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The rhythmic poet

Denise Dennis
Sunday, July 15, 2012

CHRISTOPHER 'Birdheye' Gordon has stuck with the one thing that kept him out of trouble as a teen, making it his life's work — dub poetry.

A member of the popular group No-Maddz, the 26-year-old, as a young boy, would shy away from anything that could be considered 'soft', opting instead to get involved in activities that were not socially acceptable.

A product of both urban and rural upbringing, Gordon finally found a balance in dub poetry, which he said helped him to remain on the 'straight and narrow' from as early as 13 years old.

He has since been the recipient of the Prime Minister's Youth Award for Excellence in the field of Arts and Culture and is a four-time winner of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission's (JCDC's) festival competition for poetry.

Gordon — a past student of Kingston College and Excelsior Community College and the holder of a first degree in mass communication and film from Huntington University in Indiana — has also helped to produce the local television programme Comedy Buss and co-wrote for the play Jamaica to Rahtid.

He said that while in Indiana, he also worked with the college radio station, playing reggae music, which was streamed live for two straight hours at a time; the first programme of its kind in the state.

A member of No-Maddz — who are currently leading the Digicel Reggae Sumfest 'Run It' campaign — since 2000, Gordon sat down with Career & Education this past week to share what it means to be a dub poet.

Who is a dub poet?

To know who a dub poet is, you have to know what dub poetry is and it's a Jamaican art form where words are placed with a rhythm and it usually works with congo drums. [Now] No-Maddz has a different form of dub poetry as we have implemented a different style of music. A dub poet is also someone who usually goes for social commentary, speaks for social change.

What is the value of the work that you do?

Being a part of No-Maddz and a dub poet in this time [when we celebrate] our 50 years of Independence, I think my worth is very valuable because the truth is our music and our standard of entertainment and art in the country is not as advanced as we would want it to be. What No-Maddz brings to the table is a difference — a difference that is Jamaican and can be accepted in Jamaica and internationally. Our worth to the society is not mediocre and because we know this, we have a social responsibility to do what we have to do.

What was it that prompted your entry into the field?

Going to Kingston College drama club, I saw my [current] bandmates doing dub poetry. I was recruited into the drama club as I had been staying away. I then got involved in the JCDC speech festival and started doing dub poetry.

What are the academic requirements for getting into the field?

The requirement [for this] would really be street knowledge. It's really being able to look within and analyse the system. If you check the forerunners of dub poetry, I don't think all of them, if any of them, went to university.

What other skills and/or competencies are required for entry into the field?

You must have strong morals because if you don't stand for something, you are going to fall for anything. You [also] have to have patience to do this; we've been doing this for 12 years as No-Maddz, and give Jah thanks, we have been blessed. But a lot of people don't know how much struggles and how much nights of hunger we had gone through and still go through to make this possible. So you are going to need that will and you are going to need the confidence.

What do you most enjoy about the work that you do?

I think I enjoy the fact that it doesn't matter what I do or what I say; being a dub poet comes with a sense of reverence that we don't stand for foolishness. Overall, I am just glad that I have a purpose and glad that I am blessed to do this as I don't think I could be doing anything else, ever.

What are the challenges you face on the job?

Because we are not doing 'slackness' and because we won't be saying 'I can kill you', then we won't be played on the radio, and because we are not doing one-drop reggae or dancehall, it's easy for someone to say we can't put you on the playlist as we don't know where to put you. But it's a challenge that we welcome; I think it's our biggest motivation.

How much can one earn as a dub poet on an annual basis?

The truth is the average dub poet is broke; I don't think the average dub poet makes money from dub poetry as it's not easy to make money from dub poetry. However, because of dub poetry, we were able to finance our own tour for 110 days [so it depends on how you market yourself].

Why would you advise anyone to get into this line of work?

I would advise anybody to be who they want to be, but know what you are coming in here [the field] for. If it's for the money, you can make it but it's not easy. If it's for the social change and the social responsibility that is bestowed upon you, then you should do it.

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