As a dub poet, Mutabaruka (born in Jamaica as Allan Hope) inevitably inspires comparisons to Linton Kwesi Johnson, but where LKJ’s poems are often ironic and his delivery knife sharp, Mutabaruka’s work is more direct, thick with dread. Unlike Dennis Bovell’s gorgeous formal arrangements on Johnson’s LPs, Mutabaruka is more spontaneous. His poems dictate the musical direction — the rhythms jerk the band along. Suffice to say both artists derive from the same traditions of Jamaican poetry and music; if you like one, chances are you’ll like the other.
Mutabaruka’s first two albums are equally strong. Check It, a bold debut, contains three early singles: “Naw Give Up,” “Everytime I Hear de Soun'” and “Hard Time Loving.” Outcry continues the poet’s verbal attack, while showing the influence of his dramatic concert appearances. (He performs in manacles.) Music and lyrics sound more linked than on the prior LP, and the band seems to be working with the poet rather than just backing him up.
On his third release, The Mystery Unfolds, Mutabaruka’s lyrics are presented in a variety of musical settings. The LP is assured and versatile, an ambitious mixed bag with a cappella tracks, full-scale arrangements, audio effects and special guest vocalists (including Marcia Griffiths and Ini Kamose). While widening the performer’s range, The Mystery Unfolds broadened his appeal as well. Indeed, “Dis Poem” enjoyed some popularity in NYC dance clubs, sampled in with house music.
“By the ballot or the bullet, by the Bible or the gun, any which way freedom must come!” On Any Which Way… Freedom, the revolutionary dub poet returns, stronger and more outspoken than ever; humor, anger and love mingle with political analysis as the music and words twist, turn, jump and soar to create message music for listening, dancing and serious contemplation. The title track samples My Fair Lady‘s “I Could Have Danced All Night,” while “Revenge” employs South African mbaqanga music.
Mutabaruka has also produced other West Indian poets, with two significant compilations (Word Soun’ ‘ave Power and Woman Talk) to his credit. The first also spawned the excellent Dub Poets Dub, a companion LP of instrumental tracks.