‘“Your mango ripe?”
Grandma stop feeling and squeezing up me fruit.
You aren’t playing in no band.
Me mango ain’t no concertina.’
- Amryl Johnson, Granny in de Market Place
In celebration of Black History Month the British Library has released a new 2-CD set, Caribbean Roots, featuring some of the most significant Caribbean and black British poets of the past several decades reading their own work. The 2-CD anthology features recordings first issued by the British Library on cassette over twenty years ago, together with previously unissued live performances.
Poets include Linton Kwesi Johnson, E A Markham, Jean 'Binta' Breeze, David Dabydeen, Amryl Johnson, James Berry, John Agard, Grace Nichols, Benjamin Zephaniah and Michael Smith.
The poets share a range of experiences, emotions, and influences, reflecting both the culture of the Caribbean and life as a black person in Britain. While the CDs contain some light hearted poetry, such as Amryl Johnson’s Granny in de Market Place (cited above), many of these selections reflect the tough social and political reality of immigrant life. Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Sonny’s Lettah describes the racist police violence of the late 1970s, giving a graphic description of an unprovoked police attack on ‘lickle Jim’:
“Dem thump him him in him belly and it turn to jelly
Dem lick 'im pon 'im back and 'im rib get pop
Dem lick him pon him head but it tough like lead
Dem kick 'im in 'im seed and it started to bleed”
- Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sonny’s Lettah
Stephen Cleary, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings at the British Library, says: “The varied and powerful performances documented on this CD-set show clearly just how it is that poets of the English-speaking Caribbean diaspora have had such an invigorating effect on the poetry scene of modern and recent times.”
The release of these recordings on CD has been long-anticipated, particularly by the educational sector, so the emergence of Caribbean Roots will be a cause of celebration for many. The moving and insightful poetry heard throughout the CD is essential listening for anybody interested in black writing and poetry in performance in Britain today.
2-CD anthology £16.28 inc. VAT (ISBN 978-0-7123-5841-5) 145 minutes
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