Monday, February 8, 2010

A Man of Words

When is a poet more than a poet? When he's Mutabaruka.

This past Sunday, for the beginning of Black History Month, the Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association brought the renowned master of dub from Jamaica to Hamilton for a celebratory performance. I can't speak for the other people there, but he certainly exceeded my expectations.

The legendary poet delivered the poems as expected, in the manner expected: unaccompanied lines of rhyme over a perceptible reggae rhythm. Poems dealing with the socio-political and -economic subjects dub is known for. Poems of anger and rebellion, of struggle for freedom and dignity. But with Mutabaruka, much happened between and around the poems.

There was, of course, his Rasta persona - with colorful robes and bare feet and tucked-away dreadlocks. But he is a man of words, of language, and the way he used language was riveting. Between poems, no, more like literate segues into and out of the poems, came stories that made you laugh. And just when you thought the man had transformed into a stand-up comedian, he would shift into an oratorical mode, making you realize the story was not a joke just for laughs. Whether he delivered the words in lightly accented English or spoke in the heaviest patois, the stories, the exhortations, the poems, all flowed together in one seamless weave.

And the audience, black or white or in between, loved it and expressed themselves with vocal response and applause. It was only fitting that Mutabaruka was the final item on the program. After him, we had little mind or breath left to appreciate anyone or anything else.

The man is so much more than a poet. He has a wonderful touch as a storyteller, drawing his audience in with his expression. And the voice? I could hear the old time preachers and politicians ringing out.

The whole experience? Mesmerizing. I'm still astonished and a little envious. If only I could deliver my words with half that power and conviction . . .

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