many times over the decades, but say their hearts always belong to Handsworth where they grew up.

“This is a homecoming kind of vibe which is long overdue,” said Amlak Tafari, of Steel Pulse, as he spoke at a press conference alongside Apache Indian at Birmingham’s Drum arts centre to launch Simmer Down. Dennis Seaton, of Musical Youth was unfortunately not able to make the press conference.

“And it will be good for the next generation to learn and hear the music we made all those years ago in the name of Handsworth.”

The free family-friendly music and arts festival, now in its fifth year, and one of the fastest-growing diverse music festivals in the UK, will be held in Handworth Park between 12.30pm and 7.30pm on July 20.

Selwyn Brown, Steel Pulse fellow band member, who said he still gets an immense thrill from making music, said: “We’re really looking forward to this – we last played in Birmingham at The Drum in 2005 and it’s at least 30 years since we played in Handsworth Park.”

Tafari, who said his 83-year-old mum regularly “bounced around the world” with him on tours, added: “This is like a dream to think we have played all over the world and now we are coming back to where it all began.

“I never dreamt that when I started playing music in our cellar with mould on the walls that I would ever play anywhere else.”

But he recalled how the band, which were famously invited to play at the inauguration of US President Bill Clinton at the White House, often faced racism on their tours around the world.

Recently returned from a trip to Lima, Peru, Tafari observed how kids today are not faced with the same kind of pressure they had to deal with.

Apache Indian, aka Steve Kapur, who had seven top 40 hits, paid tribute to Steel Pulse, saying he was “totally inspired” by them, stressing that it was high time the band were added to Birmingham’s famous Broad Street “walk of stars.”

“I’ve been 25 years in the music business now but I always come back to Handsworth. Birmingham has given me everything I have and this is where my heart is.

Known for his socially-sharp lyrics and distinctive vocal style, Kapur is still heavily involved with Birmingham’s musical scene, encouraging the next generation to develop their talents through his AIM Academy – Apache Indian Music – which he runs at South and City College.

Simmer Down, which has been backed by Birmingham City Council and the Arts Council, has earned a reputation for being a tension-free event over the years, appealing to families.

It has now been made a Community Interest Company lead by chair Sharon Palmer, who said: “We’re over the moon that these groups are coming home. They have always remembered where they came from and that’s the biggest thing about leaving a legacy. If you know where you come from, you can inspire others.

“Young people of today also need to see what can be achieved if they have the ambition and drive of these artists.”

Mukhtar Dar, the Drum’s director of arts and marketing, said: “We’re very proud that Simmer Down is happening once again in Handsworth Park in the north side of Birmingham, which doesn’t always get the good press it deserves.”

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