Festivals Gambia

Linton Kwesi Johnson delivers Mboka Festival 2018 keynote address

Festival headliner Linton Kwesi Johnson gave the keynote address of Mboka Festival 2018 at the Gambia College on January 17, 2018 with the topic, “African consciousness in Reggae music.”

Linton Kwesi Johnson also known as LKJ, the UK-based Jamaican-British dub poet, was the headliner for the Mboka Festival 2018. At Gambia College, he would give the delegates of the literary festival, as well as students, a master class in reggae music and how it was influenced by African consciousness.

The legendary poet’s keynote was a bit different than you would expect with most that you will attend at such events with his speech interspersed with songs from the artists for effect. As the afternoon turned into early evening, the audience would listen to track from Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and many more.

He started with the explanation that reggae came from Jamaica its home 90% of whose residents are African in origin. He would then go on to speak about African consciousness and its connection to Africa which came in two forms; identity and solidarity. Both of these needs could be covered in reggae.

When African slaves went to the new world they brought Africa with them. Slavery made them African and they would in time build black nationalists movements. This identity would be portrayed by many artists and Kwesi would play Peter Tosh’s song You are an African to show this.


Africans in the Americas would come together in the beginning parts of the 20th century led by Jamaican born Marcus Garvey. There would be a lull in the movement until the Black Power movement in the 1960s which reminded people of the Garvey who had passed on in 1940.

Reggae music was very important in recalling the pain, marginalisation, degradation and humiliation of slavery. As the year went by reggae would continue having an important role going forward as it lent itself to the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1980s would see the rise of dancehall and the roots section of the genre getting to the background for a while only to get a revival at the beginning of the millennium. The music would also move to the UK with the Caribbean Africans moving to rebuild that nation after World War 2.

Immortal X and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Photo/Lena Nian Photography
Immortal X and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Photo/Lena Nian Photography

With Kwesi having running the gamut of the lecture, we would be introduced to our moderator who was a young dreadlocked gentleman called Immortal X (Alieu A Bah) a Gambian poet and activist for social justice. The questions were probing and enlightening and his answers were short and to the point. At one point the audience also joined in on the questioning. Here are excerpts;

On starting his poetry

He started poetry as a member of the Black Panther Party when he encountered all these poets that he had never encountered in the formal school system. His poetry he used as a political weapon. He found that he was fortunate as professional poet wasn’t something that he had thought about.

On how he has been able to survive in the scene without looking for validation from the UK publishing scene.

He never sought out validation from the UK publishing scene and stayed true to his craft. Even his appearance in the Penguin book happened because an editor, Ellah Allfrey sought him out to publish his work.

On the diaspora coming back to the continent

Coming back to Africa is a positive thing. It works with the solidarity part.

What does he believe is the big challenge for the next generation of Africans?

He has no answer for this. He believes that this was your challenge.

What would have done if not poetry?

He could have been an academic possibly. He found however that he had to earn a living as he was 23, married with three kids.

On his writing his poetry in Jamaican patois

He writes in Jamaican patois which is his first language because it gives him authenticity which is very important in poetry.

On the self-hate we see with today’s youth

We have come a long way. Things were not so go while he was a youngster. We shouldn’t be despondent. A luta continua.

On the current British black youth.

They are not as politicised as they are faces new which are also old challenges namely racial injustice. The #BlackLivesMatter in the US as however inspired British youth.

On African poets who influenced him

He knew Bra Willie who recently passed on. His favourite poet from the continent was Chris Okigbo with his collection Labyrinths, with Path of thunder.

By James Murua

This blog is run by James Murua a Nairobi, Kenya based lover of books.

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