Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


JOHNSON, Linton Kwesi

(b 24 Aug '52, Chapleton, Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica) Dub poet. Raised by his grandmother and greatly influenced by the Bible. His mother emigrated to England '61; he joined her in Brixton in South London '63, grew up in the civil rights era and was attracted to black politics; joined the Black Panther Youth League '70, also studied from '73, completing B.A. in sociology '76. He melded the cadences of reggae with the rhythms of black British and Jamaican vernacular language; his poem "Voices of the Living and the Dead' was performed at the Keskidee Centre in London '73 with musical accompaniment by the Rasta Love reggae group. He was published in Brixton-based magazine Race Today, in his anthology Voices of the Living and the Dead '74 and Dread Beat An' Blood '75. Film Dread Beat An' Blood '75 documented "a poet in the making', televised by the BBC. The rhythms of his patois and slang took on a life of their own in an oral medium; the next step was to record. He had been awarded the Cecil Day Lewis Fellowship '77 as a writer-in-residence at the London Borough of Lambeth (Brixton's London borough) and his debut album (as Poet And The Roots) was Dread Beat And Blood on Virgin's Front Line subsidiary label '78; although imbued with the spirit of Jamaica it had a distinctly British heart, and captured the spirit of black youth in Britain. Influenced by reggae, toasting and disc jockey styles of Dillinger, I Roy, U Roy and Big Youth, albums Forces of Victory '79, Bass Culture and LKJ In Dub '80 and Making History '84 were all on Island. He also formed his LKJ Records, which released reggae poet Michael Smith's Mi Cyaan Believe It '81; he continued to be published in anthologies (which by the '90s took in The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse, Voice Print and Hinterland) as well as his own Inglan Is A Bitch '80 and Tings An' Times. 2-disc LKJ In Concert With The Dub Band '85 on his own LKJ label was a live retrospective recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall '84. With Dennis Bovell he co-prod. albums by Jamaican writer Jean Binta Breeze (Tracks) and St. Vincent jazz flugelhorn player Shake Keane (Real Keen Reggae Into Jazz) '80s. Island's anthology Linton Kwesi Johnson appeared '85 in its "Reggae Greats' series; he focused on writing and journalism late '80s, returned to recording with Tings An' Times '91 on FNAC in France and Stern's in England. Johnson and Bovell were working '96 on the soundtrack to the Channel 4 television adaptation of The Final Passage, Caryl Phillips' account of his parents' generation migrating from the Caribbean to Britain, directed by Sir Peter Hall. LKJ Presents '96 on LKJ anthologised material from Bovell, Johnson, Jean Binta Breeze, John Kpiaye, Steve Gregory and Shake Keane (b 30 May '27, St Vincent; d 11 Nov. '97, Bergen, Norway), as interest in the early days of migration was burgeoning and Jamaican patois was being heard as a culturally healthy language in its own right. A Cappella Live '97 on LKJ was his greatest hits live without Bovell, all the focus on the words.