Oka Onuora: I A Tell
The father of Jamaican dub poetry, Oku Onuora returns to the spotlight with a reissue of his album I A Tell Dubwise & Otherwise and a book of poetry compiled from his two anthologies ECHO and Fuel For Fire, which have long been unavailable in any format.
Thanks to Iroko Records' Herve Brivec for inviting me to write the album liner notes and also the introduction to the book, which features quotes from Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Book Cover Text:
Oku Onuora is the father of Jamaican dub poetry and forty years after their initial publication, his two books of revolutionary verse - long since out of print - have lost none of their power or relevance.
Jamaica’s unofficial Poet Laureate was raised in a deprived area of Kingston and his radicalism, inspired by Black Power, Che Guevara and Rastafari, was fuelled by the poverty and injustice he saw all around him. In scenes reminiscent of Robin Hood, he turned armed robber in his battle against the system and was shot five times after escaping prison for the second time, aged nineteen. His earliest poems - including many of those collected here - were written in jail where the warden branded them subversive, and ordered them to be destroyed.
It was his mother who smuggled poems from the prison, and then alerted leading literary figures to his talent. They successfully campaigned for his release in 1977, which is when his first book of poems, ECHO, was published. After seven years in jail he’d emerged as an avenging sprite, armed with poems and plays that confronted Jamaica’s social ills head on, and were transformative in their fiery, savage beauty. One reviewer described him as “a charismatic and passionate articulator of the grief and outrage of humanity’s poor,” whilst another wrote how “his works not only strike straight at the heart, they seem to burn away the flesh and expose the raw nerve.”
After he’d started reciting his poems over dread reggae rhythms, Oku would release a succession of albums in the years ahead, beginning with Reflections In Red, which Bob Marley issued on his Tuff Gong label in 1979. You can read the original poems, shorn of all but their raw truth, in these pages and their impact hasn’t lessened one jot.
“My perspective and my path have not changed,” he warns. “My stand against oppression and deception has not changed. I am still the same person that I was, except I am now wiser and stronger. The only changes have been to my temperament, because the level of intensity has increased. That’s the only thing that’s different. What I said yesterday I’m saying today, and what I’m saying today, I’ll be saying tomorrow and I’ll keep on saying it until the enemies of righteousness have been vanquished. Until that day comes, then my mission and my thoughts remain the same.”