Jamming!, number 21, 1984 reviews the anthology News For Babylon: The Chatto Book Of West Indian British Poetry.
News For Babylon: The Chatto Book Of West Indian British Poetry
Ed. James Berry (Chatto & Windus, £4.95)
An exciting prospect – a collection of poems by forty black writers, the majority born in the Caribbean (‘descendants of the silent labour force of old empire speak’), all with experience of life in a white society.
Some will be familiar through performances of their works (LKJ, Benjamin Zephaniah and editor James Berry). The poetry is written in either standard English or – often more effectively – Creole, or Jamaican Patois. The influence of reggae’s toasters can be seen here regarding several of the younger writers.
Speaking of the poetry included, Berry claims it ‘exposes a collective psyche laden with anguish and rage’, yet the majority of the work is surprisingly tame, the predominant mood being one of sad resignation. This yearning feeling is well expressed in Mustapha Matura’s ‘When …’-
‘When will I stop hearing Violins/
and hear only Drums,/
When will I stop
When will I stop seeing Grey/and
see only Colours.’
There is much bitter disillusionment at the reality, as opposed to the expectancies, of life in Britain, the emphasis throughout being of a cold, joyless society where the necessity is to maintain one’s pride (‘a positive vibration in a wicked land’).
A reaffirmation of heritage is stressed, as in Jawiattika Blacksheep’s furious ‘Hallelujah (No STORY-Reality-TRULY!!!)-
“I AM AN/AFFREKKAN!!!/
DESPITE/I RESIDENCY IN/
But such moments are rare, and more anger is needed. This is a volume which will rest on classroom shelves of liberal schoolteachers when it should sear the flesh from their palms and stand their hair on end.
Some fine poetry here but, but, but …
Whether it will reach the agents of Babylon to whom it is addressed is doubtful. More regrettably, should it do so, it will cause them to lose little sleep.
LKJ’s album reviewed in Sounds, Dec 6, 1980.
Dubwise, different fashion
Linton Kwesi Johnson
‘LKJ In Dub’
(Island ILPS 9650)
Introducing Linton Kwesi Johnson part four. Let’s hope ‘LKJ In Dub’ hits where it’s supposed to…
If the nastiest thing about Bruce Springsteen is his over-bearing, never-stop-praising, always-gushing fan brigade, then the most off-putting factor concerning Linton Kwesi Johnson is the type of person who revels in his works. All those pseudo-socialists with their swedish furniture and their brown rice and their breast-fed brattish children who, for the most part, know Brixton only as the other end of the Victoria tube line and who have never ventured there far into the night without the safe barrier of a cab’s walls wrapped around them.
For some uncanny reason, Johnson provides the ‘safe’ reggae, the acceptable reggae, the reggae that allows such people to imagine that they’re imbibing some ethnic tradition without ever getting their fingers burned or, more close to home, their pockets picked. And it isn’t LKJ’s fault.
For you can sense the tangible passion and anger in ‘LKJ In Dub’ perhaps more intensely than on either of the two parent elpees – the dub outtakes number four from ‘Bass Culture’ and four from ‘Forces Of Victory’ – without the balancing power of the lyrical stories, the emotions are concentrated closely around the music. If LKJ ever needed to prove that he was capable of a deeper, darker reggae, then this is the evidence. Seen no more as back-ups to his poetry, the tunes, the illustrations stand fast to their own particular roots.
The joy and exuberance of ‘Forces Of Victory’ bounce into focus on ‘Victorious Dub’ much complemented by sprightly brass. The bitter resolution of ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ is underlined by the menace of ‘Iron Bar Dub’. ‘Reggae Fi Peach’ swings gloriously in the form of ‘Peach Dub’. There’s a quest for freedom in the horn blasts alone.
The remaining five tracks are variations on the theme of ‘Reality Poem’, ‘Inglan Is A Bitch’, ‘Street 66’, ‘Fite Dem Back’ and ‘Bass Culture’, each mesmerisingly stroked into place by the hands of Johnson and Dennis Bovell, each bristling with talented musicians and plenty of them.
Of course, if you don’t like dub reggae, then ‘LKJ IN Dub’ is going to send you into waves of destructive boredom. Whatever its audience, be sure that it’s a statement of will and power. A most extraordinary album.
Rico in Zigzag, No, 96, Xmas 1979.
In 1978 the BBC schools programme Scene looked at the history of reggae. Dennis Bovell explains the reggae rhythm. The film was edited by Franco Rosso who’d already worked on the Mangrove Nine documentary and went on to do the Dread Beat an Blood documentary about Linton Kwesi Johnson for Omnibus.
In 1980 he directed Babylon.
From Sounds, 16 October, 1982.
Book on the history of performance poetry reviewed in Citywise, number 5, May-June 1984. Citywise was an alternative paper in Nottingham.
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s sleevenotes for Yabby You’s 1977 album, Deliver Me From My Enemies.
LKJ talks socialism to the interviewer’s Black Nationalism in this from Yard Roots, a California reggae zine with a heavy political slant, number 3, 1981.
The interview says there’ll be more in the next issues. I’ve only got the first 3 issues and am not sure if more were published.
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s documentary series on the history of reggae is reported in the NME, 23 April, 1983.
Currently transmitting every Sunday on Radio 1 is a series tracing the development of Jamaican reggae music From Mento to Lovers Rock.
Scripted and read by poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, the show is in ten weekly parts and goes out 9-10pm. The introductory programme traced UK chart reggae from Millie’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ through the early 70s ‘Tighten Up’ mode to the present day, with discussion of the effect on the british muse in items such as the novlty Piglets tune ‘Johnny Reggae’ and The Beatles ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’, The Police, 2-Tone etc.
A reggae filled episode of this 1979 yoof TV from BBC2, 6 October, 1979. LKJ and the Specials both perform.