Saturday, December 07, 2013

Making History (1983)

Linton Kwesi Johnson's great moment—or at least the one I happen to know best—is out of print now and looks to have become a pricy collector's item, so I recommend the Independant Intavenshan anthology, which contains all of the tracks from Making History and 28 more besides. Absolutely worth it. Widely characterized as a "dub poet," which is close enough—the musical accompaniment is heavily atmospheric strains of Jamaica and Johnson is a highly regarded poet (published in the Penguin Modern Classics collection). This is another album, I have since figured out, that we all seemed to have found out about from the "A" Robert Christgau gave it, so credit due thatwise. It actually bears a fair amount of musical variety across its seven tracks—including one, "Reggae Fi Radni," that sounds plucked from parts of Nino Rota's soundtrack for the Godfather movies. The last track ("New Crass Massahkah") settles into unaccompanied vocal recitation, spacing out its simple musical statements. The first four songs, which are as good as it gets, work lively, satisfying strains on uptempo grooves. On all of them Johnson steps in reciting polemic in a thick, deep patois, which can be heard as musical itself, blending in nicely, but is difficult to understand. Certain fragments swim up unmistakably: "Di eagle an' di bear people livin' in fear of impending nuclear war fear," "From England to Poland / Every step across di ocean / The ruling class is dem is in a mess, oh yes / Di capitalist system are regress / But di Soviet system nah progress / So which one of dem yuh think is best," and "it was in april nineteen eighty wan / doun inna di ghetto of Brixtan" (the latter available in full at The Poetry Archive). Well, we already knew the drift from the song titles: "Di Eagle an di Bear," "Wat About di Workin' Class?," "Di Great Insohreckshan." And we knew the level of ambition from the title of the album. What was harder to guess was how musically it would be delivered. Until that last track, this thing moves with propulsive force. Perhaps some drag to the vocal, it can be rumbling and monotonous, but the charge of the words as they clarify counterbalances that well, for me at least, and there is an amazing force to the album sustained surprisingly well.

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