The Gleaner: KINGSTON, Jamaica, By Paul H Williams – MUTABARUKA, BORN Allan Hope, is one of Jamaica’s well-known media personalities and poets. But, he is much more than that. He gained attention in his youth as a performance poet, whose work is searing, rebellious, probing, inciteful, militant, provocative.

He has evolved from the youthful dub poet with a patch of grey right above his forehead to the barefooted universal persona who has evoked all sorts of emotions and attitudes with his commanding voice and loaded words.

And though he is in the eyes of the public for decades he is a very private person who sits by himself in silence after a public performance. He can be described ironically as a taciturn man, whose sotto voce disposition is in stark contrast to his engaging and militant stage performances. When Muta has muted himself it is best to leave him alone. He is as complex as complex get.

To know some more about this giant of a man’s background, his roots, read all about it in Chapter One of MUTABARUKA – The Verbal Swordman, written by the man himself, along with Austrians, Sebastian Schwager and Werner Zips, and published by Ian Randle Publishers last year with the support of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna in Austria.

In the foreword, Professor Carolyn Cooper writes, “Zips and Schwager give a trenchant account of Mutabaruka’s incisive words on his radio programmes, ‘Cutting Edge’ and ‘Steppin Razor’ … Zips and Schwager also allows Mutabaruka to speak for himself. The centrepiece of the book is Mutabaruka’s reflection on his own life. His words also envision the future. One of the moving passages in this section is Mutabaruka’s celebration of the transformative language of Rastafari, which empowers the downtrodden.”

Yet, the entire 212-page paperback, with many colour photographs of Mutabaruka, is a must-read. It goes way beyond Mutabaruka’s background and into his thoughts, and the nature and impact of his work.

In the back cover notes, the publishers say, “In this book, Mutabaruka teams up with two anthropologist to reflect and summarise some of the most important perspectives aired weekly on his two live radio shows on Irie FM Jamaica’s reggae radio channel. ‘Cutting Edge’ and ‘Steppin Razor’ are controversial by intention. These talk shows owe their impact to the uncompromised stance of its anchorman, paraphrased by himself as his own (Rhetorical) ‘art of war.’

“Drawing on the role model famously coined by Peter Tosh’s hit song, Stepping Razor, Muta emerged not only as an institution of ethical conscience and social consciousness in Jamaica, but also continue to challenge global injustice, particularly for people of African origin.”

In the preface, Schwager and Zips write, inter alia, “Since the bigger part of this book is based on his public speeches on radio in his own shows, ‘Cutting Edge’ and ‘SteppinRazor’, the few snapshots we wish to provide here should enhance an understanding where he is coming from in both meanings, as a person with a life experience and a folk philosopher or ‘public intellectual’ …

“Itwas accordingly self-evident that this book can only be a joint effort. Huge parts of the text were either spoken by Mutabaruka himself … or analysed in the broader contexts and social meaning of his ‘words, sounds, and power’, to quote the Rasta wording for a righteous and might speech act … This book intends a preliminary synopsis of the contributions Mutabaruka and his cultural politics broadcast have had in Jamaica on beyond, being fully aware that we can only offer a relatively small compendium of his entire accomplishments.”

It has seven major segments: Mutabaruka on Mutabaruka, Cutting Edge and Steppin Razor, Jamaica’s politics, Jamaica’s crime situation, Jamaica’s society, Rastafari and Africanness, and ‘Life and lessons’, whose concluding paragraph says, “Muta’s radio programme’s full-heartedly endorse upliftment of an African-oriented consciousness. The different chapters illustrate that Mutabaruka is not only an opinion leader, but also an opinion maker. Due to his broadcasts’ call-in formats, he is also an opinion pollster, catching public sentiments and needs.”

Add to the list, poet, rebel, social commentator, cultural critic, educator, public intellect, folk philosopher, “moral conscience”, and ‘verbal swordsman’, a man who uses words as his weapon to cut, to vanquish, to diminish, to demystify, to debunk, to stir controversy, to provoke thought, to seek justice.

In the foreword, Professor Cooper, who says, “For countless years, I have been encouraging Mutabaruka to collect his wide-ranging ideas for publication as a book,” writes, “On his radio programmes, Mutabaruka effaces the conventional distinction between scared and secular discourse. He becomes both priest and poet. Drawing on ancestral wisdom, Mutabaruka is the griot, the oral historian who poetically documents the collective narrative of survival of Africans in the diaspora. Mutabaruka speaks into conscious memory of the history of his community.”