Jah 9 the important fruit of an idea
The following is the text of the introduction I gave to singer song writer Jah9 at Reggae talks at the University of the West Indies on March 21 hosted by the Department of literatures in English.
Life is a cycle. Life is also a series of concentric circles. Every level builds on the next and in every cycle we should learn something else.
We keep cycling in one circle until we learn the lesson.
Are we in a circle trying to learn a new lesson or we starting a new circle with a new cycle?
It is common to introduce guest speakers by talking about who they are and their accomplishments. But for jah 9 I know that you know who she is already. She is a singer songwriter poet. She has launched her debut album new name which is produced by rory stone love. She is an active member of manifesto Jamaica and she has performed at and headlined many shows both locally and internationally.
We usually don’t introduce people by saying what they represent. What questions they have left in our minds through our interactions with them.
We usually don’t introduce them as the fruit of a seed that was planted as a germinating idea, as the evidence of the work and struggle of our ancestors as the present of questions about the future. As the beginning of an end.
We usually don’t introduce them as an idea or as the representation of an idea. We usually don’t locate them as linchpins to our social revolutions while they are alive.
We usually don’t help them to add meaning to their work by our introductions to them. And if we do these kinds of introductions are usually not about musicians or artists.
We usual don’t do these kinds of introductions but we will start by doing it for jah 9.
Two weeks ago I was trying to process “new name”, the music the sound the lyrics. Today I am acknowledging that Jah 9 is the fruit of an important idea. Music is music and jah 9 is moving towards becoming a great musician but we need important ideas to be embodied in and through our music.
Jah 9 is important to us not because she is a female reggae singer and songwriter representing the principles of Rastafari.
She is important to us not because her album is going to do well and she demonstrates potential for touring and performing internationally.
She is important to us because she demonstrates 9 key ideas/concepts/realities/questions/answers fruits from the seed of an important idea. Jah speaks to
Women as political/revolutionary activist
Youth possibilities direction and cultural revolution
Messenger and relevance of message
Justice and social change
Spirituality vs religion
As someone who is interested in the history and future of music and its connection to our lives I am grateful to experience this cycle or circle and this cultural moment and to introduce jah 9 to this audience at the university of the west indies as a critical figure in a critical cultural moment writing a critical history in the present for the future.
Mutabaruka, the I-Con
It was 8:30 pm on November 23, 2009 and we huddled around a small TV to watch the premiere of Simply Muta, which was then Mutabaruka’s new television programme on CVM TV. The buzz and excitement were palpable and I said to myself, “big up Muta!!”
Seeing Muta command attention in this prime time television programme confirmed the significance of his message and for me affirmed his iconic position.
Mutabaruka, poet, Rastafari teacher and philosopher grew up in Kingston’s Rae Town and has been performing poetry since the 1970’s. His first major single “Every Time A Ear De Soun’ in 1981 launched him onto the Jamaican Reggae scene.
Muta explained that
“It was my teacher who gave a poetry work to do and I actually wrote a poem and she told me to read it in front of the class. It came out quite good, you know. In those days, it was like the Black Power era. Marcus Garvey Junior was my teacher. He had an organization that published a magazine. So we started to put poems in that magazine, and another big magazine named Swing. We eventually put the poems in a little book called Outcry.”i
Since then he has released 12 albums, toured extensively and collaborated with several Reggae artists.
His poetry is published in Mutabaruka: the Next Poems / the First Poems” and comprises the major collection of his early poems from the 1970’s and those written between 1980 and 2002.
So even from those youthful submissions to Swing Magazine, Muta has consistently used popular media to propel his work and share his ideas. In 1992 IRIE FM invited Muta to host a radio programme that would play African music and reggae from around the world.
In commenting on the move from radio to television, Basil Walters captured it well when he wrote that:
“Despite a reputation for unapologetically voicing his unconventional perception on a wide range of topics which for some people are discomforting” whatever Muta does is always highly anticipatedii.
Check it- A man from Rae Town
I can imagine Muta being uncomfortable with use of the word icon, and cleverly reclaiming and redefining the language so it resonates as being authentic to his experience. In keeping with the Rastafarian way of putting “I” at the centre of political and spiritual revolution. I argue that as an I-con
Di I (pause) con, con-tinually expands the boundaries of our thinking with radical perspectives on rigid ideas. In the introduction to his album Check it,
“Of course mi can write bout the flowers and bees and birds and trees and lovers inna park and all dem supin deh. But weh di use you write bout dem suppin deh when if you siddung late inna park man come and shoot you and tek weh u woman and rape har.
The reality out there different we haffi write bout South Africa, England and the yute them in the ghetto we haffi write bout all these things”
Muta considers his ultimate goal to be, bringing a radical black centred consciousness to the African mind in Jamaica and the world. His work encourages consistency in life choices and pushes for integration between ideology and the lived experience.
As he puts it;
“…through art, through daily living, through how we talk, through how we look, through how we perform, we try to bring that African-centred perspective to the people. So anywhere you go and you ask the people about Mutabaruka, they will tell you: “Bwai, dat bredren into African ting”. iii
During his 18 years on air he has brought Rastafari to the forefront in ways that present Rasta as having a certain sensibility and a different kind of manifestation.
Muta’s discussions on religion for example have been unfavourable for many as he unabashedly critiques the Catholic church and the impact of religion on Africa by highlighting its destabilizing effect on black identity.
However, the clarity and coherence of his arguments have formed the basis for a powerful counter ideology for youths seeking an African centred framework to understand religion, spirituality, and racism.
Di I (pause) con, constantly captures the attention and imagination of people across generations with consistency and clarity of purpose. That clarity of purpose has been driven by the social issues around him, the conditions of black people all over the world and the need for cultural, spiritual and intellectual awakening.
Muta performs his poetry and hosts his radio show the “Cutting Edge” with an ongoing desire to get people to think and question.
He explains that “when I went there, inna my thinking, I couldn’t just sit down for three hours and just play pure reggae and say nothing. So in playing the music I started to talk and eventually the talking become what was driving the show, rather than the music. So I started to talk and give my opinion about Rasta, about politics, about anything, and it became a talk-show, rather than a music show., So I started to play African music, reggae music and poetry, and just talk. There was no programme in Jamaica that delved into African music. So eventually the talking becomes the main thing because people started to respond to what I was saying.iv
Rarely does the icon set out to be iconic. But rather there is a commitment to doing serious work and being impactful in society.
In his words he;
“lives a certain way and, if it can bring about change, we say give thanks. When we talk, when we walk, when we speak, when we eat, when people look at we, we don’t divert, we are not a artist and something else. What is my art is what is me; so I don’t separate what I say in my poetry and how I live my life, and people understand that”v
Every time I hear di sound
Di I (pause) con, controversially creates and recreates the content of his artform so it remains relevant
Before organic food, low fat and fat free were trendy Muta moved seamlessly from hot button topics like religion to talk about the politics of food and its centrality to people’s overall well being
Strawberry ice cream
Raspberry ice cream
Dem a bury wi you nuh si
Ice cream, ice cream
Hot dog, ice cream
Livin’ di American dream
Junk food fullin up the place this is anada disgrace. Junk food fulling up the place. This is another disgrace” a now good food a guh go to wastevi
Muta evokes classic images like that of Humpty Dumpty and uses them to explore more generally the divisions between Jamaica’s uptown and downtown and how those divisions continue to be problematic in a post-colonial, emancipated mostly black country.
Siddung pon the wall-
I siddung pon the wall a watch him a watch me.
Is long long time I siddung pon the wall a watch him a watch me.
Him pants match him shirt not even him shoes look like it ever touch dirt
So I siddung pon the wall a watch him a watch mevii
Through his poetry and his programmes Muta is known for thought provoking content which is always creatively packaged. His ideas pervade the Rastafari community and the general population to the point where “Cutting Edge” has become a kind of “institution” on late night radio.
After years of listening to Cutting Edge, Simply Muta gave us more direct contact with him. The issues covered on Simply Muta are always critical and pertinent and he utilises the visual power of TV to full effect. Those who had not seen him before had an opportunity to put a face to the voice and I am sure began to take a new interest in Muta and his revolutionary perspectives.
I AM THE MAN YOU LOVE TO HATE.
Muta has created a distinctively unique identity in his style of dress and use of language. The African garb, head wraps and no shoes, his image matches the liberating and revolutionary nature of his work. His image reinforces his ideas and philosophy. His simple language allows him to connect with people at many levels.
“A me one just a travel the land with me likkle butta pan them nuh understand”. viii
Muta’s use of popular media has allowed him to give energy and visibility to his radical ideas and philosophy. In sharing his ideas through radio and television he has effectively highlighted how those media can be used to effect change.
Di I con conjures strong responses to his ideas. Very often icons can be the persons you love to hate. Muta is no different. I leave you with a reflection which I think illustrates the rationale behind his rhyme and reason.
When I speak do you feel weak?
When you hear my thoughts do you feel caught in the web of hopelessness?
When I say black do you feel it’s an attack or a lack of understanding on my part or just wrath coming from me?
Do you see me as threat to your safety?
When I say whitey, do you consider that bigotry?
If I say I care not about politics would you consider me an anarchist?
If I say no to religion would that be considered an extension of my misconception about what you think of me?
Do you see what I mean?
If I said I didn’t smoke or take coke would you take it for a joke and then cry then wonder why I told such a lie?
Are you upset because my poems sometimes make you fret about the future of things to come?
Would you call me a brute if I wore a suit or said I was cute?
Do you think I would be a better writer if my poems were lighter, spoke more about nature or some adventure that gave me pleasure?
Would you love me more if I spoke less about the poor and talked about the women I adore?
Now after listening to this are you looking for a twist or just another rhyme in the next line?
The solutions that you seek will not be in the streak of a pen or even ten lines of mine
The problems are the same but don’t blame me because see that part of reality that pains and stains the heart
I came into this life with neither guns or knives
I made no laws with all its flaws about black and white and what’s wrong from what’s right
I speak, I write of what I see of men holding men in slavery
Of colour class and creed of lust envy and greed
So don’t blame me if when I speak you do feel weak
I did not create hate
Now, tell me this
Would you accuse me of causing a riot if I was quiet?
i Doumerc, Eric. “From Page-Poet to Recording Artist: Mutabaruka interviewd by Eric Doumerc.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 44.(September 2009). 23-31
ii Basil Walters. “Simply Muta premiers Monday on CVM TV” Jamaica Observer Friday November 27 2009,
iii Doumerc, Eric. “From Page-Poet to Recording Artist: Mutabaruka interviewd by Eric Doumerc.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 44.23 (September 2009). Pg 23-31
iv Doumerc, Eric. “From Page-Poet to Recording Artist: Mutabaruka interviewd by Eric Doumerc.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 44.23 (September 2009). Pg 23-31
v Doumerc, Eric. “From Page-Poet to Recording Artist: Mutabaruka interviewd by Eric Doumerc.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 44.23 (September 2009). Pg 23-31
vi Mutabaruka Junk Food – 1983 Aligator Records
vii Mutabaruka “Sit dun pon di wall” Check it! 1983 Alligator Records
viii Mutabaruka – “Butta Pan Kulcha” – Check It 1983 Alligator Records
ix Muatabaruka “Would You” 2005 Shanachie Entertainment