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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Linton Kwesi Johnson 'Forces Of Victory' 1979 - Review


Linton Kwesi Johnson 'Forces Of Victory' 1979 - Review by Writerman 

Linton Kwesi Johnson has been described as a dub poet, meaning he communicates the feelings of young people of Caribbean extraction using a dub beat. But he has been so much more than that.
LKJ is a very important social commentator who has the ability to wrap his poems in a yellow green and red cloak of exquisite reggae. He is also a successful lecturer and writer and businessman.
Johnson is a very effective advocate because he has a knack of putting lovely melodies around some pretty hard hitting and at times grim and even threatening lyrics. A man who kills anger with his smile and prejudice with his pen.

First up is Want Fi Goh Rave, a mellow little song about a rude boy trying to avoid the temptations of a criminal life which he sees as his only way in life. This is a great track for someone new to the genre to hear as it is very approachable. The easy going beat belies the frustration of the lyric.
It Noh Funny is about the frustration of unemployed black youth for whom the straight and narrow offers few opportunities making the darker path look more attractive. I just love the dub section at the end where the percussion takes control.

Sonny’s Lettah is one of LKJ’s most famous songs and it is a really powerful piece of writing about the laws they had in Britain in the 1980s that allowed police to arrest (usually young black men) on ‘suspicion’ which often had no basis at all and was used by some as a way of harassing West Indian immigrants and those of colour. A young man charged with looking after his brother intercedes when police begin beating the younger boy for no reason. It all goes pear shaped when he kills one of the cops. This song makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I hear it. The mournful harmonica played by Julio Finn tips you to the fact this song does not have a happy ending.

Independent Intavenshun seems to be about standing up for yourself politically. Throughout the song, LKJ refers to such organisations as the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party, the Campaign for Racial Equality, the Trades Union Council and the Liberal and Tory parties saying each, in their way is incapable of helping black youth. The song winds down with some lovely flatulent trombone from the mighty Rico Rodriguez.
Fite Dem Back is a reaction to the Neo Nazi groups that threatened the safety of black people in England in the 1970s. They meant to take no backward steps with lyrics such as ‘We gonna smash dem brains in, cos they ain’t got nofink in dem’. Such a peaceful sounding tune for such a tough lyric.

Reality Poem has some extraordinary guitar from John Kaipye and a really positive lyric about taking control of one’s life and getting on with it without the use of the usual crutches we grab onto when the going gets tough.
Forces Of Viktry sounds like a call to arms encouraging people to stand up for themselves and use people power and numbers to get justice. This is a particularly atmospheric dub and contains all the elements of a classic piece of this genre – trombone, a load of percussion, a persistent bass line and lots of echo. Great stuff.

The album concludes with Time Come which paints a somewhat bleaker picture of what could happen if the authorities don’t mend their ways. Once again the whole thing is wrapped up in the most beautiful melodies.
For the record, I believe this particular Trojan Horse got past the guards and I think a lot of unseen forces slipped in under cover of dark and colonised the consciousness of Britain.

Review by Writerman
Email: ken@writerman.co.nz
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