'Jean Breeze was an inspiration,' LKJSunday, September 05, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
IT has been a month since poet and author Jean “Binta” Breeze transitioned, succumbing to her battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but the tributes continue to come in.
In a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer, UK-based writer, poet and reggae artiste Linton Kwesi Johnson reflected on his friendship with Breeze — which lasted over 40 years.
“I met Jean in the early 1980s. I was in Jamaica and I was invited to a studio session where Mutabaruka was recording the album Word, Sound and Power, and Jean was one of the featured acts. I was so taken by her courage and fortitude as she performed in studio. At the end of the session we got talking and I was even more impressed. At the end she said, 'Let's do breakfast.' We never did, but a lifelong bond and friendship was formed.”
Likewise, the mention of Johnson's name was never far from Breeze's lips during interviews when asked about her years of work in England. It was Johnson who first invited her to the UK to participate in The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, an event organised as a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, film-makers, and the people who inspire and consume their creative productions.
“It was 1985 and I was the organiser of the fair. I had been so impressed with her during that studio session that she had to be at the fair. Her first collection of poems titled Answers was out, so it was perfect. This collection had works such as Aid Travels with a Bomb, To Plant or not to Plant and the popular Rhythm Ravings or Mad Woman poem. She took London by storm. She decided to stay on after the festival and we recorded an album and started touring all over the place... throughout the UK, Europe and Africa,” said Johnson.
But what was it about Breeze and her work that had so captured his imagination and what is her legacy now that she is no longer here in the flesh?
“Jean and I shared a love for the language. She had a way with words, [and] then she was [also] unique. She was a central part of the dub poetry movement which started at the Jamaica School of Drama in the 1970s, and was one of a few women doing it. This intuitive talent and understanding of words and music made her stand out. The truth is, she has inspired a lot of women — especially here in England where she is seen as a role model to many. She is truly an artistic gem in whom we are all so proud,” Johnson noted.
Only recently Johnson, along with actor and comedian Oliver Samuels, were named among the persons to receive honorary degrees from The University of the West Indies, Mona campus at its upcoming graduation ceremony. He will receive the Doctor of Letters for his contribution to literature.