Roger, just back from Reggae On The River 2014, sent me this message about his time at the festival and I thought people might find it interesting.
“Mutabaruka and I go back 33 years, to his first U.S. tour following a spectacular debut at the Sunsplash 81, the Tribute to Bob Marley one. He was an early guest on the Reggae Beat and we’ve had nice heretical camaraderie there and on his own show on Irie-FM in Jamaica. At Reggae on the River this past weekend I was asked to emcee for Sly & Robbie, Jimmy Cliff and Muta. During my mid-afternoon welcoming rap I talked about how the fierceness of Muta’s sepulchrally deep voice is belied by his equally strong sense of humor. For example, I said, back on Easter Sunday 1983, Muta walked, completely unexpected, into our KCRW studios while Hank Holmes and I were on the air, sat down at the mic and announced, ‘There is a saying in Jamaica: Whenever Bob Marley go to the toilet, Roger Steffens have the flush.’ Backstage, Muta laughed heartily according to witnesses. At the end of his set I brought him back on for an encore in which he decided spontaneously to read a poem he had written about Lucky Dube.
I had also been brought to this year’s festival to do interviews, 42 so far, for a film about Reggae on the River’s 30th anniversary. The artist over the past three decades most often mentioned as having given the fest’s greatest performance over all those years was unquestionably Lucky Dube.
So as Muta is about to end his tribute poem, an organizer of the festival comes running over to tell me that Lucky Dube’s nephew is backstage and he says that ‘today is Lucky Dube’s birthday.’ When Muta concludes I walk quickly over to him and whisper in his ear, ‘Today is Lucky’s birthday.’ A stunned look passes across his features and tears begin to cloud his eyes. I walk off stage quickly, only to turn back to see Muta pointing at me and growling, ‘That man just told me to get off the stage!’ I waved my arms frantically in denial, and Muta broke out laughing. He told the audience about the confluence of dates and they broke into a loud and sustained cheer. Afterwards he told me it was one of the most emotional experiences of his life. By the way, he’s got a new, second show on the radio in Jamaica, called Stepping Razor: The Art of War, adding even more controversy to his repertoire.”
My tattered copy of “Mutabaruka: The First Poems” given to me by Doctor Dread