Ride the rhythm
Jean ‘Binta‘ Breeze was born in Jamaica in 1956. Her poetry readings are a one-woman festival, a cross between literature, reggae rhythms and performances, combining the folklore of her homeland with the experiences of Jamaican immigrants in Europe. They shift easily between Jamaican slang and Queen’s English and deploy images from both cultural circles. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze also writes for films, television and the theatre, has published four books of poetry and prose and has recorded various “spoken word albums”. She is at home on Jamaica and in London.
Reading is not enough. Poems should be read out, even better be heard, and best of all be heard and seen. Poetry and prose by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, born on Jamaica in 1956, stems from the rhythms of reggae. She deems poetry to be a ghost of itself without the sound and rhythm of the voice, so is not content to have her poetry merely printed. She longs to meet and mingle with her hearers, whom she often invites to sing along or clap. She “breezily” frees her texts from the written page.
That which began in the 70s as dubbing – i.e. the singsong of Jamaican disc jockeys on the instrumental B-side of records – soon became dub-poetry. Breeze abandoned added music and settled for the words’ own melodies, as did the late Mikey Smith and her idol the Jamaican dub-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Living in London, the latter asked her over in 1983 to make a few recordings with his label.
Dub-poetry is the voice of the 70s. Breeze explains: “Dub poetry reflected the mood of the times. It is a public voice, a political voice of social commentary that works to a rhythm. There’s a strong sense of rhythm which is the rhythm of reggae. It’s poetry which combines a love of language with a sense of rhythm and music while at the same time recording our stories and oral observations.” (New Internationalist, No. 310, March, 1999)
”Breeze sings of sisterhood and the private spirituality that keeps the head above water even when prejudice and laundry threaten to drag it down. Her work, and that of a great many other black women writers, affirms life in a way that the rest of the world might do well to emulate,” says The Independent. Her texts seem to be tailor-made for the stage, like the dialogue between a rastafari patriarch and his carping women, or the monologue of a madman whose brain is haunted by a DJ and his records. Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze is keen to deal with political themes like the IMF and colonialism. Her poetry collection “On the Edge of an Island” (1997) includes gentle, deep, spiritual moods but is laced with wicked humour. Sometimes she preaches or delivers a social commentary; sometimes she merely gossips. Sunday Cricket describes the effect of the game on the family: “Look man, is a hard ting wen is Easter Sunday, West Indies battin, an yuh wife decide dat de whole family have to go to church.” Such batty observations reveal bright spirituality.
Jean ‘Binta‘ Breeze, who co-founded the Jamaican women’s theatre-group Sistren, writes from the point of view of a woman, a Jamaican immigrant and an ordinary person, as in her poem “Moonwise” from the collection “Spring Cleaning” (1992).
is not such
a perfect circle
and the master painter
makes a passing
all you children
rest easy now
we are born
Jean ‘Binta‘ Breeze was born moonwise on Jamaica in 1956 and grew up inland with her grandparents. She studied in Kingston at the Jamaican School of Drama and co-founded the now famous women’s theatrical group Sistren. In 1983 she was called to London by the British Jamaican dub-poet, singer and intellectual Linton Kwesi Johnson and has since been received warmly in the USA, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.
Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze has written four books of poetry and prose and recorded several records and CDs. Her works have appeared in many anthologies. She also writes for films and television and directs theatrical productions. She has taught creative writing, performance and drama at, for instance, Brixton College. When not travelling, she lives in London or Jamaica.
Riding on De Riddym
The Arrival of Brighteye
Poems. Bloodaxe: Newcastle
Poems. Gecko Press: not stated
On the Edge of an Island
Poems. Bloodaxe: Newcastle
Bad Language: The Delights of Improper Language
Film / TV,
Jean Binta Breeze, Merle Collins & Mary Scott. London: ICA. Video Cassette, 50 Minuten
Poems. Virago Press: London
Poems. Race Today Publications: London
Poems. Masani Productions: Jamaica
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Debates, lectures, concerts, readings
(26 March 98 - 24 January 99)