Jean Breeze, first woman of dub poetry, dies at 65

Jean Breeze, a passionate Jamaican poet who reveled in performing dub poetry, a half-spoken, half-sung style of storytelling often suppo...


Jean Breeze, a passionate Jamaican poet who reveled in performing dub poetry, a half-spoken, half-sung style of storytelling often supported by the rhythms of reggae, died on August 4 in a Kingston hospital. She was 65 years old.

His death was announced on social media by his British agency, Renaissance One Writers and Events. No cause was given, but she had suffered from chronic lung disease for years.

Ms Breeze, known as Binta, was widely recognized as the first woman to make a name for herself in the male-dominated genre of dub poetry. (Dub is a recording term that refers to the process of adding or removing sound.) The genre originated in Kingston in the 1970s and was amplified in London and Toronto, two cities with large populations of Caribbean immigrants, and it was in England that Ms. Breeze became famous.

She stood out for the passion of her performances, the raw honesty of her personal stories and her use of the lyric vernacular of Jamaica. At the end of the 90s, the poet Maya angelou asked Ms Breeze to perform at her 70th birthday party, where Ms Breeze recited, accompanied by a gospel choir, so moving that Ms Angelou immediately walked across the stage and kissed her.

In her poem “The Garden Path” (2000), Ms. Breeze described her poetic vision. “I want to make music with words, to go beyond language to sound,” she wrote. She has been credited with blending Jamaican Patois with Standard English to create innovative poetic shapes and rhythms.

“For me, a key feature of her heritage as a Caribbean poet is how she beautifully embodied the intersection between literary rigor and the power of performance,” Owen Blakka Ellis, a longtime friend, told Global Voices website.

One of Ms Breeze’s most vivid childhood memories was of her grandmother sitting in her bedroom reciting poetry to her every night.

“So it comes from a voice and not from a page” she told Marxism Today in 1988. “The voice is as important as the poem because it brings the word to life,” she said. This, she added, is the reason she placed emphasis on performance.

“It’s hard to predict in advance what a reading will look like,” she said. “Sometimes it’s very painful, and sometimes it’s very liberating. But it’s still communication.

His work drew on various influences, what Marxism Today called “the reluctant melting pot that is London, its rural Jamaican childhood and the urban angst of Kingston”. Her main themes included the struggles and exploitation of women, political oppression and mental illness.

Ms. Breeze was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early twenties, and her work was full of references to what she called “insanity.” In “Riddym Ravings and Other Poems” (1988), one of his first works, the “delusions” of the title are those of a homeless woman sitting on a park bench. It was also known as “The Poem of the Mad Woman”.

At the same time, much of his work was joyful. Other collections included: “Au bord d’une ├«le” (1997); “The Arrival of Brighteye and Other Poems” (2000), which included a version of Chaucer’s Tale of Bath’s Wife; “The Fifth Figure” (2006), approximately five generations of black British women; and “Daughter of the Third World: Selected Poems” (2011). She has also made several recordings, including “Straddling de Ridym”(1996), and collaborated with the African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Ms Breeze divided her time between Jamaica and England and performed regularly at literary festivals. She has also been a director, choreographer, actress and teacher, and has written for television and film. She settled for a time in the city of Leicester in the Midlands, where she taught Creative Writing as an Honorary Fellow at the School of English at the University of Leicester.

Credit…Bloodaxe Books

She was born Jean Lumsden on March 11, 1956, in the Jamaican countryside. Her father was a public health inspector and her mother studied midwifery. Jean was raised mainly by her grandparents, who were farmers, in Patty Hill, a small village in the hills of Hanover.

She became a dub poet by chance.

After high school, she taught and practiced Rastafarianism. One day, she heard on the radio – from which she was often inspired – the song of Otis Redding “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”. This prompted her to take a bus to Montego Bay, about 15 miles away, and sit on a jetty waiting to see who might come.

Finally, a Rastafarian man saw her writing and asked her if she was a poet. She said she was. He told her there was a party that night in honor of Haile selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, who is revered by Rastafarians. The man asked her if she wanted to read a poem there and invited her to a rehearsal with an orchestra.

When she introduced herself Mutabaruka, the famous Jamaican dub poet, was at the rehearsal, and told the band to back her up with a special rhythm. She then recited her poem “Slip, idiot”. Muta, as she was called, loved her performance and took her to a studio to record the work.

“And in a month,” she said in a 2018 interview with Contemporary Women’s Writing magazine, “I played the first radio recording in Jamaica as the first female dub poet. “

She then enrolled at the Jamaica School of Drama in Kingston.

By then, a brief marriage to Brian Breese, one of his former teachers, had ended. (She changed her last name to Breeze.) Her survivors include a son, Gareth Breese, a West Indian cricketer and two daughters, Imega and Caribe.

A turning point came when she met Linton Kwesi Johnson, a prominent Jamaican dub poet who invited her to perform at the Radical Black and Third World Books International Book Fair in 1985. She quickly toured and starred in the whole world.

Ms Breeze was particularly popular in England and was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2012 by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to literature. She had thought earlier that if she ever won such an honor, she would reject it because she opposed the notion of empire and colonization. But when the time came, she was happy to accept.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for the Queen because I see her as a mother figure in a big family who does her best to keep the kids online,” Ms. Breeze told the Jamaica Observer in 2012. “And j ‘said to myself,’ This is my mother. ‘”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Jean Breeze, first woman of dub poetry, dies at 65
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