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Reggae Legends

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson

By Judson Kilpatrick
Published September 9, 2005

One of the great, pioneering dub/reggae poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson's laser-sharp diatribes are usually focused on his adopted country of England.

One of the great, pioneering dub/reggae poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson differs from his peers Oku Onuora and Mutabaruka in that his laser-sharp diatribes are usually focused on his adopted country of England, and that he promotes Socialism over Rastafarianism.

Born in 1952 in the rural Jamaican village of Chapelton, Johnson learned to read from his grandmother’s bible. At the age of 11, he followed his mother to Brixton in London, where he learned about racism first-hand from white Britons’ backlash against the increasing number of West Indian immigrants. 

Back when Johnson first started publishing and performing his poems in the 1970s, he was denounced for corrupting the youth and undermining the “purity” of the English language with his patois grammar and spelling. But now he’s earning honorary degrees and gaining widespread respect. In a recent poll to determine the top 100 Black Britons of all time, he was ranked #22, and with the publication of Mi Revalueshanary Fren, he’s become only the second living poet ever to be included in Penguin Books’ Modern Classics series.

Language is about identity,” he has explained, “For me, one of the defining characteristics of poetry is authenticity of voice, and my natural voice is the ordinary spoken Jamaican language.”

Johnson joined the Black Panthers while still in school and was also influenced by the revolutionary recordings of the Last Poets. Johnson’s first albums—Dread, Beat an’ Blood, Forces Of Victory and especially 1980’s Bass Culture—each furthered his reputation as a major voice in reggae. But Johnson began withdrawing from the touring circuit by the early ’80s, appearing only occasionally at poetry readings and festivals, and he stopped recording for a few years as well. Making History (1984) was a strong return, but LKJ then disappeared again until the early ’90s.



Recommended Recordings

 

Forces Of Victory (Mango)

Bass Culture (Mango)

Making History (Mango)