Michael “Mikey” Smith born 1954 in Jamaica was one of the early innovators of a new art form, combining music – usually in the form of a resonant drum and heavy bass line – and spoken word interwoven to form DUB POETRY. The popular and original artists in this new genre were Linton Kwesi-Johnson and Jean Binta Breeze from England and Oku Onoura from Jamaica.
Performing publically in the 70s and 80s at a time of political unrest, as evidenced in the partisan political climate of Jamaica or the police oppression taking place in England and excessive use of the ‘Sus’ laws, dub poets were seen as aggressive griots, calling out the establishment and exhorting their listeners to action.
Mikey Smith a strident opponent of injustice was a talented performance poet whose tragic murder by an alleged politically affiliated trio who stoned him to death on August 17 1983 cut short what was definitely a promising career.
To celebrate what would have been Smith’s 60th birthday, the Caribbean Cultural Theater under the banner of their Poets & Passion series presented “Talkin Dub – Tribute to Mikey Smith” on Thursday September 18 in Brooklyn. Paying homage to the Jamaican dub originator, Aja from Barbados, YaBez, Ras Osaagyefo and Queen Majeeda all from Jamaica not only performed their own works, but collaborated in a tribute by reading the iconic ‘Mi Cyaan Believe It’. The evening’s presentation took on the form of live spoken word together with a video clip of Michael Smith himself performing Mi Cyaan Believe it as those in the audience witnessed firsthand the poetic prowess of the poet as activist.
In the open mic session that followed, local artists were encouraged to bless the mic with their dub poems, with outstanding performances from the female poets one from Australia, got a round of applause on revealing this was only her second day in the Big Apple, Nandi Keyi-Ogunlade (Trinidad) and Arielle John (Trinidad) energized the audience with their excellent performances. Whether celebrating Trinidad’s independence and the lack of parity between their Afro and Indo nationalities, or the reverent tribute to the women and children sacrificed on the slave ship – The Zong during one of many horrific tales of genocide on the middle passage and the banal insincerity of those who don’t understand the spiritual significance of not doing justice to the remembrance ritual.
A lively discussion followed where artists and the public exchanged thoughts on when and where artists should perform free to serve a greater good and how artists reach a wider audience and more importantly impact on the lives in their own communities.
It was an energetic evening; the landscape enhanced the ambience as one was able to browse the afro-centric jewelry, oils, books and clothes on display at Sister Kufunya’s Nicholas Brooklyn in the heart of the melting-pot that is Brooklyn.