Word Soun' Ave Power

The exhibition Equal Rights: Reggae and Social Change remains dynamic because “word soun(d) (h)ave power”. Reggae lyrics continue to upset the status quo that persists in treating inhabitants of the Afro-Diasporic community with disdain. In the United States immigrants interacted with the broader international society, especially in the South Bronx of New York, to create new forms born out of Jamaican sound-system culture and rhythms. It is out of this interaction that hip hop and rap emerged.

Dub is a Jamaican innovation that allows the sound engineer to reduce the song's arrangement to its bare essentials, the bass and drum tracks, with minimal interjections of other instruments or voice. Dub poetry presents reggae at its most declarative. By the time the world began to relate to reggae lyrics independent of the musical arrangement (except for the rhythm), a group of new artists, some of whom were acclaimed poets picked up the lead of reggae DJs. Instead of “toasting” (speaking) over reggae rhythms, the poets recited over dub rhythms. Dub poetry retains the voice, mixing it with the rhythm arrangement.

Without trying to be “hip” in the sense of a DJ or rapper, dub poets tell stories in measured tones, their stories, our stories, histories. Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ) ingests and elaborates on race and political meditations, which he contextualises with oral astuteness. His conspirators within this genre of reggae music are also well versed and expressive as evidenced by the untamed language of Mutabaruka, the fiery Oku Onuora and the ferocious heat of Jean “Binta” Breeze.