I’ve been watching Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, an anthologygy of five films focusing on the life of Black folk in England from the late sixties to the eighties. Part four presents the early years of writer Alex Wheatle. There was a moment sharing the infamous “New Cross Massacre”. As the tragedy began to unspool, I immediately thought of Linton Kwesi Johnson. And then as if I had conjured him, his distinctive voice intoned a threnody for the lives lost in the fire.
I recognized both the writer and the poem. There and then I decided to share his work. So, here, in three segments, are: 1. a beautiful interview, 2. Johnson’s narration of “New Crass Massacre” contained within a short documentary about Brixton, and finally, 3. an LKJ concert accompanied by the music of his long-time collaborator, bass player and band leader, Dennis Bovell. For those who know little about 20th century Black Britain, this is a good introduction.
Mr. Johnson is truly a Jamaica-born, England-based griot. Enjoy.