The griots of West Africa have been referred to as historians, storytellers, ambassadors, and entertainers. During the period of the transatlantic slave trade, their influence also spread in the “New World”. Snatched away from their family and homeland, isolated from their language and religion, they had no possible recourse to written testimony. Their knowledge and experience was passed on to subsequent generations via oral tradition and have thus survived down to the present day. They made use of all the means of expression available to them at the time, such as music, poetry, dance, and performance. Their legacy is a testimony of their own history and that of their people. This still lives on today on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, which has played a proud role in the long struggle for freedom and independence. The tradition of the African poets, the griots, has also survived in the form of dub poets such as Oku Onuora, Mutabaruka and Yasus Afari. Many of these modern-day griots travelled around the world as ambassadors in order to revive and pass on the oral traditions and historic reading of their ancestors. In the United Kingdom, to which many Jamaican immigrants of African origin migrated during the 1960’s in particular, their influence rapidly expanded during the second half of the twentieth century.
The Birmingham-based singer-songwriter and dub poet Kokumo Noxid brings together all the essential characteristics of a modern-day griot. His work reflects the life and the historical, cultural and social experiences of black people all over the world. It is a plea for justice and humanity, a cry for liberty and peace. In the spirit of the griots, Kokumo teaches that all future events have a relation to the past. Born in Jamaica, he is part of the second generation of dub poets. In the same way as the griots of West Africa, Kokumo uses music, poetry and performance as a means of expression. Over the course of the years, he has worked in many different genres, with numerous other artists, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Linton ‘Kwesi’ Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze und Yasus Afari. His 2007 debut album “Writing’s on the Wall” is considered one of the best dub poetry albums of the past decade. In August this year, he published his book “Dub Truth”, a collection of poems written on his travels through America. “It’s based on observations, which encapsulates the juxtaposition of my reality…manifesting both thoughts and actions, to make sense of my reality,” he says. “It embodies I own truth, constructing and de-constructing perception based on ‘others’.”
Kokumo is a Yoruba name meaning, ‘this one will not die’. Just as the spirit and tradition of the griots will outlast all time.
In the following interview Kokumo gives some insight into his way of thinking.