Artist Info

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Although he has only released one album of new material in the last ten years, and virtually retired from the live stage after his 1985 tour, Linton Kwesi Johnson remains a towering figure in reggae music. Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in the Brixton section of London, Johnson invented dub poetry, a type of toasting descended from the DJ stylings of U-Roy and I-Roy. But whereas toasting tended to be hyperkinetic and given to fits of braggadocio, Johnson's poetry (which is what it was -- he was a published poet and journalist before he performed with a band) was more scripted and delivered in a more languid, slangy, streetwise style. Johnson's grim realism and tales of racism in an England governed by Tories was scathingly critical. The Afro-Brits in Johnson's poems are neglected by the government and persecuted by the police. Johnson was also instrumental (with his friend Darcus Howe) in the publication of a socialist-oriented London-based newspaper, Race Today, that offered him and other like-minded Britons, both black and white, an outlet to discuss the racial issues that, under Margaret Thatcher's reign, seemed to be tearing the country apart. For one so outspoken in his politics, Johnson's recorded work, while politically explicit, is not simply a series of slogans or tuneful/danceable jeremiads. In fact, is was his second release, Forces of Victory, where his mix of politics and music united to stunning effect. Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band could swing (as in jazzy) more than many reggae bands, and guitarist John Kpiaye, the group's secret weapon, offered deftly played, dazzlingly melodic solos. But it was Johnson's moving poetry, galvanizing moments such as "Sonny's Lettah" and "Fite Dem Back" that made it obvious that this was a major talent.