Mutabaruka is an amazing man, a vegan rastafarian who challenges the assumed concept of rasta=ganja smoking. A drug-free dub-poet with more years of veganism than I have of life.
He has been addressing the very same issues as most of the poliical vegan-straight edge kids have. It is not only recommendable but we would say essential to get acquainted with such a man. Pay him a visit at his homepage , get the records, listen, and learn. What follows is a collage of a myriad of dispersed interviews through the web and through the years.
When you hear the conviction and power behind the words of Mutabaruka, it’s not hard to believe that this dub poet, actor, comedian, producer, publisher, entrepreneur and radio host has been dedicated to inspiring black people everywhere with his words of self-determination, empowerment and spirituality for the past 30 years. Drawing from Rastafarianism and the significant contributions of Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey and Malcom X, Muta’s words open the mind and offer insight into the deep-rooted ills of blacks worldwide. On his new album Life Squared, his first since 1994, Muta continues to explore the black liberation struggle through music and his riveting, eloquent and unwavering pan-African expressions.
For someone who obviously has so much to say, and has said so much over the years, why has it taken you so long to put out another record?
Mutabaruka: My thing is not about putting out records, y’know. I’ve been busy doing other things. I’ve been touring a lot, and I have a radio program here in Jamaica that takes up a lot of time. I’ve also been back and forth to Africa many times, the U.S. and Britain too, as well as running my bookstore. My time has been taken up by travelling instead of going to the studio.
Has the state of the world right now prompted this album at all, or has it just come back to the point where you have time to record?
Muta: I just decided that I have to make a CD of where I am at right now in poetry and mind.
Your words definitely have a way of sticking. They stay with you long after you’ve heard them, and I feel that Life Squared is very reflective of our global situation.
Muta: We all evaluate things and see things differently. Sometimes an artist sees the world a little different from a normal person. They see from another eye, so we reflect what people have in their minds but don’t have the opportunity to say publicly. People would say what I say in my poems if they had the same stage as me.
How do you see the situation in Iraq and the domino effect that it has set into play?
Muta: It’s all about the New World Order. It’s all about manipulation and control. It’s all about crusading, and the Western world trying to impose Christianity and democracy on people who have nothing to do with that idea and that consciousness. The capitalist world is under the impression that if the whole world is not Christianized and democratized, we will make sure that you are.
I understand you conduct "reasoning sessions" at the University of the West Indies?
Muta: Actually, yes. They gave me an honorary fellowship up there.
What does that entail?
Muta: What it does is allow a person who does not have any university or academic qualification, but is able to articulate philosophy, to mix and communicate with the students up there. My job is to interact with different ideas and thoughts, especially my views on Rastafari and the African perspective. People have heard me on the radio for 10 years and hear me saying certain things that is out of their normal mindset, and they want it to be qualified, so most of the things we discuss are about God and Rasta and world issues.
I’m interested to know how people in Africa respond to what you have to say to them.
Muta: Africa has so much problems going on within itself that it is very difficult for them to react to what is going on in the rest of the world. Many African leaders are not African-centred, and don’t understand the relationship between Africa and history, or the part that it played, and the part it can play in today’s world. They have this European dream, this European mindset that because they went to university in London and Paris they can carry that idea back to Africa and impose it on the people, who have no idea what it means to be a British or a French person. People talk about the end of apartheid in South Africa, but the end of apartheid is a political idea that has not manifested politically and economically. The wealth and means of production is still owned and operated by whites and foreigners. If Africans try to reclaim that economic power, they are stagnated by American blocks, and people who think that they are out of place and wrong for doing so. It’s backwards.
You said religions suppress women. What about your Rasta religion?
Muta: Well, I don't see Rasta as a religion. Rastas don't have a church where they go and gather and say the same thing. Rastas allow you to keep your individuality. Rasta is a way of life. It can be a religious idea, a religious concept. Religion is when you have a group of people gathering in one place to express the same dogma.
But why don't we find reggae songs against suppression of women?
Muta:You are not listening to Mutabaruka, son!
I will check it.
Muta: Check it! That's the first album, too. The first album is named `Check it.' (laughing)`Hard times love'. There's a poem named `Hard Times Love'.
But we do also find sexism in Africa!
Muta: Of course there's sexism in Africa. Sexism reached Africa by way of the Arabs, by way of the Muslims who invaded Africa before the Europeans came there with their patriarchal religion. Because in Africa there was no talk of a God that was a `he'. God was `her'. Mother Earth. Mother Nature. Most Africans see God in the feminine. It was not until the Arabs came into Africa that the patriarchal system started to develop and it has flourished even to West Africa."
Do you accept VIOLENCE as a means to fight for freedom?
Muta: I say the means do have to justify the ends. Any means that is necessary to bring freedom, you use that means. We are not violent. We are not preaching a one way to freedom. There's no specific way to freedom. We have to do it as it comes.
What do you think about Mahatma Gandhi, who liberated India without using violence?
Muta: Well, them killed him! They killed Martin Luther King and he was not violent and they killed Malcom X, because he was violent! So, what it is all about?! Any which way freedom must come!"
You also write poems about Native Americans like "Big Mountain". What do you think about their situation?
Muta: Anywhere Europeans go they give people a rough deal. They are going to Africa, they are going to America, they are going to India, China,- and the Native Americans have got one of the worst deals, with the land taken from them and now they're in reservations. We feel a kind of closeness to them. We have been amongst them and we experienced what they experienced. The suicide rate amongst Native Americans is large!
I don't overstand, why they put up with that. Do you know why they don't do anything to change the situation?
Muta: Well, we ask YOU, too! Why don't you do something against it!? White supremacy is not only oppressing black people, it's oppressing white people, too. White supremacy is what control the world!
But why do they not fight to get their land back?
Muta: They are doing things. Yeah, they are doin' tings! We've been there. Maybe it's not publicized as much. Every day people are struggeling for freedom! They say: Push a dog aroun' for so long, but one day that dog will turn and bite you!
Can you explain the DIFFERENCES between your music and the music of other reggae musicians?
Muta: The difference between my music and others is that I'm a poet just saying the poetry. The others are making the poems become songs. And I am concerned with African centered ideas and thinking and beliefs. We keep in context with Africa. What we talk is coming out of the ancient African philosophy.
What is more important for you,- the lyrics or the music?
Muta: I'm a poet. I'm a poet first. The words is why reggae music is big. It's not the music itself. The music is good but it's because of what it is said in the music. Over the years people recognize Bob Marley lyrics as a liberatin' music, as a upliftin' music. So it's really what he was saying ,- what he is saying. That's why I don't try to sing. I can't sing but I can speak. And when we speak the poetry we hope that people listen.
What can Blacks learn from the White man and what can Whites learn from Blacks?
Muta: We have learned enough now! (excited)We want to learn from ourselves now! The education of Rome, the philosophy, the Roman philosophy has caused enough problems right now that we need to come out of it,- both White and Black! Because that's the destructive element right now on the earth!"
What can we learn from the black people?
Muta: Life! Life is existing in a world, when we can eliminate White supremacy. Because, it's because of White supremacy why we have all of these elements of destruction that is taking place. The implements of destruction that is made - the atmosphere pollution, the wars, the First World War, the Second World War...! When white people fight against white people they say it's WORLD war! I didn't involve in the war! I was in the Caribbean drinking coconut water and reggae music and you hear them say it's a WORLD war! But,- you see: When the Africans kill the Africans you hear it's a TRIBAL war!
What is wrong with Europeans?
Muta: Europeans is going into other people's space and manipulating that space. White supremacy affects all of us in every aspect of life. White supremacy is in entertainment, is in politics, is in religion, it's in sex, it's in industry, it's in all of them. Africa without European's domination. That would be nice. But Europeans have also embedded a neocolonialism inside of Africa now. The black leaders are so European. A lot of them want to go to Paris to marry a white woman. They don't have Africa at the forefront. So my vision is Africa with just Africans controlling it,- just like Europe is controlled by Europeans.
How long have you been a vegetarian?
Muta: About 30 years. I was on raw food for about 7 years, and I went back for 3 years, but I think I going to come back again and continue.
What made you transition into raw foods?
Muta: Raw food is the way to go. Cooking kill the food. Everybody knows that. Live food for live people. Sometimes you find it very difficult to keep up with it. It's somewhat of a mindset, it's a mind thing.
Is there a community of folks in Kingston doing raw foods?
Muta: No, there's not a community. You have one and two people that are doing raw food, but most Rastafarians are vegetarians. The raw foods are the next level. Actually we did kind of try the fruitarian thing for a while, but we came off of that.
How was that?
Muta: It was nice. It was nice.
You have it all here…
M: Yes, the fruits. Sometimes it's very expensive though. It was nice, though, to experience the different levels, the different stages of understanding how your body function. Anytime you become like that you start to know what you want, how your body function. A lot of people don't know how their body function. When I first become vegetarian, and really moved into the step of raw food, I learned more about my body. It's like you are the one who is building your temple. You are like the contractor who is constructing your body so you know exactly what is what. If something hurt you, you know why it's hurting.
What are some of the traditional foods that folks are eating who are not necessarily raw but are vegetarian?
Muta: Well, it's a normal vegetarian food. Rice and peas, stew peas, green vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat flour. Tofu is a staple…and gluten (seitan).
It's a typical vegan diet?
Muta: Yes. No animal products. I don't use animal products. I don't use it. I don't wear it. I never given my children animal products. They don't know how cheese is made—egg, honey—none of those things. None of those things, nothing from animals. I grow up my children them that way. But I am the only one that make the transition to the raw food thing. But a lot of Rastas, they're into it. You have different stages. Some people eat fish, some people don't eat fish. Some people drink milk, some people don't drink milk. My concept of vegetarian is vegetable. “Vegetarian” come from vegetable. I wouldn't include milk and cheese and egg and these things. That is not vegetable. When I say vegetarian, I don't have to say “vegan.” That is terminologies now that make the thing get strange. People say they are lacto-vegetarian and vegan-vegetarian. You can't be a lacto-vegetarian and a vegan-vegetarian. You're either a vegetarian or you're not a vegetarian. A vegetarian is a person who only eats vegetables. So if you are drinking milk and eating fish...you can't have a semi-vegetarian.
Do you have any advice for people who are curious about vegetarianism but have not made the commitment?
Muta: Well I would say to listen to your body. You have to just know what is good for you. You can't have no strict hard and fast rule for anybody. You have to know what is with you. You have a lot of people who are making the transition to vegetarianism who have this concern about where you get your protein from. Anybody who you tell that you are becoming a vegetarian will say, “Well, where will you get protein from?” They feel as if protein is the most important thing out of the foods. But most people spend too much time trying to figure out protein. There's too much protein already being taken. So when somebody eating fish, chicken, saying them looking for protein, you already have your protein in basic nuts, beans, grains. Brown rice have protein. Red peas, most of the peas, most of the nuts, is mostly protein. I don't think they should be concerned with it. I think we have been brainwashed in this protein thing. We already have the protein.
Can you explain what dub poetry is?
Muta: Dub poetry is Jamaican poetry to music, especially reggae music. What we do, we use the music to compliment the poems. Most of the poems is basically a social, political or religious commentary. We use the reggae music to express it. So that is why they call it dub poetry, because Jamaican music at one time was dub music. Now they would call it reggae poetry.
Are you considered the father of dub poetry?
M: The father? (laughs) Well, you see when I was doing poetry they didn't call it dub poetry. It was just poetry to music. Dub poetry just come later on down because they wanted to identify a kind of poem. I don't really like the term still because it kind of limit you to that. A lot of my poems, especially on my CDs, would draw from different black musical perspective. We're very African-centered. A lot of my poems would draw from the black experience, the musical experience of black people all over the world. You don't want to just limit yourself to reggae.
Who are some of those musical influences for you?
Muta: Well, we just listen to every music that black people make, especially African music. You see, when we started to write the poems, we had a mind of music, a music mentality because we loved to play music, and we listened to a lot of music. I couldn't name the specific musicians as such. Depending on the poem, we use a type of music. We used to listen to poets like Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Marcus Garvey. We used to read Marcus Garvey poems. In the sixties when we used to go to school, there was Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks, LeRoi Jones. We started to develop out of that Black Poets experience.
Do you see a relationship between diet and consciousness? And, if so, how have you seen yourself grow spiritually as a Rastafarian due to your change of diet?
Muta: One thing vegetarian allow you to do is to become more compassionate. What I get to understand within the vegetarian concept is that all life is one. It's just different manifestations of flesh. The cow, the goat, the bird, they all flesh. Is of one source, the life source. Even the tree is of one life source. When it come down to flesh now, man wasn't made to eat flesh. Your body don't assimilate flesh as such. When you stop eating flesh, you kind of recognize a certain compassion inside of you. You feel like, wow, the cow, he don't eat animal, him just there, he don't trouble nobody. So you kind of start to feel like why should I kill the cow? The cow don't trouble nobody. The cow just eat greens everyday. The goat eat greens everyday and don't trouble nobody. That feeling take hold of you and you start to go into yourself. You start to get feelings toward things. You start to feel more developed into a being, a person. And then you take it from there within the consciousness of what people call God. We move within a level of man taking responsibility…
If you kill animals it don't mean that you won't kill a man. Even when the Bible tell you “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” it never said “Thou Shalt Not Kill man.” It said “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and full stop. So who's to say what it is talking about when it say “Thou Shalt Not Kill”? If God wanted animals to be your food, him wouldn't make them with foot to run away, and with eyes. Food not supposed to have eyes and mouth and nose. That is not food. Food cannot have eyes. That is crazy.
It help me as a person to understand what really is this thing that is life. As a Rasta man, it allow you to keep a certain sanity in all this confusion. It allow you really to keep a certain train of thought. Because you're thinking on life, and how to sustain and maintain life in its glory, in its fullness, in its totality.
So even like me, I wouldn't say that I'm not going to eat animal, but then I wear animal product. That is contradictory to me. If a man say him don't eat cow, but him wear leather shoes, that kind of thought is contradictory because it's the same perpetuation of the killing of the animal to make clothes and to eat… Human being is the only creature on earth that kill to create clothes.
Did you see any subtle differences between eating a vegetarian cooked diet and eating raw, in terms of your consciousness?
Muta: Yeah, man! Definitely. The raw thing is a higher level. It's like you walking a line, but it's not a line really, because it make you so balanced. I don't know. Things start to feel more to you. It gets you more aware, more quicker. You don't sleep as much. You're not as sluggish. I remember when I used to be raw, I didn't want to sleep. It was like I was starting fresh. I didn't want to sleep, but you're supposed to sleep. I had to realize that there was nothing wrong with me. Sleeping is not a thing where you have to sleep eight hours. You eat less. You definitely eat less when you eat raw food.
Three meals a day is a crazy thing. It's a western thinking. Three meals a day is a man who is soon dead. And it's kind of ridiculous to eat three meals a day when people don't eat one meal. When you're a vegetarian and you start eating tofu and gluten, it's almost like you're eating meat. But it's not as sluggish. But the raw food thing—you eat less, you're not as hungry. You just eat when you feel like you want to eat. Sometime I eat because I afraid. I didn't really want to eat, but I didn't eat for a long time so I feel I should eat something. It keep you alert.
How have you seen your music and poetry develop and mature? In your relationship to—
Muta: Eating? Well, the poetry that I write now is just looking around me and seeing things that is happening around me. My poetry mostly is social, political, African-centered. My thinking of black, Africanness, was there before me start to go into this raw food. We were more aware of our blackness before. So it just continued that way. What the vegetarian did was put it into perspective more. You wear Africa, you eat vegetarian, anytime you talk it's African. You kind of get a respect for that. It's what white people say is “wholistic.” White people say everything is wholistic. It gives you a wholistic approach to Africa.
Everything has to be directed toward an African-centered perspective. So what we eat and what we wear and what we think has to be in relation to our Africanness. So, my poetry now is just an expression of my Africanness. What I believe African people should do and what I think white people are doing. So my poems go against white supremacy. We are Marcus Garvey people. Anytime we talk, its about Africa. It's a way to fight against white supremacy. So the food is just a next aspect. It's not really the aspect because we are talking the liberation of African people, whether we eat meat or not.
Is that liberation external or internal?
Muta: Liberation in every way. Marcus Garvey say, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.” The mental slavery right now is more damaging than the physical slavery that we was once in. Black people get complacent right now with slavery. They think that there's no slavery. So they get very complacent. But the slavery right now is more devastating than the slavery of old because our foreparents could see the chains, so they took out the chisel and they break off the chain on them foot. We don't see them chain, so we think no chain is there. So we get so domicile and so complacent in the European mentality. So we don't really feel it.
Part of the thing that is the matter is the food. McDonald's is one of the biggest drug houses in the world right now, but people don't see it as that. It's white supremacy. Americanization of mind. It's more than just eating a burger. It's all about an institution that is inculcating a culture. So we have to understand it even more than just the physical. It's a mental thing. A man don't hunger but go have a McDonald's. Why you don't hunger but want to have a McDonald's? Because them advertise it that way. Them portray it that way. That we are fighting against. And we use the poetry to do that and we use just our own lifestyle to do that. Every time we move, every time we act, that is what we do.
Well, thanks very much for talking with us.