There are a little over 1,000 Jamaicans in Japan spreading their culture and music in a land where the rich tapestry of Buddhism and impressionism collide. In Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama, there is only one Jamaican dub poet. Dave Collymore has been living and working in Japan since 2008 and is waxing lyrical using a unique Jamaican cultural tool.
Dub poetry is simply Jamaican. This performance poetry evolved out of the West Indies island and first captured Collymore in 2001 at a church camp. “I was so intrigued by a guy performing at our camp. I asked him how he did it. He said ‘if you can write poetry, you can write dub poetry’.” The desire to perform is rooted deep in the spirited poet whose father, Edward, was a Jamaican stage actor in the 1960s and also a radio actor. The former English teacher-turned-consultant artist’s resume includes audience performances as large as 20,000 at Japan’s annual One Love Festival events in the Bahamas, the United States of America and Germany. The Portmore local recognises the difference between Japanese and Jamaican dub poetry.
According to Collymore, Japanese poetry is very short. There are two types: Haiku and Tanka. These don’t rhyme. The message is usually about nature and syllables. In contrast, Jamaican dub poetry cultivates rhythm and rhyme and carries a distinct drumbeat in the background. Being distinct in a culture, where safe is good and different is bad, is important to him. “I love to make people laugh. I’m comedic. Anything that has to do with peace, love, hope. This is my theme.”
He is a visual communicator. Influenced by artists like Mutabaruka, he uses spiritual ideas as a thread of hope running through the veins of his lyrics. Teaching children in Japan also gave him lyrical food through the years. “I was based in Okayama when I first got here.” He remembers how this city, rich in rural architecture but light on people of colour, reacted. “It was the first time they interacted with a black person. Some were excited. Some were reserved. “Your hair feels like sponge,” some of them said. Then they’d touch his hand. Children would smell his hands, thinking it would smell like chocolate. “They asked me, ‘why are you black?’ Or try to rub my skin to see why it was like this. I figured it was curiosity. You have to come out of yourself and imagine where they are coming from.” He did just that through his poetry and on a local television show which ran for three years. Celebrating his difference and Jamaican culture resulted in wide-open doors for his poetry.
Collymore’s sound of music and poetry on the streets of Yokohama and beyond is admirable. He also did a book tour after releasing his first book of poetry. Next on his list is to produce a new album that reflects his life’s mantra: peace, hope and love. True Jamaican.
To find out more about Dave Collymore, please visit his Instagram account @davecolly