Linton Kwesi Johnson is a UK-based Jamaican-British dub poet who recites his own verse in Jamaican patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell. Johnson’s middle name, “Kwesi”, is a Ghanaian name given to boys who, like Johnson, are born on a Sunday.
LKJ came to live in Brixton, London in 1963, joining his mother who had emigrated a year earlier shortly before Jamaican independence. While still at school he joined the British Black Panther Movement, helping to organise a poetry workshop, and developed his work with Rasta Love – a group of poets and drummers.
He went on to study for a degree in sociology at Goldsmiths College in New Cross (graduating in 1973), received a C. Day-Lewis Fellowship in 1977, and became writer-in-residence for the London Borough of Lambeth. He was made an Associate Fellow of Warwick University in 1985 and an Honorary Fellow of Wolverhampton Polytechnic in 1987. In 2003 Johnson was bestowed with an honorary fellowship from his alma mater, Goldsmiths College and in 2004 he became an Honorary Visiting Professor of Middlesex University in London. In 2005 he was awarded a silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for distinguished eminence in the field of poetry. In 2012, he was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for “a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature”.
Most of Johnson’s poetry is political and he has written about issues such as British foreign policy and the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. His most celebrated poems were written during the government of Margaret Thatcher – pieces which contain graphic accounts of the racist police brutality which occurred at the time (cf. ‘Sonny’s Lettah’). LKJ also wrote for New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Black Music in the 1970s.
His best-known music albums include his debut ‘Dread Beat an’ Blood’ (1978), ‘Forces Of Victory’ (1979), ‘Bass Culture’ (1980), ‘LKJ in Dub’ (1980) and ‘Making History’ (1983) featuring some of his most renowned tracks – ‘Sonny’s Lettah’, Inglan Is A Bitch’, ‘Independent Intavenshan’ & ‘All Wi Doin Is Defendin’.
Along with Paul Marshall, Linton Kwesi Johnson contributed vocals for Recoil’s cover of the Talk Talk track ‘Inheritance’ for ‘Spirit of Talk Talk’ – a tribute album where Alan acted as musical & production supervisor.
Said Alan: “’Inheritance’ came about when our project organiser Toby suggested getting Linton involved in the project. He asked me how we might incorporate Linton’s voice on the album, so I started thinking about it. It was a pretty left-field idea which I was unsure about for a long time, but I said I would try a few ideas (with no promises) to see if I could make it work. No-one had come up with a decent version of that song at that point, so I dived in. We recorded Linton up at RAK studios – in record time. He wasn’t actually interested to hear what I had prepared musically but just preferred to recite the words in solo – so I extracted as many variations from him as possible before he shot off to find some sushi for his lunch (LKJ was distracted by hunger that day!). I still have no idea what he thinks of the results but he gave his blessing for the inclusion.
A group of musicians all connected with Talk Talk were placed on hand to help out. One such contributor for ‘Inheritance’ was none other than Dean Garcia (bass), ex of Curve, and who also played on Recoil’s ‘Liquid’ album back in 2000.
A film was produced to accompany ‘Inheritance’, shot in Moscow and directed by Dmitry Semenov who was responsible for so many memorable images from ‘A Strange Hour’.