LKJ Live in Paris
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Linton Kwesi Johnson
LKJ Live in Paris (LKJ - CD)
LKJ Live In Paris With The Dennis Bovell Dub Band (Wrasse DVD)

I picked this CD and DVD out of my mailbox, thinking about how I would refer to Linton Kwesi Johnson, also known as LKJ, in this piece. "The elder statesman of dub poetry," is what came to mind and I must not have been far off because the distributor included a flyer describing LKJ as the "elder statesman of reggae poetry." Close enough. LKJ is a big name in dub and reggae, and the appearance of the second official live LKJ CD and first official video on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his first record is worthy of some attention.

But as I watched the DVD, I was a little bit puzzled. Johnson is now a man in middle age, dressed in the outfit that defines his professional persona - spectacles, a trim sport suit and hat. Judging from the video, he has little stage presence, and you would never call him expansive. He delivers his lyrics in a plaintive and declaratory way, though they are at times fueled by very deep anger at injustice. How did this "elder statesman" pack the Zenith in Paris for his anniversary concert?

The music of course is important, and Johnson delivers on that score, though without quite the same intensity that original recordings of "Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)" or "Reggae fi Rodney" delivered. The throbbing beat and deadpan rhymes convey personal stories of pain and suffering, mainly of immigrant Caribbeans in the UK (summarized in his song "Inglan is a Bitch" which originally appeared on Bass Culture but can also be found on Independent Intavanshan). Of course, these songs are charged with politics, and Johnson makes that abundantly clear in his comments between numbers in the Paris set.

An unfortunate number of Johnson's songs are dedicated to martyrs in the cause of what Johnson calls anti-fascism and anti-racism, but I'm not sure that's common terminology for those worthwhile causes these days. In any case, the unfortunate fact is that for LKJ to write a song for you (for example "Reggae fi Peach" or "Reggae fi Rodney") you need to have been killed fighting racist political-economic oppression. In his Zenith set, though, Johnson makes clear that he has not forgotten these individuals and he is not about to let his audience do so for the duration of their time in the hall.

And his audience is with him all the way. Unfortunately for all of us, LKJ's music resonates now in part because of historical circumstance: his first recordings in the late 70s and early 80s emerged at a time when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were undermining their nations' 20th century social progress and now their heirs Tony Blair and George W. Bush are perpetuating that wrongheaded tradition. So when the audience cheers for LKJ, it is also cheering as much for his music as it is for his clear stance for human rights, justice and equal opportunity. I'm cheering with them. - Craig Tower

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