Benjamin Zephaniah is a prolific British anarchist activist writer, dub poet and Rastafarian. He was listed at 48 in The Times list of 50 greatest postwar writers in 2008.
Strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls street politics, his first performance was in church when he was eleven. He became known in the Afro-Caribbean and Asian community where she grew up in Birmingham. But tired of the limitations of being a black poet communicating with black people only, he decided to expand his audience, and headed to London at the age of 22. He became actively involved in a workers’ co-operative in Stratford, London, which led to the publication of his first book of poetry, Pen Rhythm in 1980.
When Punks and Rastas were on the streets protesting about SUS Laws, high unemployment, homelessness and the National Front, Zephaniah’s poetry could be heard on the demonstrations, at youth gatherings, outside police stations, and on the dance floor. It was once said of him that he was Britain’s most filmed, photographed, and identifiable poet, this was because of his ability to perform on stage, but most of all on television, bringing Dub Poetry straight into British living rooms. The mission was to take poetry everywhere, he hated the dead image that academia and the establishment had given poetry and proclaimed that he was out to popularise poetry by reaching people who did not read books, those that were keen on books could now witness a book coming to life on the stage. This poetry was political, musical, radical, relevant and on TV.
His second collection of poetry, The Dread Affair: Collected Poems (1985), contained a number of poems attacking the British legal system. Rasta Time in Palestine (1990), an account of a visit to the Palestinian occupied territories, contained poetry and travelogue. His 1982 album Rasta, which featured The Wailers first recording since the death of Bob Marley as well as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, gained him international prestige. Experiences leading to his Too Black, Too Strong poetry collection (2001). We Are Britain! (2002) is a collection of poems celebrating cultural diversity in Britain. Zephaniah’s first book of poetry for children, called Talking Turkeys, was reprinted after six weeks. In 1999 he wrote a novel for teenagers, Face, the first of four novels to date.
Zephaniah is an honorary patron of The Vegan Society, Viva! , EVOLVE! Campaigns, the anti-racism organisation Newham Monitoring Project and is an animal rights advocate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In 2016 Zephaniah curated We Are All Human, an exhibition at the Southbank Centre which exhibited art works by prisoners, detainees and ex-offenders. He also joined Amnesty International in speaking out against homophobia in Jamaica , saying: “For many years Jamaica was associated with freedom fighters and liberators, so it hurts when I see that the home of my parents is now associated with the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation.” And in 2003, was offered appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, which he publicly rejected.
He is actually touring with his band Benjamin Zephaniah & the Revolutionary Minds.