World & Latin

Life Times Life

07 FEB 12 JOHN C. BRUENING

Vocalist and dub poet Mutabaruka has been the social conscience of the Jamaican people since his first recordings in the early-1980s. But, it's the 2002 release Life Squared that's considered his masterpiece -- one that veers away from the angry and incendiary stance that marks much of his earlier work and instead takes a more balanced and thoughtful approach to political and social issues relevant to his native country and the world in general.

Born Allan Hope in Rae Town, Jamaica, in 1952, he began writing in his teens, inspired by Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other prominent Black Power figures. He eventually converted to Rastafarianism, rechristened himself Mutabaruka -- a Rwandan word that translates to "one who is victorious" -- and pursued a musical context for his poetry.

The third cut on Life Squared, "The Monkey," is a tongue-in cheek commentary (by a primate, no less) on the often irresponsible nature of human behavior, while "Life And Debt," the incisive title track for the 2001 documentary by Stephanie Black on Jamaican life, is a condemnation of the World Bank and a globalized economy. The rousing "The Confusion Today (Wha a Gwan)" takes its cue from Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," in terms of both musical structure as well as subject matter. The brilliant set closes with "Dis Poem (Remix)," a sweeping ten-minute reinterpretation of a 2:49 track that first appeared on Mutabaruka's 1986 album, The Mystery Unfolds.

It's all tied together by a series of short tracks entitled "Muta Seh," brief snippets of wisdom and philosophy that create an additional layer of context and continuity. Life Squared may be rooted in the dub poetry tradition, but it addresses issues and concerns that extend well beyond Jamaican shores and speak to a worldwide audience.