Linton Kwesi Johnson, Saturday, February 28, Gaelic Club. Published in The Brag
A red wine coloured stage looms large around the shoulders of Ruth Rogers-Wright as she sings. Haunting, deep notes sail out through the Gaelic Club, holding the strangely mixed audience of older folk, tie dyed hippies, poet and dub lovers entranced and in the palm of her hand. She has a divine voice, reminiscent of the early massive attack sound. Standing alone on stage, chocolate coloured skin and cloud white hair, her voice welcomes us to one of the most powerful nights of performance Sydney has seen in a long time.
In a prelude to the potent presence of Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dennis Bovell takes the right hand corner of the stage, charming us through a sweet transgression of dub while we delight in the fact that there is room to dance.
During Bovell’s set a black cloaked lectern is brought to the centre of the stage. And when the records stop Bovell, using his delay machine like a favourite toy, introduces Linton to us. Enter the gentlemanly hatted Linton, eliciting an intensely excited response from the crowd.
In a fine hat, wire rimmed glasses and a sculptured goatee Linton stands comfortably behind the lectern and announces that while we may know him as wearing two hats; a poetry hat and a reggae hat, tonight he will be wearing his poetry hat.
And so begins a spoken word journey that takes us through struggle, celebration and community, and leaves us completely spellbound.
Linton’s voice is a musical vehicle, transforming the English language and delivering intensely profound messages. Every word is uttered with truly amazing rhythm and expression.
Listening was a storytelling experience. Compelling and inspiring in its politics and compassion.
Listening was a musical experience. Splendid and awesome in the rhythm, skill and timing.
Linton masterfully combined them both, blowing us away on so many levels.
Throughout the performance he is incredibly composed, his commanding voice never once missing a beat, and never uttering an ‘um’ or a stutter.
Reading from poetry from the 60s through to the 80s he filled us with the fire of injustice;
The song of hate was sounded
The pile of oppression was vomited
And two policemen wounded
Righteous, righteous war
(Five Nights of Bleeding)
and the power of compassion;
mi know yu couldn’t tek it dada
di anguish an di pain
di suffahrin di prablems di strain
di strugglin in vain
(Reggae Fi Dada)
He told stories in a way that only someone who had loved breathed, embraced and experienced life and their community could.
The performance created an intellectual and emotional experience far more stimulating, effective and informative than a university lecture or the dull ravings of political activists with megaphones.
May every experience of struggle for change find a voice as strong as this one.