Happy Birthday, Malachi (Belated)

Perhaps the most consistent, the boldest, the poet who remains true to dub poetry, Malachi is one of the best in his genre. As one promoter said recently, “One has to understand that when others were performing poetry full time, Malachi was a cop working the beat in Kingston.”

It is remarkable that after nearly twenty five years and three albums, various singles and a forthcoming DVD chronicling his life, Malachi remains fresh and as relevant as he was in the eighties when he joined some of the leading dub poets of the era on the landmark album Words, Sound 'ave Power. That groundbreaking album launched many careers and the poem "Victim," brought Malachi to the attention of the world. After many awards and performances later, Malachi is energized and ready to take on the world because his poetry remains raw and true to its roots.

Malachi is not just a voice from Jamaica, but a voice for oppressed people everywhere. From Africa to Central America from Trench Town to Johannesburg, the voice of the son of a preacher man remains strong, steadfast, and defiant.

He was a pioneering dub poet with Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Godfather" Noel Walcott and sister Jean “Binta” Breeze. Malachi was a member of Poets in Unity with Tomlin and other members of this seminal poetry combo. Malachi does not read a poem. He performs it. He has a beat, a rhythm, a certain kind of dance that makes him different. The drama, the anger, the romance. Yes, romance. Malachi can caress a poem ever so delicately.

I shot the first frame of a documentary on his life and work in NYC some time ago. In June 2004, I attended the Dub Poetry Festival in Toronto, Canada where Malachi was one of the headliners. Over the next few months I shot Malachi doing several interviews at his Miami home, and finally made a trip to Jamaica to visit and shoot some of the places that helped in shaping his life.

Initially, I wanted to tell the story of the bastard son of a light-skinned preacher who became a policeman and a poet. But I soon discovered that Malachi's story was the poetic journey of a flat nosed boy, too dark complexioned for the good of his Germanic descendants and too light skinned for his dark pigmented relatives. He was the boy with a deadpan sense of humor who could talk himself out of a good “ass whipping” and onto the pulpit of his grandmother's church in Back Land, Westmoreland.

He was the boy who courted a Justice's daughter. The girl in the shop with the nice smile--the same girl that all of the boys admired, but could not get themselves to ask for a date. He was the friend who got the girl, and two sons later he moved to Miami, Florida. The boy who became a cop--the testing officer knew was too short for the police force, but took him anyway believing that he would eventually grow to the "right height.” He was the boy who passed every JSC subject he ever took, and who romped on the dusty lane in Back Land, where rusted zinc, fenced every single yard. He was the same boy who swam in the canal that the short man we called "Bulldozer" used to clean until he drowned in it.

He was same little boy from Central Village whose grandfather was an overseer on the sugar plantation and who would not give him a job because he did not want the white plantation owners to know that he had a little dark-skinned bastard grandson. This was the same boy whose stepfather loved him very much, but because Malachi threw stones every day and got into so much trouble, he had to be shipped away to his biological father--the same man who had several other children and who lived with his mother who hated the Malachi because he was a "jacket." Malachi was the boy who Auntie Dina flogged because he "played" with the little girl underneath the cellar. He was the boy who would follow the footsteps of his favorite poet, Claude McKay, cop in Jamaica and cop in the USA.

This is a birthday tribute to a dub poet who is a law enforcement officer, humanitarian, a family man and genuine friend.

August 20, 2006

Mikey Jiggs
Owings Mills, Maryland


FSJL said…
My greetings to Malachi also. May he have many more.

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