Linton Kwesi Johnson – All Wi Doin is Defendin – Lyrics that illustrate the passion on the streets in the Brixton riots

brixton brixton2

In the 1980s, at the height of the Thatcher years of depression and oppression, the black community in London was suffering more than most. There was widespread unemployment not helped by the institutional racism of the day. The crime rates went through the roof.

At that time there were racist National Front and British Movement thugs on the streets who would attack blacks. The police were considered the enemy. They would hound and arrest black youths on Sus charges (Stop and Search) and were considered racist. It was felt that the police were stopping blacks without cause and treating them without respect. The black community felt threatened and under attack from all sides. There was anger.

There was a terrible fire at a party in New Cross in which killed thirteen black teenagers (another committing suicide later) and which was thought by the black community to be a racist arson attack.

The community was simmering with fury. Passions were high. None of it was helped by the Press who portrayed the situation from the establishment view and did not seem to consider the black community perspective. The flames were being fanned.

The spark was lit through a possible misunderstanding. A youth was stabbed and police went to his aid. The rumour was that the police were killing him or allowing him to die. It set a riot in motion.

Linton Kwesi Johnson was our foremost black poet. He put his poems to reggae music and represented the black voice. He intoned his dramatic words in his rich melliferous voice using patois. The results were stunning. Through his music he became the spokesman for the black community. He logged the emotions and perspective of the besieged people of Brixton.

All We Doin is Defendin
war… war…
mi seh lissen
oppressin man
hear what I say if yu can
wi have
a grevious blow fi blow

wi will fite yu in di street wid we han
wi have a plan
soh lissen man
get ready fi tek some blows

doze days
of di truncheon
an doze nites
of melancholy locked in a cell
doze hours of torture touchin hell
doze blows dat caused my heart to swell
were well
and are now
at an end

all wi doin
is defendin
soh get yu ready
fi war… war…
freedom is a very firm thing
all oppression
can do is bring
passion to di eights of eruption
an songs of fire wi will sing

no… no…
noh run
yu did soun yu siren
an is war now
war… war…

di Special Patrol
will fall
like a wall force doun
or a toun turn to dus
even dow dem think dem bold
wi know dem cold like ice wid fear
an wi is fire!
choose yu weapon dem
all wi need is bakkles an bricks an sticks
wi hav fist
wi fav feet
wi carry dandamite in wi teeth

sen fi di riot squad
cause wi runin wild
wi bittah like bile
blood will guide
their way
an I say
all wi doin
is defendin
soh set yu ready
fi war… war…
freedom is avery fine thing

Full Song Lyrics:

Linton Kwesi Johnson – Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem) Brilliant lyrics concerning racism.

Linton Kwesi

In the 1980s there was a lot of racism in Britain. We had attacks on the Black community by the National Front, riots in Brixton and harassment by the police.

Black youths would be systematically picked up by the police, insulted and treated poorly. It caused a seething anger and distrust of the establishment. The Sus laws have since been scrapped. Nobody can be arrested on suspicion anymore. There has to be good grounds. Tensions have eased and racism has found new targets.

Linton Kwesi Johnson was a giant of a poet. He set out the song in the form of a letter home to his mother in Jamaica. He summarised the problem in these brilliant words:

Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus poem)

From Brixton Prison, Jebb Avenue London S. W. 2 Inglan
Dear mama
Good day
I hope that when these few lines reach you they may
Find you in the best of health
I doun know how to tell ya this
For I did mek a solemn promise
To tek care a lickle Jim
An try mi bes fi look out fi him

Mama, I really did try mi bes
But none a di less
Sorry fi tell ya seh, poor lickle Jim get arres
It was de miggle a di rush hour
Hevrybody jus a hustle and a bustle
To go home fi dem evenin shower
Mi an Jim stan up waitin pon a bus
Not causin no fuss

When all of a sudden a police van pull up
Out jump tree policemen
De whole a dem carryin baton
Dem walk straight up to me and Jim
One a dem hold on to Jim
Seh dem tekin him in
Jim tell him fi leggo a him
For him nah do nutt’n
And ‘I’m nah t’ief, not even a but’n
Jim start to wriggle
De police start to giggle

Mama, mek I tell you wa dem do to Jim?
Mek I tell you wa dem do to ‘I’m?

Dem thump him him in him belly and it turn to jelly
Dem lick ‘I’m pon ‘I’m back and ‘I’m rib get pop
Dem thump him pon him head but it tough like lead
Dem kick ‘I’m in ‘I’m seed and it started to bleed

Mama, I jus couldn’t stan up deh, nah do nuttin’

So mi jook one in him eye and him started fi cry
Me thump him pon him mout and him started fi shout
Me kick him pon him shin so him started fi spin
Me hit him pon him chin an him drop pon a bin
– an crash, an dead

More policman come dung
Dem beat me to the grung
Dem charge Jim fi sus
Dem charge mi fi murdah

Mama, doan fret
Doan get depress an downhearted
Be of good courage

Your loving son – Sonny