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Reggae Legends

Mutabaruka

Mutabaruka

By Patricia Meschino
Published September 9, 2005

Possessing a leonine mane of dreadlocks graced with a natural white streak in the center and always defiantly barefoot, Mutabaruka has been hailed as a “fascinating combination of politics and music.”

Guided by the production expertise of guitarist Earl Chinna Smith, Jamaican poet Mutabaruka first set his unabashed rhymes to music on the 1983 album Check It. Decrying “The System is A Fraud,” Check It married sharpened word-weaponry and blistering reggae rhythms into a formidable union ordained to shake the wicked down. Possessing a leonine mane of dreadlocks graced with a natural white streak in the center and always defiantly barefoot, Muta performed bare-chested, wrapped in chains throughout his 1983 debut tour of the U.S., which was hailed by People Magazine as a “fascinating combination of politics and music.”

          Fascinating indeed, but the more commonly used adjective for describing Mutabaruka’s various artistic endeavors over the past 20-plus years is controversial, his scathing narratives censuring everything from organized religion to the four basic food groups. While some poems succeed solely on the inspired theatrics of Muta’s readings, his writing, at its most powerful and provocative, deconstructs, in fact bulldozes, preconceived perceptions of race, sex and politics, exposing many lies that have been handed down for centuries as “his-story.”

          Born Allen Hope in Kingston, Jamaica, Mutabaruka was briefly employed by the Jamaican phone company. He read a poem by Rwandan poet Mutabaruka (which means one who is always victorious) and promptly changed his name and quit his job.      

          Mutabaruka began writing poetry in 1967, when African-American revolutionaries such as Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver were at the forefront of social change in the U.S. and Guyanese activist/writer Walter Rodney was raising the political consciousness of students at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies. In his earliest poems, Muta adapted their teachings along with tenets of the Rastafarian way of life, which extols the divinity of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I and urges identification with and repatriation to Africa.

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Check It (Alligator)

The Ultimate Collection (Shanachie)

Life Squared (Heartbeat)