Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Production of a Multiple Consciousness: Candelario Obeso and Linton Kwesi Johnson

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Production of a Multiple Consciousness: Candelario Obeso and Linton Kwesi Johnson

Article excerpt

Amo yo a la libectá

Como er pájaro a su nío,

Como la flore a la lluvia,

Como ar agua er bocachico. . . .

Candelario Obeso, "Epresión re mi amitá" (45)

In the beginning wuz de Word

And de word wuz ours to change de worl as we like

In we own image an likeness

Jacob Ross (qtd. in Habekost 63)

Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon.

Linton Kwesi Johnson

(The Guardian, Friday 7 March 2008)

The aim and purpose of what I'm doing

is to dub out the unconsciousness

out of people head, and to dub een consciousness.

So dat even still makes it dub poetry.

The dubbin' is still working.

I've no apology.

Onuora, 1986 (qtd. in Habekost 4)

Poetry has been used as a revolutionary tool by cultures on every continent. From the satires of Juvenal and John Dryden to the political poetry of Alexander Pushkin and Langston Hughes, poetry has often been a catalyst for social change and political action. Beyond geographical borders and the distance imposed by time, poetry can become a bridge that connects two worldviews. Art, politics, and the production of the self are intertwined in the case of two poets: Candelario Obeso (1849-84) and Linton Kwesi Johnson (b. 1952). Despite the barriers of time and space these two authors are closer than we might think. Obeso, a nineteenth-century Colombian poet of African descent, was the initiator of what Hispanic literature calls "Poesía Negra," Hispanic Black Poetry. Obeso created a poetic vernacular that reproduced the language of his region, an act that was completely radical for his time. Johnson, who was born in Jamaica and moved to the South London "Little Jamaica" of Brixton, is recognized as one of the earliest and best known dub poets. Dub poetry-primarily a performance poetry rooted in the oral tradition-emerged in Jamaica and England during the early 1970s.

Separated geographically, linguistically, culturally, and temporally, Obeso and Johnson are connected by a common voice against the oppression that began with the enslavement of Africans. The poetry of these two authors reveals an African cultural heritage and the influence of African languages. Additionally, they both articulate, through poetry, their concerns about the oppressive political and cultural dynamics at work in their particular societies, Kwesi Johnson from the point of view of a Jamaican descendent in England, and Candelario Obeso from that of an Afrocolombian in nineteenth-century Colombia.

In both cases, challenging oppression constitutes an important subtext in their criticism of hegemonic power. These authors have different poetic strategies for resisting and negotiating with this power, and the dynamics of the political space of their time define their ways of creating poetic language. The relationship between the nation and the state in the case of Obeso differs enormously from that of Johnson; while the former spoke through his poetry about a nation that had recently won its independence and from which he wanted recognition and citizenship,1 the latter's poetry is defined by his condition of "immigrant" in England. Johnson's parents were from Jamaica; his poetry was defined by the Jamaican diaspora in England and by his dual identity. The identity politics behind their poetry and the perception of the national space are quite different; while Obeso's poetry appealed to the nation, Johnson's poetry appealed to a world between nations.

I will first discuss Candelario Obeso and what I call his "triple exceptionality" in the intellectual field of his time. This exceptionality comes from his role as a poet, his particular use of language and his place in the literary canon. Second, I will address the phenomenon of Dub Poetry and specifically the poem "If I woz a tap natch poet," in which Johnson produced a self-conscious reflection of himself as a poet in comparison to other recognized poets and political activists. …

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