Linton Kewsi Johnson's career as a celebrated black Reggae poet began in 1978 with his first album Dread Beat An Blood. Twenty-seven years later, LKJ was voted #22 in a poll of the top 100 Black Britons of all times. He also became the first Black poet -- and second living poet -- to find himself included in Penguin Books' iconic Modern Classics Series with Mi Revalueshanary Fren. Johnson also created a famous 10-part radio series, From Mento to Lovers Rock, for BBC Radio's 1. Meanwhile in 1982, Britain's oldest continuously published magazine, The Spectator, called his phonetic spelling of Jamaican English "wreaking havoc in schools, helping to create a generation of rioters and illiterates" and Bob Marley personally asked why Johnson was so militant and not a Rasta.
Yet Johnson's upbringing in the UK as a third-world transplant presumably predestined to "do the dirty work" had him deliberately rely on his homeland's patois. He wanted to phrase and rhyme his often militant incantatory poems of struggle and resistance in the people's voice. In 2003 and in celebration of his 25th anniversary of Dread Beat An Blood, LKW played a live concert in Paris with the Dennis Bovell Dub Band. Live in Paris on Wrasse Records captures this event while the available DVD provides the first-ever video footage available on this artist who was last heard on 1985's double LP LKJ Live in Concert with the Dub Band nominated for a Grammy.
Rather than a Reggae singer like Marley, Burning Spear or Jimmy Cliff, Linton Kwesi is a performance poet who happens to more or less speak his words to regular Reggae band accompaniment. His talk-rhyming draws natural parallels with Rap while the larger political anti-fascist vision providing the thematic back bone for his work sets it apart. The material for the Paris event is made up of LKJ classics like "Sonny's Lettah", "Fite Dem Back" and "Mekkin Histri" as well as more recent numbers from the More Time album and the title track from Tings An Times. "More Time" refers to the heightened productivity of present-day society which should result in shorter working days and a shorter work week to raise quality of life but does not.
Live in Paris is a historical document of a late-recognized first-rate political poet in front of a supportive audience. It's not mere listening entertainment. In certain talk songs, Linto Kwesi speaks up against victims of color dying in British police custody during the 80s and 90s. His central mission against racism -- practiced right in the heart of Europe rather than outlying 3rd-world provinces -- is an example for how, in the hands of the right person, art can become a powerful tool to stir up awareness and break open silence surrounding ongoing injustices. Don't buy Live in Paris as you would an ordinary music CD. Buy it as a reminder for how one man's disgust with the status quo continues to make a difference with uncut words, on occasion set to music like he did those two years ago in Paris but otherwise immortalized in the pages of agitatory activist literature.