Linton Kwesi Johnson is one of the most internationally renowned Jamaican artists whose work is expressed in a “dub poetry” form using the patois of the Jamaican dialect.
His message, ideology and philosophy are similar to that of Mutabaruka. The only difference is, as a dub poet, although Rasta is important to him on the level of a cultural force that broadened and opened the consciousness to African heritage and African ancestry, he is not a Rastafarian.
Born on 24 August 1952 in Chapelton, Jamaica, Johnson came to London at the age of 11 to live with his mother. Like most Jamaican artists he holds on fast to his African culture. His middle name “Kwesi” broadly establishes his identity as someone holding on to the roots of his African origin. The name comes from the Western part of Africa. For example in Ghana, the Akans and the Fantis named male babies born on Sundays as “Kwesi” and females as “Esi” because Sunday is called”Kwesidah”
In England, LKJ went to school at Tulse Hill secondary school, Goldsmith’s College and the University of London. He joined the Black Panthers while still at school. “That’s where I learnt my politics and about my history and culture. That is where I discovered black literature, particularly the work of W.E. B. Dubois, the Afro-American who inspired me to write poetry”, said LKJ.
In 1977, he was awarded the C-Day Lewis Fellowship, becoming the writer-in-residence and working as the Library Resources and Education officer at Keskidee Centre, the first home of black theatre and art. As a poet, his first collection of poetry “Voice of the Living and Dead” and “Dread Beats an’ Blood” were published by the Race Today Review and later the same year, a documentary film on “Dread Beat an’ Blood” was made. In 1980, Race Today Review published his third book “Inglan is a Bitch”.
“If Association of Chief Police Officers, has come out and admitted that, racism is institutionalised within the police force, that the black nurses within the health service for years have gotten a raw deal. When one thinks of all these things, yeah, Inglan is a Bitch,” said LKJ.
As an artist LKJ travelled extensively from Japan to South Africa and from Europe to Brazil. His poetry songs are amongst the top selling Reggae albums in the world and his works have been translated into Italian and German.
His live concert, recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London 1985, was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2004, his own recording company were delighted to launch the first ever DVD of an LKJ concert. He has been in the music business as a recording artist for over twenty-five years.