August 17, 2022
The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 44th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.
Jamaican music has produced numerous colourful characters, including music producers Duke Reid, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Bunny Lee; singers Prince Buster and Roy Shirley; and engineer Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock.
Although not as flamboyant, Mutabaruka certainly stood out with his African robes and bare feet. The first time many Jamaicans heard his fiery message was Check It! â€” the dub poet’s amazing debut album released 39 years ago.
Produced by famed session guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, Check It! was released by Alligator Records, the respected Chicago blues label. Smith was a member of Jimmy Cliff’s Oneness Band when he first met Mutabaruka in 1982 at a concert in Somerton, St James, Cliff’s hometown.
“Dis bredrin come out wid no shoes an’ di first time him open him mouth was di poem Every Time A Ear de Soun‘,” Smith recalled in a 2013 interview with the Jamaica Observer.
Rastafarian elder Mortimo Planno was standing next to Smith and gave him an instant order.
“Him seh, Chinna, yuh haffi record dat,” Smith recalled.
Smith agreed and recorded Every Time A Ear de Sound as part of Check It! at the Marley family’s new Tuff Gong studio at Hope Road.
Check It! is one of the most striking spoken word collections. Broadcaster/musicologist Dermot Hussey was also impressed by the hitherto unknown artiste’s raw social commentary.
“Everytime A Ear de Soun, Butta Pan Kulcha, Sit Dung Pon de Wall; they all gave such an accurate portrait of the life ‘people down below’ lived. Muta’s authenticity; it was as if he too had lived that life,” Hussey told the Observer.
Butta Pon Kulcha and Sit Dung Pon de Wall were on Check It!, as well as the provocative Dis Poem and Angola Invasion.
Bruce Iglauer, owner of Chicago’s Alligator Records, was eager to distribute the album. Even though his label specialised in the blues, Alligator did have some reggae ties, having distributed albums by Edi Fitzroy, The Mighty Diamonds and The Abyssinians.
Check It!, Iglauer, remembers, was an entirely different project.
“I was immediately impressed by the vision, the lyrics, the instrumental tracks and of course Mutabaruka’s charismatic voice. It was clearly an important, groundbreaking record,” he said.
Check It! featured an impressive line-up of musicians including Smith, percussionist Sydney Wolfe, bass players Christopher Meredith and Leebert “Gibby” Morrison and drummers Carlton Barrett and Carlton “Santa” Davis.
According to Iglauer, it got “great reviews and every reggae programmer in the country was playing it.”
Born Alan Hope in Kingston, Mutabaruka had worked at the Jamaica Telephone Company before moving to rural Jamaica in the early 1970s to concentrate on writing poems.
He was among a growing group of Afro-centric youth including Michael Smith who expressed their militance in poetry.
Check It! would be the only album Mutabaruka did for Alligator Records. He recorded several well-received albums for Shanachie, another American independent company including Blakk Wi Blak and Gathering of The Spirits.
Check It! was reissued by Washington DC-based ‘indie’ RAS Records in 2003 to mark its 20th anniversary.
More Posts for Shows: High Frequency w/ Alaine Laughton, Home Run w/ Deon Mattis