Tag Archives: dub poetry

Roots Dub

From Ishaka’s 1983 collection De Word.

Roots Dub
(for Bob)

Reggae musik
ah Jah-Jah music
never never never
you abuse it

of a Cultural start
at the strings of yo heart
of poetical learning
look an see
de youth dem education

Reggae musik
ah rata music
never never never
you confuse it

of a heartical feeling
is the works in revealin
just ah chant out culture
keep away
de wicked and de vulture

Dis musik
ah Jah-Jah musik
never never never
you refuse it
some say cynical!
some ball political!
it jus clinical
like a baby’s umbilical!



Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Burnt out by liquor
I stumble words
that only the wind
as you reach the end
of your endless journey
no end

as pink smoke rises
over the setting sun

and a discarded float

haunches with shame in a drain

its once proud dragon neck broken
that band’s collapsed canopy
whose bassman is dead without
a shadow of a doubt.

But that’s what this country is about,

the burning of flesh and cane;
the ash
of effort.

Find me that voice which
“Land, Bread and Justice”

Find me that voice which
“I come out to play”
and Today
I will show you

the splintered halves
of your twisted

The music in my head
is still drunk
as I replace the seventh beer bottle
on the ringed floor,
the rings of water
trapping my down-ward stare.

the game is blindman’s bluff;
but the end
is when you pin the tail on yourself.

Put on the light,
there are too many sounds
I cannot name.

No eyes like Heartman’s
patient heroes,
I burn silently in my den,
each shaven convict’s head
reflect a blind future.

Pacing the room
I go north from the Demerara window
only to be drowned in the paper
pinned on the wall

as my hands grope between
the Dragon’s tooth
and Serpnt’s pointed grin.

It’s all mapped out.

that raised hand
that flings your garbage,
balances the ash
on your child’s forehead,

stalks his future dreams.

a staring finger paces the sun’s dead centre.

Victor D Questel

From his 1979 New Voices collection Near Mourning Ground, published in Trinidad.

Creation For Liberation

Two documentaries, the first from 1979 and the second from 1981 produced by the Cultural Media Collective (CMC) Amsterdam, Netherlands
Th first is a celebration of the 10th anniversary (1969 – 1979) of Bogle-L’Ouverture Bookshop and Publishing House, in London, featuring dance, music — including blues singer Jimmy James — and two poems by reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, inter-cut with a discussion about the role of the black community in Britain . Linton’s ‘Dread Beat and Blood’ was published by Bogle-L’Ouverture in 1975. The first book they published, in 1972, was “The Groundings with my Brothers” by the Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney, former professor in African History at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, who returned to Guyana from Tanzania in 1974, and was murdered in Georgetown on 13 June 1980 .
Creation for Liberation Part Two. (1981) “Reflections in Red” is the second part of CFL, and deals with the April 1981 riots in Brixton, a borough in south London, with 30 percent sub-standard housing– mainly inhabited by black council tenants — few social amenities and a high unemployment rate. Added to this social deprivation was the attitude of the Metropolitan Police, and the heavy-handed use of the SUS laws to stop and search young blacks. An area known as the Frontline became the battleground. n 1978 the Special Patrol Group (SPG) sealed off the Frontline and searched everybody entering or leaving the area, one of several operations by the police intended to intimidate the Frontline community. Tension between the local community and the police increased in the week leading up to the riots. At 23h00 on Friday, 3 April the Frontline area around Lesson and Dexter Roads was sealed off by the police and 20 arrests were made. Throughout the following week “Operation Swamp 81” continued with 1,000 people, mainly black youths, stopped and searched. On Friday 10 April, around 5pm, a young black with a knife wound was arrested by the police. However, a group of local people managed to free the youth and he was taken to a nearby hospital. The following day the police occupied the Frontline, sitting in vans every 50 meters waiting for something to happen, and “Reflection in Red” with music by Jamaican reggae singer Oku Onuora, illustrates what happened next, with footage of police, crounched behind perspex shields being forced to retreat under a hail of stones and petrol bombs. This wasn’t a race riot, as one black youth interviewed on Dexter Road explains, it was a riot against the police and the system. And his remarks and the complaints from other residents about the attitude of the police are remarkably similar to those expressed by visitors to the Bogle -L’Ouverture bookshop two years earlier. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, David McNee blamed the riots on “outside agitators” who brought petrol bombs into the area — a rather patronising remark, suggesting that the local black people couldn’t even organise a riot. “Reflection in Red” also contains footage of a demonstration outside County Hall in London where the inquest into the deaths of 13 black teenagers in a house fire during a party in New Cross was being held. The demonstation was to highlight the racist element in the New Cross fire, something the Metropolitan Police either played down, or deliberately ignored when investigating attacks on the black community. In November 1981 a retired judge, Lord Scarman, produced a report into the Brixton riots which reached an obvious conclusion, namely that “racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life” and he warned that “urgent action is needed if it is not to become an endemic, ineradicable disease, threatening the very survival of our society.” Twelve years later another retired judge, Lord Macpearson, produced a report into the 1993 murder of black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, stabbed to death at bus-stop in London by a group of white racist thugs, and concluded that “institutional racism” had influenced the initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police into the still-unsolved crime.

Levi Tafari

Blues Dance Sufferers Style

Beating, bouncing, bubbling,
reggae music jumps out
from a dread sound system
riding on clouds of smoke
vibrating through the structure
of the building
communicating to the people
bring forth a message of redemption
Bob Marley sings a song
with a Rasta connection.
Brothers and sisters rocking
entwined like a root
that keeps on growing.
Blues dance sufferers style
the DJ play
and the DJ say
“Guh deh cause yuh,
wicked and wild
Roots rock don’t stop
Yuh haffe move forward”.

Darkness fills the room
Ites, gold and green
shines brightly
Beaming like the full moon
the vibes a run right
the atmosphere gets bubbly.
Cans of red stripe flowing
like a never ending stream
that keeps on running.
The partaking of the peac pipe
the smell of the herb is ire
mixed with goat curry and rice
the kitchen plays its part
and the dance smells nice.
Blues dance sufferers style
the DJ play
and the DJ say
“Guh deh cause yuh
wicked and wild,
Roots rock don’t stop
Yuh haffe move forward!”

A commercial break
it’s a soul earthquake
some get funky.
Soul heads bop to the music
slipping and sliding
they would never refuse it
Lovers dance cheek to cheek
hile skaners skank the late hour
dripping in sweat
lik them just get a shower
hold tight, each night
this is Black music.
Battling two sound systems
competition takes place in the blues dance
DJ flashing lyrics rapidly
get flat or get shot
keep moving.
Ravers coming and going
checking out the various sessions
nuff dance inna area
which one should yuh check
it’s a dread decision.
Blues dance sufferers style
the DJ play
and the DJ say
“Guh deh cause yuh
wicked and wild,
Roots rock don’t stop
Yuh haffe move forward!”

All shades of people inna de blues dance
dubbing to the sounds of dub
sanctuary inna de ghetto
an escape from the commercial club.
Discos are too clinical
the DJ’s in control
disco lights imposing
to the sound of rock and roll,
the music shuts down early
just as you get hyped
the night is young
and yuh want fe rave
that style is not your type.
Yuh reach the blues dance late
yuh pay the musical rate
and yuh forward through the gate
fe guh listen to dub plate
sweet reggae music.
Blues dance sufferers style
the DJ play
and the DJ say
“Guh deh cause yuh
wicked and wild,
Roots rock don’t stop
Yuh haffe move forward
move forward
move forward
inna Blues dance”.

Levi Tafari

Scouse poet Levi Tafari still gigs and was very much part of Ranting poetry. He was even on both Blue Peter and Grange Hill. This poem is in the 1992 Apples & Snakes anthology The Popular Front of Contemporary Poetry, which celebrated their first decade.

Levi Tafari and Tim Wells, Liverpool, 2016.

Wailin Fih Mikey

Mih Feel It
(Wailin fih Mikey)

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
No sah

dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
Ow can a man
kill annadah one
wid stone
bludded intenshan

bludgeon im ead
in drop dung ded
an nuh one
nuh awsk
such a wikkid
wikkid tawsk
dih dred
Dih dred dead
an it dun suh?
no sah

dih dred dead
an it dun suh?

Early early
inna dih day
Mikey ah trod
dung a illy way

isite up sum men
from a pawty fence
an hence-
was stopped!
wid all dih
chattin whe gwaan
an questions ensued
Mikey painin run out
ah im mout
too soon!
an is den dih trouble
run out

for BAM!
four stone inna dem ans
an BAM!
dem lik Mikey dung

mih feel it
mih feel it
mih feel it

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
no sah

dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
ones must know
dih reason
for dis deadly
out of season
no reason
dred dred dred dred

‘Riddemshan for every dred
mus cum
mus cum’

is dih livity
not dih rigidity
for even doah seh
Mikey ded
cause dem mash up
im ead
even doah seh
Mikey gawn
im spirit trod awn
trod awn

‘Riddemshan for every dred
mus cum
mus cum’

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?


Ahdri Zhina Mandiela

This poem about the murder of Michael Smith is from her 1985 collection Speshal Rikwes.

More Dread

More Dread

Kool Walk, Rastaman deh pon dem.
Wen yu open yu winda,
Yu hear wole heap a heavy sounds a drop,
Yu stop and tek een som,
Strickly rockers, dub wise.
A Rastaman is the musician.
A dreadlocks man is yu boss D.J.
Rastaman ina college a study.
Rastaman a Lawyer, Dotca, Teacha.
Rasta phylosophy a dig deep,
Infiltrating, captivating
Organizing, supervising,
Now self-sufficing.
On de march an yu cant stop dem,
Yes, dem seh dem nah tun bak
An yu cant stop dem.

Frederick Williams

Frederick Williams is a Jamaican born poet who came to England when he was 17. He worked in public transport and gigged a lot with his poetry. He had several collections published: Moving Up (1978), Me Memba Wen (1981) and Leggo De Pen (1985). This poem is from Me Memba Wen.

Squatter’s Rites

Dennis Scott (1939-1991) was a Jamaican poet who was influential after independence. He often wrote in the vernacular. He was also a playwrite and involved in drama and dance, he even had a role in the Cosby Show.

Squatter’s Rites

Peas, corn, potatoes; he had
planted himself
king of a drowsy hill; no one
cared how he came to such green dignity,
scratching his majesty
among the placid chickens.

But after a time, after
his deposition, the uncivil wind
snarled anarchy through that
small kingdom. Trees, wild birds
troubled the window,
as though to replace the fowl
that wandered and died of summer;
spiders locked the door,
threading the shuddered moths,
and stabbed their twilight needles through
that grey republic. The parliament of dreams
dissolved. The shadows tilted
where leaf-white, senatorial lizards
inhabited his chair.

Though one of his sons made it,
blowing reggae (he
dug city life)
enough to bury the old Ras
with respect
ability and finally
a hole in his heart;

and at night when the band
played soul, the trumpet
pulse beat
down the hill
to the last post,

leaning in its hole
like a sceptre
among the peas, corn, potatoes.

Dennis Scott