Linton Kwesi Johnson (also known as LKJ) is a dub poet. Dub is an abstract form of reggae, and in the late '70s, Jamaican poets like Prince Far I and Mutabaruka used the echoing and reverberating dub rhythms as backdrops to their politically charged poems. LKJ was born in Jamaica, raised in the United Kingdom, educated as a sociologist, and was once a member of the British chapter of the Black Panther party. He used the dub-poem form to address the social and political realities of Britian's depressed inner cities, particularly during the Thatcher years.

LKJ read (and still reads) his poetry with a thick and sometimes impenetrable Jamaican accent. For example, on "Reggae Fi Dada" (Making History, 1984), he opens with these lines: "Galang dada, galang gwwaan yaw sah/yu nevvah ad noh life fi live/jus di wan life fi give/yu did yu time pan ert/yu nevvah get yu jus dizert" (translation: "Go on daddy, go on, go on sir/you never had no life to live/just the one life to give/you did your time upon the earth/you never got your just dessert"). Some of LKJ's dub poems surrender all meaning to the hypnotic pulse of the reggae rhythm, such as the title track of the 1978 album Dread Beat an' Blood, which moves to a slow and bouncy reggae beat.

Unlike most dub poets, LKJ is an atheist, a fact that famously offended Bob Marley. But the religious rock star Marley and the secular dub poet LKJ had one thing in common: They wrote only a few love/erotic songs, yet those are their best songs. For Bob Marley it was "Kinky Reggae"; for LKJ it was a beautiful and rare love dub-poem called "Loraine," whose opening lines I will leave you with: "Whenever it rains I think of you/And I always remember that day in May/When I saw you walking in the rain/I know not what it was nor why/For usually I'm quite shy/I ax'd your name, you smiled and said, 'Loraine'/I ax'd if I could share your umbrella, you smiled and said, 'What a cheeky little fella.'"

Linton Kwesi Johnson performs with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band on the Funky Kingston Rhythm Stage Sat Aug 31, 8:30-10 pm, and Sun Sept 1, 2:15-3:45 pm.

by Charles Mudede