During the tumultuous Sixties and Seventies there was an outpouring of socially-conscious protest music in popular music and during the late Eighties in the realm of hip-hop. Given the widespread unrest and crises around the world, many wonder where is the protest music of today. In Jamaica, many records addressed social issues but the dub-poetry movement, which emerged in the 1970’s with powerful albums by Linton Kwesi Johnson, explicitly combined challenging lyric messages with the heavy rhythms of “rebel music.” It is quite timely that at this juncture, acclaimed Jamaican dub-poet Mutabaruka, steps forward with his first new album in 14 years, the incendiary Black Attack, released October 2023 on Shanachie Entertainment—hot on the heels of his August release of a new book The Verbal Swordsman.
Shanachie is pleased to now announce that the vinyl edition of Black Attack is now available! Produced by revered UK dub-master Mad Professor, Black Attack delivers hard-hitting social commentary over a heavy set of riddims delivered by Mad Professor’s Robotiks band. Indeed, Mutabaruka is the last-man-standing in a genre where such figures as Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sister Breeze, Oku Onura, Lillian Allen and Mikey Smith, have either become inactive or have passed away. Mutaburaka has remained visible via his long-running popular often-controversial radio show on Irie-FM in Jamaica “The Cutting Edge,” occasional self-released singles, performing his poetry on four continents and regular postings of provocative video commentaries on YouTube.
Black Attack is attacking all the things that are keeping black people from progressing after 500 years of slavery and now colonialism,” Muta explains. “I had connected with Mad Professor over ten years ago and he actually sent some riddims, but we didn’t connect again until last year when I was in England; we decided to take advantage of me being in England plus he had a studio. I selected poems from my poetry book that was never recorded plus new ones I had lately written.” Mad Professor adds, “It was a great pleasure recording and working with Mutabaruka. In 45 years of recording many artists from all over the world, this has been the smoothest project ever! He has a transparent approach to both the business and the technical/musical techniques. It’s a real pleasure and really enjoyable!! Truly a real legend!!”
Black Attack continues Mutabaruka’s uncompromising dissection of racism, colonialism, African history and culture, Rastafari, and Black progress as well as the hypocrisies and dysfunction of contemporary life in Babylon—themes he has consistently articulated for over four decades.
Mutabaruka was born Allan Hope in Rae Town, Kingston, Jamaica in 1952. As a teenager he became entranced by the Black Power movement, influenced by such books as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul On Ice. He embraced Rastafari and stopped combing his hair or even—famously—wearing shoes, adopting the name Mutabaruka, based on words from the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda, meaning “one who is always victorious.”
In 1971 he moved to the Potosi Hills in St. James Parish, where he lived with his wife and two children in a house he built himself. He began writing poetry and experimenting with combining poetry and music. His first publication was a poem in Swing Magazine that was soon followed by a collection of poems, Sun And Moon. By 1977 he began performing live, backed by a band called Truth. A collaboration with guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith resulted in the hit single “Every Time I Ear De Soun’” and a debut album Check It, in 1983, following an electrifying performance at the 1981 Reggae Sunsplash. The release of that album on Alligator Records and follow-up albums such as Outcry and The Mystery Unfolds by Shanachie Entertainment, let to wide-spread international turning as he and Linton Kwesi Johnson spearheaded the dub poetry movement. Collaborations with Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs on “Great Kings of Africa,” with Luciano on “Psalms 24,” and with Sugar Minott on “Wise Up,” broadened his appeal.
Mutabaruka’s impact has always transcended reggae and indeed music. His tour-de-force “Dis Poem” was sampled by house and reggae producer Bobby Konders and others. He launched his talk shows “The Cutting Edge” and “The Stepping Razor” on Irie-FM radio in Jamaica (but available worldwide via the internet) highlighting, often controversially, topics affecting ordinary Jamaicans as well as broader socio-political problems in the pan-African diaspora. A book collaboration with two anthropologists entitled The Verbal Swordsman discusses the impact of various presentations on his radio shows.
He has continued to write and publish books of poetry as well as touring internationally, both a solo poet and poet-performer with band and as an actor has appeared in such films as Sankofa, One Love, and Land of Look Behind. His video commentaries which appear on his YouTube channel “Thought Provoking.” “We use the program to educate and motivate the listeners. For the past thirty years it’s the most listened-to show at its broadcast time,” Mutabaruka relates. With the advent of social media, it has taken on new life around the world.”
Black Attack is a powerful renewal of Mutabaruka’s creative melding of Jamaican music with his original poetry and will no doubt be “thought-provoking” indeed!