Reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson reveals his cultural influences.
Reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson reveals the influences and experiences that inspired his own creativity. Born in Jamaica, he moved to south London in 1963 at the age of eleven. He made his name as a performance poet, reciting politically motivated verse to a dub-reggae backbeat, and becoming a powerful voice of resistance and protest in response to racism on the streets of Britain in the 1970s. He became the first black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series, was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020, and recently published a collection of prose under the title Time Come. On stage and on record, he is renowned for angry and uncompromising works such as Five Nights Of Bleeding, Sonny’s Lettah, and Iglan Is a Bitch.
For This Cultural Life, Linton Kwesi Johnson recalls growing up in poverty in rural Jamaica, where his grandmother told him ghost stories and read The Bible. Appalled at the racism he experienced, he joined the Black Panthers whilst still at school and became a political activist. He began to write and perform poetry, set to music and delivered in Jamaican patois, after being inspired by reggae artists such as Prince Buster and U-Roy, and the American group The Last Poets. Johnson also talks about the tragic fire that killed 13 young partygoers in New Cross, south London in 1981, an event that he commemorated in one of his best known works, New Craas Massahkah.
Producer: Edwina Pitman
Source: BBC Radio 4 – This Cultural Life, Linton Kwesi Johnson