Monday, August 13, 2012

Jamaican poet Mutabaruka to play Island Soul

Jamaican poet Mutabaruka to play Island Soul

28 July 2011 No Comments


By Anya Wassenberg
Meanwhile yuh dancin to dis musik
And tryin to figure out these lyrics
Meanwhile yuh drinkin and havin fun
Watch out
De revolution a com
Betta be a part a de solution
Dis mite be di final confrontation
Betta awake to dis reality
Dis is no time to loose yuh sanity

By de ballot or de bullet
By de bible or de gun
Any which way freedom mus com
(from the poem Freedom)

Whether it’s on a recording, performing live on stage or on his weekly late night radio program – 10:00pm to 11:59pm every Wednesday on Irie FM ( – Jamaican poet extraordinaire Mutabaruka has never been known to pull his punches.

Trained as an electrician, he was working for the phone company when he caught onto the radical spirituality of Rastafari, changing his name from Allan Hope to Mutabaruka, which means “one who is always victorious in battle” in a Rwandan language, and never looked back. From his first recording – the 1981 single “Every Time A Ear De Soun’” – and a subsequent live performance at Reggae Sunsplash later that year in Montego Bay, he’s become one of the most recognized and renowned dub poets in the world, wielding the power of words to expose the truth.

“It was in performing them that you become aware of the power of words. I don’t think that poetry itself can change anything, but it can motivate people. In listening, the thought becomes a manifest.”

Yet, the term “dub poet” is one that he actually finds a little too limiting.

“In the beginning, the music was defining us,” he says. “It’s only one genre of music – I think poetry transcends these things,” he says. “We write with the rhythm in mind, but it comes to what I feel at the time.”

By whatever name, dub poetry is an integral part of Jamaican culture, with a world view that comes from its unique vantage point. “The Caribbean has been colonized by the major superpowers – France, England, Spain – and we are close to the new superpower, the United States. It becomes a kind of melting pot of cultures.  It’s a unique position.”  It’s also an expression whose singular flavour has found fans far and wide. “The Rastafari culture has gone all over the world,” he points out.

On stage, he’s a powerful presence, and Mutabaruka brings a repertoire of a dozen full length recordings from which he’ll draw in his performance. The latest of these is 2009’s Life and Lessons, which was recorded and released in South Africa. “It was the first recorded with outside musicians,” he notes.  The musical styles are influenced by the location, with a very African sound on the track “A Girl Called Johannesburg” in particular.

It’s a locale he feels a particular affinity for, one that dates back decades. “Our acceptance of the South African struggles,” he remembers, “we wrote poems to support the struggle against Apartheid. I’ve been to South Africa more than other places in Africa,” he notes. The ties between the Caribbean and the African continent go deeper still. “Even though we adopt the customs of the colonial masters, you can’t take the Africa out of us – it’s in our DNA. You can take a person out of the culture, but you can’t take the culture out of a person.”

His rapport with South Africa includes a great respect for Winnie Mandela. He wrote the poem “My Revolution” (from Life and Lessons) as a tribute to her, and it’s a respect that encompasses all black women. “Creation is female. We can’t get around it. We talk about mother earth, mother Africa… We as males must recognize this is the energy that nurtures and protects – where men make war.”

And when they do, his words will take them to task.

Leaders of the world, sitting in their easy chair
Creating mass destruction, pollution everywhere…
(From the poem Body Count)

Mutabaruka will perform at Harbourfront on July 31, as part of Island Soul

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