Interviews

Interview With Jamaican Dub Poet Malachi Smith

Written by Xavier Murphy

We interview Jamaican Dub Poet, Malachi Smith, and discuss his new biographical film. The “dub-u-mentary,” takes a look at how he emerged from a broken home, poverty, and personal and societal prejudices to discover and transform himself.

Where in Jamaica are you from? How long have you lived in the USA?

I was born in Westmoreland, and grew up in Clarendon, St. Elizabeth and St. Catherine.

Tell us about your biography film? Who conceived idea? Who did the production? What was the goal of the film?

The documentary came about after I performed in Baltimore 3 years ago at the Bob Marley birthday celebration. The producer of the event, contacted me after and said he was getting some interesting comments and feedback about my performance so he suggested the idea of a documentary where he could explore me and my work . Michael Bryan (Mikey) is a Jamaica School of Drama graduate, had gone to film school in Canada and had worked in the film industry in Jamaica. He took 6 months off work, he works as a para legal, and we traveled extensively to Jamaica, New York, Canada, and South Florida where the shooting was done. The goals of the documentary is primarily to educate people about the art form through the mind-eye of one of its main proponents. It listens, it hears, it responds to the dynamics of the contemporary world with/through the voice of the messenger poet educating and uplifting while speaking, that is, become the voice of the voiceless.

You call the film a “dub-u-mentary”. How is that different from a documentary?

During the time of slavery, Africans developed and devised “disguised modes” to help then survive and maintain some of their traditions. Dub poetry, rasta talk, dee jaying, etc. all came out of this. Mikey decided to play on this and market it as a dubmentary since it is about dub poetry and the art form was/is one of the primary forms of communications that came out of the disguised mode. It is definitely a documentary.

Will it be available for regular distribution in the future?

Yes, it will be available for distribution. Mikey Bryan is taking care of the marketing. It will be done primarily online and will be available at future showing of the documentary.

Not giving away too much of the film can you tell us a little about your inspiring story from broken home, poverty and prejudice to being a police offer in the US.

Got packed up early one morning and was shipped in a truck to my dad’s home in Clarendon, Jamaica. I wasn’t welcomed there. My stepmother and her relatives thought that I wasn’t my father’s child because of my physical appearance, a flat nose and darker skin than my older brother. Suffered a lot of physical abuse there. Left went to St. Cathrine where I met my great grandfather. He had spent years in Cuban and came home very ill. He was a loner at the house. I became his best friend. I bathe and often times cooked for him. I was the only one in the home who ate from him. His treatment and suffering until he passed thought me lessons. I should have gone to college in Jamaica but my grandmother told my dad not to waste “powder on black puss.” That was it. I joined the Jamaican Constabulary Force and resigned at the rank of detective corporal. Learned many lesson there, and I give thanks for that journey as I was able to save many lives and touched many as well in a positive way. Came to the US in 87, and joined Metro-Dade Police Department in 1999. Apparently it was to happen. Just another part of my journey.

How did you get started in Dub Poetry?

I was writing, and still writes, traditional poetry. I went to the drama school, was admitted full time, but my superiors in the police force denied my study leave, so I went part time. While there, dub poetry began to emerge as a potent social voice. Oku Onuora, Mikey Smith, Noel Walcott, Jean Breeze, Poets In Unity, my group, were all there. We grew on and off each other, as the art form developed.

Would you describe your dub poetry as “edutainment” (entertainment and education), public voice, political voice or social commentary?

Dub poetry is all that and much more. It is a living entity that speaks to injustice, speaks about oppression and dispossession, brutality and exploitation, of love, of family, of community, of sanity and insanity of the world and its players, of self and direction and more.

Is your poetry affected by you being a police officer?

It has. To say other wise I’d be lying and the poet must speak the truth. It has helped me to see more, hear more and at times see more.

Do you think dub poetry today has become less political and more entertainment?

Some of the most powerful pieces of dub poetry that has ever been written speaks of love and relationships. The art form is complete. It can be political, just as it can be romantic or whatever genre the poet chooses to focus on.

What is your view on reggae/dub poetry being the father of rap?

Again Dub poetry, dee jaying, rap, rasta talk all came out of the West African stroy telling “griot” tradition. Dub was there long before the others. The stories of my ancestors were told in lyrical form, poetry, dub poetry.

What do you do when you are not performing or working as a police officer?

When I not performing, I write or tend to my back yard fruit trees. They are very precious and dear to me.

Do you consider yourself political and socially active in the Jamaicans community?

I’m very active in my community. I’m the immediate past president of the Jamaica Ex-Police Association. During my two year tenure, I was able to grow the association and got it more involved in community affairs. We started a Jamaica Police Station Refurbishing Project, every year a group of us go down to Jamaica and renovate a police station, and we started two scholarships one in the USA and the other in Jamaica. Both are awarded annually.

If you a magic wand and you could change one thing in the Jamaican community where you live what would that be?

I’d change all the pirates into good, patriotic, decent living beings who cared less about self and more about country man, family and community. I’d replace all the blood letting with healing rain.

About the author

Xavier Murphy