Benjamin Zephaniah and Little Brother Live

Sounds Jan 15th 1983

Out to Punch

Jo Boxers/Benjamin Zephaniah/Little Brother ICA

Up on stage is an unlikely lad from the North who is manoeuvring his mouth muscles around clever twists of the mind. Words of wit, words of wisdom, words of derision, words of precision – this is part of the post-punk poetry against poetry revolt.
He may look like an Aryan Mormon about to flog some religious booklets but he’s not. In fact, he’s definitely a bit hip but safe from assault with that Yorkshire accent. Perfect for the audience tonight, he’s subtly vicious and comically critical.
Translating the Bible into Sun lingo, accusing Zebedee of acid abuse, sending up the disco line: ‘Humping, bumping, getting it up/It’s all a metaphor for sex’ – there’s a meaning in his madness. I like him but what do they think of him up at Otley’s Working Men’s Club?
Very British! Little Brother probes gently into the decaying crevices, the eccentric corners, the class-ridden consciousness of Britain whereas Benjamin Zephaniah lambasts world-wide issues. Dub ranting with locks down to his waist, wild walk and manic delivery, he assumes the angry young blackman stance.
He makes crazy rhythms which are brilliant but the content of his rants reduces the words to a cartoon. His language is on a purely universal level. Policemen, apartheid, nuclear weapons, Thatcher, Reagan, war. All are spat out in irritatingly simple outrage.
In general, he’s right of course, but he’s never specific. If he wasn’t black, he could never get away with being so obvious.
I like his defiance, his sense of humour – ‘Scarman seen ironically as his God’ and “How do I know I am not free ‘cos I got this policeman kicking me”, but not his caricature-like ‘it’s the fascists against us’ anger. It reminds me of Reagan talking about the Russians.
Strangely enough, Benjamin Zephaniah sees everything in black and white even though he wants them to unite!
Now for the fun for fun’s sake, Jo Boxers are on the boards RCA’s newest pace-setters for ’83. Very marketable.
Sparks are flying, Jo Boxers have got their body blows all worked out. They’ve adopted the baggy trousers/big floppy hats/’I’ve seen Grapes of Wrath image. It’s the Eighties recession/Thirties depression equation. Cute.
Escapism is their answer and they are excellent at that. They flee into a tight set of hep cat rock ‘n’ roll. They are a riot on the dancefloor and revivalist with a small r. This is a late fifties fling with Eighties’ intrusions.
It’s good – the fingers are clicking, a sure sign of success. That guitar twang, that chunky barroom piano are not to be missed. The verve and vitality remain in my brain. I’ll forget the innocuousness and clichéd cuteness for the moment. The cookies are ready to eat – down at the hop.

Rose Rouse

Benjamin-Zephaniah-560x477

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