Born: Allan Hope
Rae Town, Kingston, Jamaica
Pen name: Mutabaruka
Occupation: Poet, songwriter, musician, educator, radio talk-show host
Period: Early 1970s–present
Allan Hope, better known as Mutabaruka, is a Jamaican Rastafari dub poet, musician, actor, educator, and talk-show host, who developed two of Jamaica’s most popular radio programs, The Cutting Edge and Steppin’ Razor. His name comes from the Rwandan language Kinyarwanda and translates as “one who is always victorious”. His themes include politics, culture, Black liberation, social oppression, discrimination, poverty, racism, sexism, and religion.
Mutabaruka was born and raised in Rae Town, Kingston in a household with his father, mother and two sisters. When he was eight years old his father died. Mutabaruka attended the Kingston Technical High School, where he trained in electronics for four years, going on to work for the Jamaican Telephone Company until eventually quitting in 1971.
Mutabaruka was drawn into black awareness movement of the late 1960s and early ’70s. In school he read many “progressive books”, including Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and others that were then illegal in Jamaica, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Raised as a Roman Catholic he began examining and immersing himself in the Rastafari movement. He stopped combing his hair and started growing dreadlocks, and changing to an ital diet, and even stopped wearing shoes as he became a Rastafari. He adopted the name Mutabaruka, a term from the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda, meaning “one who is always victorious”.
Mutabaruka left Kingston in 1971, relocating to the Potosi Hills, where he lived with his wife and two children in a house that he built himself. He was among the new wave of Jamaican poets that emerged in the early 1970s. Early work by Mutabaruka was first presented in the magazine Swing from 1971. Introducing Outcry (March 1973), his first collection released as Mutabaruka, John A. L. Golding Jr. wrote: “In July 1971, Swing Magazine published for the first time a poem by Allan Mutabaruka…. Our readers were ecstatic. Since then, and almost in consecutive issues, we have derived much pleasure in further publication of this brother’s works…. They tell a story common to most black people born in the ghetto…. And when Muta writes, it’s loud and clear”. He received attention for “Wailin'” in 1974, a work referencing songs by The Wailers, and in 1976 released the collection Sun and Moon.
In 1977 he began performing live, backed by his band, Truth He had a hit record in Jamaica the following year with “Outcry”, backed by Cedric Brooks’ the Light of Saba. After being invited to perform at a Jimmy Cliff concert in the early 1980s, guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith worked on a backing track for “Every Time a Ear Di Sound”, beginning a long working relationship with Smith; Released as a single, it was a hit in Jamaica. He became known internationally after his performance at Reggae Sunsplash in 1981, the first of several performances at the festival. His 1983 release Check It was released on Chicago blues label Alligator Records, and further increased his popularity. He curated the 1983 compilation album Word Sound ‘ave Power, released by Heartbeat Records, and in 1984 Shanachie Records released his album The Mystery Unfolds. He went on to record collaborations with both Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown, on “Hard Road to Travel” and “Great Kings of Africa” respectively. He continued to record and perform, and in the mid-1990s began presenting a late night talk show on radio station Irie FM called The Cutting Edge, and quickly became one of Jamaica’s most sought-after and controversial radio personalities.
He had further hits in the latter half of the 1990s with “Wise Up” (with Sugar Minott) and “Psalm 24” (with Luciano).
Mutabaruka gave a lecture at Stanford University in 2000 on the difference between education and indoctrination, and in 2007 he taught African American studies at Merritt College in California. He has lectured and performed at many establishments in Jamaica and the United States.
In 2008, Mutabaruka was featured as part of the Jamaica episode of the television programme Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He also served as narrator for filmmaker Stephanie Black’s Life and Debt, a documentary about the impact of global economic policy and the IMF on the economy and people of Jamaica.
On 20 February 2010, Mutabaruka was honoured by the National Centre for Youth Development (NCYD) and the Rotaract Club of Mandeville for over 30 years of outstanding work in the field of the arts. Also, later on in 2010, he was recognized by Senegal with a hut built in his honour.
On 28 September 2010, he recited a tribute poem in honour of Lucky Dube, whose music he said sought to “liberate the oppressed”. He spoke at the First Jamaica Poetry Festival on 17 August 2011 in honour of Marcus Garvey and Louise Bennett. On the final day of the Rastafari Studies Conference, Mutabaruka was examined as an Icon by the professors of the West Indies.
His outspoken statements on theology and the oppressive roles played by religious institutions have generated much controversy.
Although he is a non-smoker, Mutabaraku has campaigned for the legalization of cannabis, especially for medical purposes.
In 2016, the government of Jamaica awarded Mutabaruka the Order of Distinction, Commander Class (one of the highest distinctions in the country), in recognition of his cultural contributions.
1982 Live at Reggae Sunsplash Sunsplash
1983 Check It! Alligator
1983 Dub Poets Dub Heartbeat
1984 Outcry Shanachie
1986 The Mystery Unfolds Shanachie
1989 Any Which Way…Freedom Shanachie
1990 Mutabaruka Rounder
1991 Blakk Wi Blak…K…K… Shanachie
1994 Melanin Man Shanachie
1998 Gathering of the Spirits Shanachie
1998 Muta in Dub Blackheart
2002 Life Squared Heartbeat
2006 In Combination Revolver
2009 Life And Lessons Gallo Record Company
The Ultimate Collection (1992), Greensleeves
Live at Reggae Sumfest (1993) (VHS/DVD)
The Return to the Motherland (2011) (DVD)
Books of poetry
Sun and Moon (1976) – with
The Book: First Poems (1980)
The Next Poems (2005)
Land of Look Behind (1981) – Himself
Sankofa (1993) – Shango
One Love (2003) – Rasta elder