Tuesday, April 19, 2011
So many of the best things in life are first shared in casual settings. Linton Kwesi Johnson‘s Dread Beat An’ Blood was played in the van while we were on tour a few years ago. Todd Cook, let it be said, has a rare gift for suggesting albums. As it settled in, we all started to realize that this was not some easily consumed dance jam, although there’s lots of great music that fits that bill and you could definitely dance to this record. The darkness and muscular playing, the sense of urgency—what was happening here? It all implied that something really troubling was taking place. As we caught certain lyrics (“It was a sound checking down your spinal column/Bad music tearing up your flesh”), the whole effect came into focus. Originally released in 1978 under the band name Poet And The Roots, Dread Beat An’ Blood is an album of political rage, an urgent request for social justice drawn in beautifully dark beats, sub bass and crystalline lyrics. The album was a collaboration between poet/journalist Johnson and Dennis Bovell, a producer and creator of London dub music. Bringing together many styles, including reggae and spoken-word performance, the album describes the harrowing struggle of black youth with the police in the U.K. In many ways, it foresees and blends elements of hip hop, electro and dubstep. This record definitely deserves a more insightful essay, but one suggestion is just to spend time with it and let it really entrance you. Subsequent releases of Dread Beat An’ Blood are filed under Linton Kwesi Johnson, but he did continue to collaborate with Bovell. Johnson still performs today and has received wide literary recognition. His collection of poems, Mi Revalueshanary Fren, was published by Penguin Modern Classics.