Last night Linton Kwesi Johnson has opened my ears for poetry. It is true that there are a lot of similarities between writing a poem and writing lyrics.
For over 30 years, Linton Kwesi Johnson has been working on both the´words of music´ and ´the music of words’, as he liked to call it. In the context of being an African-Caribbean in Britain, it was politics that brought him into poetry, he proclaimed. Influenced by the sound systems and artists like U-roy in Jamaica in the late seventies, he has found his own style and voice in dub poetry. As a poetry writer LKJ has recited poems alongside Allen Ginsberg and Michael Horovitz. As a reggae singer, he has been singing alongside numerous artists, including Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff and Toots & the Maytals.
The night was a (personal) history class, speaking about the displacement of Jamaicans to the UK, the abuse of the Vagrancy Act (Sonny’s Lettah), the dead of his father (Reggae Fi Dada), protests provoked by Swamp 81 actions (Di Great Insohreckshan) and more recent works reflecting on the end of the Cold War (New World Order) and the achievements of his generation (More Time). All these poems are also recorded on CD and well-known reggae songs, but it is hard to deny that the words have more impact when purely spoken.
If you are more into music than poetry, do watch his Live In Paris concert (2003), and acknowledge the music of his words.