Jamaica's mighty poet Mutabaruka

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Mutubaruka is comen' to a town near you to share skolarship on poverty, racism and peace

by Jack Tafari/Dignity Village

The last time the revolutionary poet Mutabaruku came through Portland in October, 2000, and performed with band at the Roseland Grill, his words resonated with some of the homeless people in this town who were already organizing the Out of the Doorways campaign which led to the birth of Dignity Village. The fiery Mutabaruka had walked barefoot along Burnside in Old Town that day where he talked to many homeless people.

The camping ban had just been overturned on two Constitutional grounds and many people believed at the time that Judge Gallagher's decision applied to ALL homeless people, not just the Wicks family. In one of his first dub poems "Any Which Way…Freedom," Mutubaruka says that "food, clothes and shelter / have no politics."

When asked after performing that night what he had to say to homeless people caught up in the struggle for human rights, justice and decent housing, Mutabaruka replied, "When we say 'food, clothes and shelter / have no politics' is dat a whole heap a people believe dat to deal with de food, clothes and shelter of people, yuh 'ave to deal with de politicians, yuh know? But what Ah 'ear is we 'ave no trust in politicians, so we feel dat 'do for self' is more important dan goin' to de politician for 'im to do something for you. So we would say dat de people mus' take de initiative to do tings for demself beca' de politicians are just servants of de people, de people are de boss for de politicians."

Muta said that people living on the streets "mus' be able to do something about dere situation dat dey find demself in. Dey can't be continuously lookin' for people to do something for dem. Beca' dey are not bad, mad people. Dey are just people who is on de street."

Mutubaruka then paraphrased the teachment of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a prophet who was all about the upliftment and improvement of people, saying," Yuh "ave to 'ave confidence in yourself. If yuh 'ave no confidence in yourself, yuh are twice-defeated in the race of life. An' with confidence, yuh 'ave won even before yuh 'ave started. So yuh 'ave to talk about doin' for self."

Muta's words inspired and galvanized a small band of street soldiers who were then nearly ready in their campaign to begin capturing underused plots of public land in order to lift themselves out of the doorways in which they were living. The rest, you might say, is history.

This time when Jamaica's renowned Rasta poet Mutabaruka comes to Portland to promote his recently released book "Mutabaruka: the Next Poems / the First Poems" he brings no band for Muta, who performs his poems with or without musical accompaniment, poetry is only one of several instruments for doing the work he has chosen.

According to Mervyn Morris, now Professor Emeritus retired from the University of the West Indies, Mutabaruka "is much more than a wellknown international recording artist. He owns and operates a sound system that plays black music from all over the world; he conducts a late-night radio talk show; and, in accepting invitations to talk and to read his poems, he seems equally at home in an ordinary classroom and on stage at a reggae concert. When he is on tour he may be addressing college audiences, or mesmerizing huge rock festivals, or playing in small nightclubs. He is an experienced communicator, with charisma and a range of skills.

"In a typical performance he does not merely read or recite a set of poems. He talks towards the poems, around the poems, sometimes even instead of the poems. A Muta 'reading' is often also a 'reasoning'.

"'I can never tell,' he says, 'what going go in me mind.' And: 'I find that sometimes when I’m speaking the audience gets so involved with the rapping that I continue it.' Normally, when poets appear on stage, their poems – introduced briefly or at greater length – are the central focus. Muta most often presents the philosophy and opinions of Mutabaruka; his poems are only part of the flow.

"The poems, composed for oral delivery, usually rhyme and are rhythmically emphatic. They frequently employ rhetorical repetition, as in 'Letter from a Friend' ("no martyrs are among you"), 'Thievin Legacy' ("gimme mi dis/ gimme mi dat/ gimme back mi everyting yu got"), or 'The Eyes of Liberty':

u invade grenada

u invade nicaragua

u bomb hiroshima

u bomb philadelphia

"The rap is usually laced with humour. The poems are presented more solemnly, though they include the occasional pun (as in "strawberry ice cream/ rasberry ice cream/ dem a bury wi/ u nuh si") or laughter-inducing surprise (as at the end of "I Am De Man"). 'Dis Poem', playfully self-reflexive, 'is watchin u/ tryin to make sense from dis poem', but it also evokes black history, with allusions to ancient and modern achievement, oppression, slavery and heroic rebellion.

"My poems,' Mutabaruka has said, 'are to show you the problems that face us in the world and then motivate you to find solutions to these problems – I don’t think I could show people how to get out of their problems with poems, but at least I could motivate actions.' "

I write a poem

And feel

That my poem can create

Can awaken


You can hear a spoken word performance by Jamaica's revolutionary "dub poet" Mutabaruka who is appearing at the Blue Monk, 3341SE Belmont, on Saturday, April 16th. The doors open at 5 PM, the performance starts at 6 PM. The price at the door is $10 or $30 with a book signed by Muta and a photo. Mutabaruka is presented by Conscious Productions in association with Higher Reasoning Reggae Time and KBOO Radio 90.7 FM.

Paul Issa published a book by Muta nearly twenty-five years ago; and many of the Muta CDs since then have included texts. Although there is no substitute for Muta in performance, it is good to have this fuller collection of Mutabaruka poems.

Mutabaruka: the Next Poems / the First Poems, is a new double-volume of poetry which comprises his first major collection of poems of the 1970’s, Mutabaruka: the First Poems, and a new anthology of his best work written between 1980 and 2002, Mutabaruka: the Next Poems.


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