Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica in 1952. He is a world renowned dub poet and activist and has lived in London since his family moved to Brixton in the early 1960s.
While still at school in south London, Johnson joined the British Black Panthers, an organisation that worked to educate Black communities about racial profiling, Black history and civil rights. Through demonstrations, publishing and community involvement, they organised with each other to fight racial discrimination in Britain.
Johnson organised poetry workshops within the British Black Panther group, using writing and performance as a way of seeking to express his anger at institutional racism and fight for Black liberation. His work continues to be highly political, predominantly focussing on the lived experience of being Afro-Caribbean in Britain. He has also written about broader British politics and figures, including foreign policy and prime ministers.
Dub music is a distinct sub-genre of reggae, where instrumental remixes of other tracks take centre stage. Dub poetry is a genre born out of West African performance poetry techniques and blends spoken word with dub music backing.
Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem) is a dub poem that captures a moment in the history of racial violence in Britain. The “Sus” relates to a piece of legislation that allowed police to arrest individuals based on suspicion that they were about to commit a crime, rather than them having done anything illegal. This use of police suspicion, or ‘the sus law’ was an example of a “stop and search” law and came to be a byword for racial profiling.
Ethnic minority groups resisted this law, as it allowed police to target people based on the colour of their skin. Frustration and anger boiled over in the early 1980s with race riots flaring up in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The legal legacy of this period can still be felt in the continued use of stop and search tactics by police in Britain.
About this Contributor
- Given name
- Linton Kwesi
- Family name
- Contributor type
- Minutes created
- Black Music Collection #6
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