Diaspora-Artists logo

LKJ (Linton Kwesi Johnson)

Born, 1952 in Jamaica

The cover of sounds, a British music magazine, of September 2 1978 carried a full-page photograph of Linton Kwesi Johnson, which appeared to show Johnson looking out from behind two vertical bars, giving the appearance of a prison cell. The photograph, and its messages, could not have ben clearer and more explicit. Not only was Johnson (or ‘LKJ’ as he came to be known) communicating his own experiences and opinions, he was, simultaneously, expressing the sentiments of a much wider body of people – Black like him, British like him. To this end, the magazine cover declared Johnson to be “The Voice of Black Britain”. Within the text itself, this sentiment was reiterated, with Johnson being introduced as “The first artist to deal with the reality of the Black experience in Britain.”  By the end of the decade, Johnson had been the subject of a number of such features, attesting to the ways in which this intriguing new form of poetry, and indeed, his own contributions to its development, were of singular interest to journalists and filmmakers.

Two years after the sounds piece, the Sunday Times magazine of August 3 1980 carried a feature on Johnson which introduced him as “poet-in-residence to the streets of Brixton, and his LPs are best sellers. The piece went on to state,

“Transplanted from rural Jamaica to Brixton 17 years ago, aged 11, Johnson has become the voice of that generation of young blacks who were born in or have grown up in this country. Which means his work necessarily addresses itself to the everyday humiliations of discrimination and harassment, enforced idleness and poverty, and predicts relentlessly but quite matter-of-factly the inevitable consequence: How can there be calm when the storm is yet to come?”

Johnson proved himself to be a particularly vociferous, trenchant and energetic critic of the existing order, in his poetry, in his interviews, and in his activism around the Race Today Collective and Creation for Liberation, both of which he was a member.

Gordon Burn, “The Talking Brixton Blues”, the Sunday Times magazine, August 3 1980: 54

Related items

click to show details of Denzil Forrester: From Trench Town to Porthtowan - catalogue

»  Denzil Forrester: From Trench Town to Porthtowan - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2018