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Linton Kwesi Johnson

March 6, 2008

As an assigned listening (that’s not common for non-music majors) for my 20th Century Post-Colonial Lit. course, I was exposed to the music/poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson. LKJ is one of the best known British dub poets and released his first album, Dread Beat An’ Blood, in 1978 and hasn’t stopped writing and recording since. Born in Jamaica, LKJ immigrated to London early in his life and identifies as a British citizen.

Dub poetry is essentially poetic verses set to reggae music. Though I haven’t heard more than a handful of dub poets, the music is completely wrapped up in the lyrics and the lyrics are semi-sung (think Rex Harrison, only deeper and with force).

My favorite LKJ poem is called “Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)”. Every dub poem I have heard is politically charged, and for good reason. Sus, denounced in “Sonny’s Lettah,” is the practice of British police officers arresting people on the street for looking suspicious. It, not surprisingly, happened primarily to black, accented men. His political leanings are sharply anti-Thatcher and occasionally violent. He was an early member of British Black Panther Movement. He’s recorded many anti-fascist songs and has compared the modern anti-terrorism movement to the strife of blacks for centuries.

Beyond the political message of dub poetry, the music is wonderful. The lyrics fold directly into the music and the thumping bass drives the song. I know these descriptions aren’t too technical or descriptive, but it’s what I like.

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