Dr Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born and raised in Birmingham, England. He cannot remember a time when he was not creating poetry but this had nothing to do with school where poetry meant very little to him, in fact he had finished full time education at the age of 13. His poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and what he calls ‘street politics’. His first real public performance was in church when he was 10 years old, by the time he was 15 he had developed a strong following in his home town of Handsworth where he had gained a reputation as a young poet who was capable of speaking on local and international issues.
He loved Handsworth, he called it the Jamaican capital of Europe but although his work had become popular within the African-Caribbean and Asian community he thought the town was too small, he was not satisfied preaching about the sufferings of Black people to Black people, so he sought a wider mainstream audience. At the age of 22 he headed south to London where his first book Pen Rhythm was published by Page One Books. This was a small, East London based publishing co-operative that were keen on publishing poets who were rooted in their communities. They published Zephaniah when others failed to tune into the new poetry that was about to emerge. The book sold well going into 3 editions but it was in performance that the Dub (Reggae) Poet would cause a revolution, a revolution that injected new life into the British poetry scene and attracted the interest of many mainstream publishers, many of whom had sent refusal letters to him only 12 months earlier.
In the early Eighties 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.
In the nineties his book publications, record releases and television appearances increased in Britain, although he has concentrated on performing outside Europe. He feels at home anywhere the oral tradition is still strong and lists South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan and Colombia as some of his most memorable tours. In fact life has been one long tour but this is the only way the oral tradition can live. Over a 22-day period in 1991 he performed on every continent on this planet.
Periodically The Benjamin Zephaniah Band takes to the road, the nature of the modern music business means recordings reach places around the globe a lot quicker than the poet does, and this means that many people around the world are more familiar with the poet’s music than his performances, plays or books. His only official fan club developed in Malawi in Central Africa and his only Number One Hit Record was in the former Yugoslavia where the Rasta LP was released on the Helidon label. He was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley in a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela. Free South Africa by Benjamin Zephaniah and the Wailers was recorded at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Mandela heard the tribute whilst in prison on Robben Island and soon after his release he requested an introductory meeting with Zephaniah, they have now built a relationship which has led to Zephaniah working with children in South African townships and hosting the President’s Two Nation’s Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1996.
Most of his own musical recordings fall into the Reggae or Dub Poetry category, but his latest album ‘Naked’ defies categorisation. It is produced by the legendary drummer Trevor Morais and features artists as diverse as Howard Jones, Aref Durvesh, Rupert Heaven, Mike Cahen, Jamie West-Oram, Jean Alain Rousell, and Dennis Bovell. It is a mixture of Jazz, Reggae, Hip Hop, Rock and house music. In order to compliment the music the graffiti artist Banksy gave exclusive permission for his artwork to feature in the 36 page booklet that comes with the CD. The album was critically acclaimed and received substantial radio airplay worldwide. On hearing the album Rodney P, Britain’s’ foremost Hip Hop artist and BBC radio DJ decided that was not content with just playing the album, he wanted to contribute to it, so he asked for permission to re-mixed four of the tracks, this put the album firmly on the dance floor. Other musical collaborations include ‘Illegal’ with Swayzak, ‘Theatricks’ With Kinobe and the classic ‘Empire’ with Sinead O’Connor.
Then there is Benjamin Zephaniah the children’s poet. His first book of poetry for children called Talking Turkeys had to go into an emergency reprint after just 6 weeks, no one could foresee how popular the book would be, it went to the top of the children’s book list and stayed there for months. At first he was not keen on publishing a book for children believing that there was just poetry, not children’s poetry or adult’s poetry, but he was soon convinced that young people did appreciate the fact that he was not afraid to write about the real world where there are bullies, guns, racism and war. Being a passionate vegan he writes a lot about animals but these animals are not all smiley, happy creatures, some may just be waiting for slaughter or losing their habitat, and of course some may be having fun. Then seemingly from nowhere, in 1999 he wrote a groundbreaking novel for teenagers. ‘Face’ the first of four novels to date, proved that teenage boys would read if they have access to books that they can relate to. Zephaniah writes gritty, realistic novels about the lives of teenagers, these novels are directed to adults as much as they are to teenagers. He believes that for the most part teenagers know what they are going through, but adults need reminding, they have short memories.
Young writers have said that the accessibility of his work has inspired them to take up writing, many record sleeves bare witness to the fact that he has inspired many of the new generation of rappers, and of all the performance poets that emerged in the late seventies and early eighties he is one of the few that is still going strong. He has sixteen honorary doctorates and the Eailing Hospital in west London has named a wing after him in recognition of his work. Zephaniah believes that working with human rights groups, animal rights groups and other political organisations means that he will never lack subject matter. He now spends much of his time in China, but he continues working throughout Asia, South America and Africa, and is as passionate about politics and poetry now as he has ever been.
From Handsworth to Chengdu
I first saw Benjamin Zephaniah perform in 1978, in a small community centre in a town called Handsworth, in the city of Birmingham, England. I was a student in Birmingham and I was desperate to engage with some British culture, so a friend recommend that I go and listen to a Caribbean poet. I was quite excited. I had studied English Literature in China, and I had experienced a couple of poetry reading in England, but I feel asleep in both of them. Caribbean poetry was new to me. At first I was excited, but then I began to get worried. A couple of days before the reading another friend warned me that Handsworth was one of the most dangerous places in England, he told me that it was a place where no young, (as I was then), Chinese girl would go alone, and he tried to convince me not to go. But I went, and I went alone. I arrived at the community centre to find that what was actually happening was a reggae dance night; the hall must have contained a thousand people, who didn’t threaten me at all. When I studied English I was taught that ‘Hello’ was the most common greeting used, but here no one said hello, they said ‘hail’, ‘Rastafari’, ‘peace sister’, ‘love sister’, or ‘Let Jah (God) be with you’, and other very welcoming greetings. Most of the people were Caribbean, some were India and Pakistani, but I was the only Chinese person, still this was 1978 and I was used to this. The music was loud, the bass vibrated through every part of my body, and I was finding it a little hard to take. I was considering asking someone if Benjamin Zephaniah was really going to perform, when the music stopped and he appeared, with no introduction, on a makeshift stage. Everyone in the hall began to pay attention to what the poet had to say, and he had a lot to say. At this time there were uprisings all over Britain, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Northern Ireland and most of his poems were addressing these struggles. He was angry, but articulate, quick, but very understandable, and the audience response was like nothing I had ever seen before, certainly not for a poet. After the performance I felt as if I had seen a whole band on stage, and read a whole book at the same time. The energy, and his presence stayed with me for the rest of the night.
Handsworth was where Zephaniah began to make a name for himself. When he wasn’t doing straight poetry you would find him ‘toasting’ on various sound systems in the area. Toasting was an early form of rap, but rap that was related to reggae music rather than Hip Hop music; it was about entertaining the crowd and chanting words of wisdom. Zephaniah did all this, but he also became known for his social commentary. He started performing poetry in the school playground when he was 6 years old, his first real public performance was in church when he was 11 years old, but when he started on the sound systems his ability to comment on the world became apparent.
His poetry had an unusual mixture of anger and humour, it was intellectual, but accessible, and this began to connect with people who would never normal listen to poetry. Soon he started to concentrate on performing without music, but even then the poetry kept its musical qualities. After performing in the Reggae clubs and the community centres of Birmingham he felt that he needed to connect with people outside his city so he headed south, to London.
It was 1979, and a couple of days after arriving in London Zephaniah was attacked by a group of racist. They were members of the National Front, a racist organisation who’s declared aim was to keep Britain white. Zephaniah had been racially abused before, but after this attack he wrote the poem ‘Fight Dem’, a poem written as a call to the white working class to wake up, united with black people, and confront the real enemy. Although the poem had not been written down it became a big hit in London, a city that was full of protests at the time. This was true of many of his poems. Dis Policeman Keeps On Kicking me to death was an anthem, and at performances hundreds of people would chant along with him as he performed it, a long time before it was written down. This was due to a loyal young following that would really follow him, and learn the poems by heart. Each weekend London would see demonstrations against unemployment, racism, apartheid, sexism, the arms trade, and animal cruelty. These demonstrations were perfect platforms for his poetry.
His first book of poetry was called Pen Rhythm and was published by Page One Books, a small east London based publishing co-operative that was keen on publishing poets who were rooted in their communities. They published Zephaniah when other publishers failed to tune into the new poetry that was about to emerge. I went to London for the launch of the book and met him, and spoke to him for the first time. For an independently published book it sold well, going into 3 editions, but it didn’t really capture the force of his performances. His real strength was in performance, it was here that the Dub (Reggae) Poet would cause a revolution, a revolution that injected new life into the British poetry scene and attracted the interest of many mainstream publishers, many of whom had sent refusal letters to him only 12 months earlier. When you look around London and other major cites of Britain now you will find that most of them have a performance poetry, or spoken word scene. When Zephaniah started there was none. It was he, along with poets like Jean Breeze, John Cooper Clarke, Linton Kewsi Johnson and others that created the spoken word culture in Britain that there is today.
I saw Zephaniah again in the Eighties, this time he was performing at a political rally, a Rock Against Racism concert. As well as speeches from people like Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, and other prominent political figures, there were Punk bands like Sham 69, The Ruts, The Clash, and reggae bands Misty In Roots, Aswad, and Mikey Dread. It was here that I first saw the true awesome power of Zephaniah’s poetry on a grand scale. Although he was the only solo artist the audience gave him the respect of a full band, and I remember thinking that he actually filled the stage more than the bands did that night, going from one corner to another, dancing to the music that he created with his words. On that night, for the first time in my life, I saw people in the audience dancing to nothing but words.
I returned to China in 1990, just after the release of the Us An Dem album. It was an album that I didn’t like very much. It was too funky for me. I thought he had strayed too far from his reggae roots. So did a lot of his followers, or his sympathizers, as he calls them. The album was appreciated more in the USA than in the UK, and one track ‘Everybody Have a Gun’ was a surprise hit in Jamaica. But it did show that he was willing to experiment, in fact there is no Benjamin Zephaniah album that is like another, and although he has been a constant on the reggae and dub scene, he has always been a maverick, an individual, a non conformist, and hard to categorise. In fact his first album called Rasta was recorded a long time before the term world music was being used, but it was a reggae album that feature an oboe, a sitar, a mandolin, African drummers, and African and Chinese flutes. It is therefore understandable that his many collaborations have been so varied. Kinobe, Sinead O’Connor, Back to Base, Swayak, Dubioza Kolektiv, Toddla T, Asian Dub Foundation, and The Imagined Village have all called upon his poetry, and it was because of his originality, and his message that the Wailers chose to work with him after Bob Marley left this earth. This is a collaboration that should not be underestimated. It was a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who said it was a great inspiration to him when he was incarcerated in Robben Island Prison. At the time there were hundreds of singers trying to fill Bob Marley’s space. Zephaniah was chosen because he didn’t want to fill this space.
I once followed him, with Miriam Makeba, on tour with his band around Europe and the Caribbean, and I really began to appreciate how far he had come and how hard he worked. He was now an established performance poet, a musician, a television presenter, playwright, and a political commentator. I saw him perform at Berlin in the night, wake up the next morning, and when the band went on to the next city he would fly back to London, present a TV programme, do an interview and fly back. He would go from the airport and walk straight on stage, performing like a man refreshed. I have seen him perform on a Caribbean island in the night, and go to perform in a school in Miami in the day.
I had not seen him for many years then in May 2011 he came to tour China. This was something I thought I would never see, the original rasta Dub Poet, dubbing it in China. The tour saw him performing solo in schools, clubs and bookshops. He was now also a novelist and a professor. He didn’t look very different from how he looked in 1978, and his passion for poetry and the issues he cared about had not diminished at all, if anything he seemed more fired up than ever. I was keen to see how Chinese audiences would take to his dub poetry and I was amazed to see how easy he connected with them. Over a two month period he performed in kindergartens, schools, dance clubs, universities, and two hospitals. He was able to converse with intellectuals and street vendors with ease, and when it came to expressing his ideas his ability to communicate complex ideas in a direct uncomplicated way, without talking down, or talking up to people, won him admirers wherever we went. At a performance in Chengdu, a woman who had just been blessed with a conversation with him told me that she thought he was the most approachable star in the universe.
Zephaniah is a one off. He seeks no prizes, doesn’t much like awards, and is suspicious of authority. He has never had a person or team promoting him, his popularity has come from the people he has inspired. His unselfishness and willingness to share his experiences with others, and help up-and-coming poets is legendary. I have watched him over the years and I have never failed to be amazed by what this human being is able to with words. In Jamaica they call him a dub poet, in Africa they call him a griot, in China he is Da Ben, the shi ren.
Liu Chen Shui Bo (2012. Zigong, China)
Dreadlocks ina India
RANGA Shankara, Bangalore. March 17 2007. Benjamin Zephaniah, the charismatic British performance poet, is on stage. A banner backdrop cues us in to him: “Poet. Prophet. Activist.”
The dreadlocked Rastafarian of Jamaican origin offers dramatic poetry that seethes with politics. Every word connects with his concerns – the Iraq war, animal rights, the body beautiful and macho men, race, class and gender. Most deeply, a quest for co-existence and love for Planet Earth. In a trice, we all bond with him. No wonder he has been one of the British Council’s most popular cultural ambassadors since the 1980s, equally beloved in China and India, Fiji or Argentina, South Africa or Australia. Or even at schools across Britain.
On his twelfth Indian visit and fourth tour, Zephaniah touches Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Kolkata, en route to Sri Lanka. He shies away from Queen’s English and pucca public school conformism. He celebrates the spoken word, the lively language of the British streets. What the spotlight misses is the secret Zephaniah. The one who learnt kalaripayittu near Kochi or is moved to tears because a feral cat in an English garden is put to sleep because it isn’t a pet!
Zephaniah was shortlisted for a fellowship at Cambridge University, and later for Oxford Professor of Poetry. His poem, “The London Breed,” has found a place of honour in the British Museum: “I love this concrete jungle still/ with all its sirens and its speed/ the people here united will create a kind of London breed.”
His journey to reluctant celebrity has been long and hard. A troubled childhood, dealing with a violent father in Handsworth, “the English capital of Jamaica.” Dropping out of school at 13, learning to read and write at night school at 21. “I got my education from travelling, from talking to people, debating and asking questions about their society. That really excites me. All these observations about life make fascinating poetry,” Zephaniah says.
A far cry from Shakespeare or Shelley, who figure on his icon list, Zephaniah is “an equal opportunities poet.” His working class poetry is attuned to slavery, racism, bigotry, and every possible battle for justice.
What triggered his creativity? “I just love playing with words. When I heard people talking, I didn’t just hear the words, I heard the rhythm. I was surprised one day when somebody told me it was poetry. I didn’t know there was a word for it! My mother says I started doing poetry when I was about five years old, as soon as I was able to put words together,” Zephaniah recalls in an interview in Bangalore.
Taking in the current British performance poetry scene, embracing Asians, gays and lesbians alike, Zephaniah adds, “I create poetry to reach people, whether they are kids sleeping on the streets of Kolkata or those attending a literary seminar at Cambridge. Or friends from Jalandhar, who don’t even know I’m a poet. I play football with the kids there.”
He has vivid memories of poetic activism, though. Of reciting ‘Free South Africa’ at a rally in Trafalgar Square in front of South Africa House. It became a rallying cry against apartheid. “When another unpublished poem was chanted back to me by thousands of people, I remember thinking: It’s been published in their hearts. That’s the kind of publishing I’m interested in,” Zephaniah adds.
Yet, he has made the grade as a published poet including The Dread Affair (1985), Inna Liverpool (1990), Rasta Time in Palestine (1991), City Psalms (1992), Propa Propaganda (1996), and Too Black, Too Strong (2001). The exuberant non-conformist has edited The Bloomsbury Book of Love Poems (1999), and written three novels for teenagers.
Can an artist today be apolitical? “I think you could, but you’d be doing your art a disservice,” responds Zephaniah. “If there’s a platform available, black people would make a statement. Writing about the personal is probably what I haven’t done as much as I should have done. I feel people in Iraq or Sri Lanka are more important than me.”
What sets his poetry apart? Paraphrasing Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, the globe-trotter says, “When we Caribbean poets write, we always write with a voice in our heads. When we put it on the page, we’re trying to capture that voice. I think he extended that to Asian writers as well. It’s a poetry of sound. When you read it, I want you to hear it.”
A poet who is recognized in British TV studios, hotels or brand outlets, Zephaniah continues to be anti-establishment. He declined an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2003. He even has refused to front a British police campaign to recruit a more multicultural force after constant trouble with ‘institutionalized racism.’
Today, with a flat in Beijing, and a country house in Lincolnshire, what makes him tick? “I’ve always been a very independent thinker. I once argued that paganism is the only true world religion,” Zephaniah says. “In the Eighties, I travelled to pilgrimage sites like Jerusalem and Jordan. I came away feeling close to god, but less religious. But I’m still an animal rights hardliner. I still won’t consume or wear anything from an animal. If they’re putting makeup on my face for a TV programme, I check that it’s not animal-tested.”
How does being British fuel his poetry? “I’m living in Britain. I’ve got Jamaican rhythms going around in my head. I’m listening to bhangra music. I practice martial arts like kung-fu. Before we start, we do Chinese chanting, play some Chinese music. I would be a brick if I wasn’t taking in all these influences,” he confesses.
In an introduction to Too Black, Too Strong, Zephaniah wrote, “I live in two places, Britain and the world, and it is my duty to explore the state of justice in both of them… speaking my mind as I go, ranting, praising and criticizing everything that makes me what I am. But this is what Britain can do. It is probably one of the only places that can take an angry, illiterate, uneducated, ex-hustler, rebellious Rastafarian, and give him the opportunity to represent the country.”
That was the gift that Zephaniah bore to us in India. From the Rasta road, with love.
(Originally published in India in The Week magazine, 2007)
“Great Briton talks great sense”
by Ed Barrett for remotegoat on 04/05/12
Even on the raised stage of the grand opulent concert room of St. George’s Hall, renowned poet Benjamin Zephaniah seems down-to-earth and approachable, transparent yet complex. Flirtatious but feminist, he is an openly heterosexual man who joined Amnesty International’s campaign against homophobia in Jamaica; a martial artist who appreciates the fact that the art he follows was created by and for women; an egalitarian who quotes Prince Charles. A man of many parts, then. Confident yet self-effacing, and virtually without referring to his very few notes, he talks about his apparently thorny topic – ‘Multiculturalism or Muscular Liberalism?’ – with such simplicity and common sense, you find yourself wondering how people can see things any other way. That he does so without resorting into dogma, rhetoric or Political cant makes his arguments all the more compelling. Starting with the observation that our Anglo-Saxon heritage is by definition not mono-cultural, and referencing the Jutes, the Celts, and many other tribes beside, his conclusion that to be against multicultural society is to be anti-British is quite simply undeniable. His pleasure at having been brought up amongst people from a variety and cultures is obvious; and his observation that living in a closed culture would be boring brings laughs of recognition from the crowd. On a more serious note, he expresses his opposition to the ruling – or even oppression – of the many by the few with such feeling you get the impression that he takes issues such as female genital mutilation and forced (as distinct from arranged) marriages personally. It comes as no surprise that one anecdote – virtually an aside – sees him becoming a relationship counsellor to friends from the former Yugoslavia whose marriage is fractured by the Serbo-Croat divide. He tells us he is not proud of being British, nor of being black, because these are things that happened without any effort on his behalf. Were there more time, it would have been interesting to hear how he believes his favoured political system – anarchy – would work in practice, though there are hints of this being part of a wider philosophy, as is his avowed belief in God but not religion; and I doubt I am alone in wishing we could have heard more of his poetry. But, as the adage goes, you should always leave them wanting more; and I also doubt I am the only person who left feeling uplifted and full of hope.
Dr Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah
Poet, Novelist, Playwright, Musician, Television and Radio presenter
Poetry Books Title Publisher
1980 Pen Rhythm Page One Books
1985 The Dread Affair: Arena
1992 City Psalms Bloodaxe Books
1992 Inna Liverpool AK Press
1996 Propa Propaganda Bloodaxe Books
1999 Love Poems (ed) Bloomsbury
2001 Too Black, Too Strong Bloodaxe Books
Poetry Audio Recordings
1989 Radical Rapping Africa Arts Collective
1992 Overstanding Africa Arts Collective
1997 Reggae Head (Audiobook) 57 Productions
1999 Funky Turkeys (Audiobook) AB
2004 The Poetry Quartets (Audiobook) Bloodaxe
1990 Rasta Time in Palestine Shakti Publishing
2008 Painted Love: The Literature of Interracial
Love and Sex (ed wit David Dabydeen) Heaventree
2011 My Story Collins
2011 Kung Fu Trip Bloomsbury
1999 Face Bloomsbury
2001 Refugee Boy Bloomsbury
2004 Gangsta Rap Bloomsbury
2007 Teacher’s Dead Bloomsbury
1995 Talking Turkeys Puffin Books
1997 Funky Chickens Puffin
1997 School’s Out: Poems Not for School AK Press
2000 Wicked World! Puffin
2001 The Little Book of Vegan Poems AK Press
2002 We are Britain Frances Lincoln
2004 Primary Rhyming Dictionary Chambers Harrap
2006 J is for Jamaica Frances Lincoln
2011 When I Grow Up Frances Lincoln
1985 Playing the Right Tune
1987 Job Rocking
1991 Mickey Tekka
2003/2007 Listen to Your Parents (included in Theatre Centre:
Plays for Young People – Celebrating 50 Years of
2008 Face: The Play Heinemann
2008 De Botty Business (Hackney Empire, then nationwide)
Film Acting Roles Part Played
1983 Policing London Self
1988 Didn’t You Kill My Brother Rufus
1988 Time and Judgment Street Poet
1990 Farendj Moses
1992 Dread Poet’s Society Self
1993 Eastenders Bible man
1994 The Bill (TV) King of The Hill Wanderer
1996 Crucial Tales. I Bring You Frankincense Richards’ Father
2001 Mad Dogs Self
Radio Acting Roles
2005 Pericles (Shakespeare) Gower
Radio Presenter (BBC Radio 4)
1990 Passport to Liverpool. A look at the people of Liverpool.
1998 Newham United. A look at the people in a corner of East London.
1999 Living by Faith. A history of the black churches in Britain.
2003 Rasta History. The history of Rastafarianism.
2005 New Kenya and The Maasai
2007 What’s My Name? The Muhammad Ali story.
2008 Dirty Dozens. Cursing, competition, and slander in songs and poetry through the ages.
2008 Dread, Beat an Blood. The Dub Poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson.
2009 Mind Your Slanguage. How language is used by young people.
2009 Maadai Kara. The epic poem of the Altai people, Siberia.
2010 Decoding Basquiat. Portrait of the artist.
1997 Desert Island Discs
2011 Book Club (Refugee Boy)
1987 Review. Work As Leisure
1990 The Great Picture Chase
1990 A Beetle Called Derek (Series Presenter)
1990 Only Fools and Turkeys
1992 Dazzling Image
1993 Crossing The Tracks (Winner of Race in Media Awards)
1995 The Dragon Writes Back
1996 The Nelson Mandela (Two Nation’s) Concert (Royal Albert Hall)
1999 Footsteps of The Emperor
2004 BBC Awards for World Music
2005 BBC Awards for World Music
2005 A Picture of Birmingham
2005 This OBE is not for me (BBC2)
2005 How Sports Shook up The World. Culture and Identity
2005 How Sports Shook up The World. The Battle of the Sexes
2005 How Sports Shook up The World. And Changed a Nation
2005 Inside Out. The Story of Malcolm X in Birmingham
2006 Inside Out. Narrow Boat
2008 Three Minute Wonder
2009 Inside Out. Spalding Rocks. (When Jimi Hendrix came to town)
2009 In Search of England’s Green and Pleasant Land (BBC2)
2009 Off By Heart (Judge)
2010 The Z Files. A series of short films for The Open University
1981 Pen Rhythm Poet (Channel 4)
1986 Middle English (Thames TV)
1987 Off The Page (Thames TV)
1994 Take 15 (Carlton TV)
1998 Brunch: Mariella Frostrup
1998 My Sunday
1998 The Windrush Gala
1998 Hardtalk (BBC World TV)
2002 Parkinson. Christmas special
2004 Hardtalk (BBC World TV)
2007 Last Chance Kids (Channel 4)
Rasta (1982) Upright (reissued 1989) Workers Playtime
Us An Dem (1990) Island
Back to Roots (1995) Acid Jazz
Belly of De Beast (1996) Ariwa
Naked (2005) One Little Indian
Naked & Mixed-Up (2006) One Little Indian (Benjamin Zephaniah Vs. Rodney-P)
Dub Ranting EP (1982) Radical Wallpaper
“Big Boys Don’t Make Girls Cry” 12-inch single (1984) Upright
“Free South Africa” (1986) Upright
“Crisis” 12-inch single (1992) Workers Playtime
Musical Guest Appearances
Empire (1995) Bomb the Bass with Zephaniah & Sinéad O’Connor
Heading for the Door by Back to Base (2000) MPR Records
Open Wide (2004) Dubioza kolektiv (C) & (P) Gramofon
Tam Lyn Retold The Imagined Village (2008) Real World Records
Rebel (2009) with Toddla T 1965 Records
Writer In Residence to Liverpool as a guest of the city. 1988 – 1990
BBC Young Playwright’s Award 1988
Honorary Citizen of Memphis, Tennessee. USA. 1991
London Metropolitan University (formerly University Of North London) Doctor of Arts and Humanities. 1998
University of The West of England Doctor of Letters 1999
Staffordshire University Doctor of The University 2001
Oxford Brookes University Doctor of Arts 2002
South Bank University Doctor of Letters 2002
University College Northampton Master of Arts 2003
University of East London Doctor of Letters 2003
University of Leicester Doctor of Letters 2004
Open University Doctor of University 2004
Birmingham City University (formerly University of Central England) Doctor of the University 2005
University of Exeter Doctor of Letters 2006
University of Wolverhampton Doctor of Letters 2006
University of Westminster Doctor of Letters 2006
University of Birmingham Doctor of Letters 2008
University of Hull Doctor of Letters 2010
University of Glamorgan Doctor of Literature 2011
Associate Fellow of Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick
Listed at 48 in The Times’ list of 50 greatest postwar writers
Awarded Best Original Song in the Hancocks 2008,
Awarded Talkawhile Awards for Folk Music (as voted by members of Talkawhile.co.uk) for his version of Tam Lyn Retold recorded with The Imagined Village.
In a BBC national poll voted the nations third favorite poet of all times, and the only living one in the top ten. The top ten were:
Writer in Residence at John Keat’s House. Hampstead London.
Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Brunel University, Uxbridge, England.
These are some of the organizations that Benjamin Zephaniah is patron of.
Based in Slough this is a great group of young people bringing Sikhs, Hindus, Muslim, Christians, Rastas, and anyone else who is happy to work together to create understanding between communities.
Does your organisation fully understand the barriers to employment and customer service for people with disabilities? Would your organisation know how to remove them? Wave-length CIC engages with individuals to understand society’s barriers and supports employers and service providers in providing solutions to remove them. We don’t simply lecture, inform or present , we share, debate and provide the ‘have you thought of?’ in a variety of fresh and revolutionary ways. Remembering always that it is not an ‘Act’ that changes people lives, it’s the way that ‘people act’ that achieves that. Wave-lengths aim is to Disable Disability.
Amicus is a small legal charity which helps provide representation for those facing the death penalty in the US. We believe the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on the most vulnerable in society, violating their right to due process and the concept of equal justice before the law. We work to provide better access to justice for those who could not otherwise afford it.
Back to Life
Back to Life offers practical and emotional support to young adults recovering from mental health issues. The mentoring scheme helps adults aged 18-35 in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon to reach their full potential. Back to Life matches young adults who have experienced a mental illness and are looking to build their personal, professional and social skills back up, with a same-sex mentor of a similar age.
Recycling books all over the world. Book-Cycle is a UK based volunteer run Charity. We seek to empower communities in developing countries through the provision of free books and educational resources. We also encourage the reforestation of rural England by offering free trees and information on self-sustainability. This is achieved through your kind donations at our ‘free’ bookshops and shelves located in community spaces.
A Caribbean death row inmates support network. Supporting those that are on Death Row with a letter writing scheme and other forms of emotional support.
Central Park Girls Football Team
A young girls football team that were seeking sponsorship from publishers or willing companies, none were forthcoming, but then Benjamin Zephaniah stepped in. Our shirt reads, ‘Poetry in Motion, by Benjamin Zephaniah.’
Changing Faces is a charity for people and families whose lives are affected by conditions, marks or scars that alter their appearance. They aim to help individuals lead full and satisfying lives, giving practical and emotional support to adults, children and their families. They also provide training, support and advice to professionals in health and education. Find out more about our services for adults and families.
They campaign for social change: advocating for more integrated health services; influencing schools and workplaces to create more inclusive environments; and lobbying for anti-discrimination protection and enforcement.
The Cuba Solidarity
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign campaigns in the UK against the US blockade of Cuba and for the Cuban peoples’ right to self-determination and sovereignty.
Discover Children’s Centre
Based in Stratford East London, Discover Children’s Story Centre is London’s only children’s museum. It is a place where children and their families can enjoy playing, learning and making up stories together.
Haven Distribution aims to provide practical support to prisoners within the UK by purchasing educational literature for inmates who are currently attending courses whilst in prison. Providing dictionaries in English and other languages to inmates whose first language is not English, and providing large print dictionaries and books on improving reading and writing skills to inmates with dyslexia. They help prisoners attending educational courses such as NVQ, Open University, A Level, etc., and help in the purchasing specific course literature.
Chinese Women’s Refuge Group
Chinese Women’s Refuge Group have a network of houses around Britain where Chinese women go for refuge and support when suffering from violence in their homes.
Hibiscus Caribbean & African Elderly Association
This is a Comfort Family Care Centre in East London. Not only is it a Black family support network, it is also a place where our elders (and sometimes our youth) come together to celebrate life.
INQUEST is a charity that provides a free advice service to bereaved people on contentious deaths and their investigation with a particular focus on deaths in custody. Casework also informs our research, parliamentary, campaigning and policy work.
Irie Dance Company
IRIE! dance theatre is Britain’s leading dance theatre company working in the field of African & Caribbean dance fusion. Founded in 1985 by Beverley Glean with the principal aim of heightening the profile of Black dance in Britain, the company set out to create a repertory of works reflective of the African Caribbean influence on the Black British cultural experience.
Newham Monitoring Project
Policing the police.
NMP works closely with community campaigns that have a real base within the black community and are able to mobilise support in a way that high profile media campaigns or other initiatives cannot. Although this is central to our agenda, we involve and work closely with principled white anti-racists that respect the black experience, for NMP has never seen the fight against racism in isolation from wider demands for social justice.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) campaigns for peace & justice for Palestinians, in support of international law and human rights & against all racism. Help us to build a new mass anti Apartheid movement for Palestine.
Project Phakama UK
Arts exchange programme for young people, artists and educators. Phakama’s approach transcends age, experience and culture. Driven by a common desire to make high quality, creative theatre, it is fuelled instead by the diversity of all those involved. Phakama is committed to the practice of cultural exchange and the celebration of shared experiences; by promoting a non-hierarchical educational philosophy through the medium of the arts and training participants to become the Phakama facilitators of the future.
Soccer Against Racism in Ireland
SARI is a not for profit organisation with charitable status. It was set up in July 1997 as a direct response to the growth of racist attacks from a small but vocal section of people in Ireland. Its aims are to present sporting and cultural events that bring together people from different cultures and backgrounds. Create opportunities for young people to participate in social integration projects at home and abroad, and promote intercultural dialogue and celebrate cultural diversity through projects in schools.
The Benjamin Zephaniah Ward
The Three Bridges Unit, Ealing Hospital
This hospital ward is name after Benjamin Zephaniah. We have reason to believe that this is the only hospital ward named after a living person that is not royalty. Benjamin often visits the ward to talk to patients, perform poetry, and play football!
The Harbour was established in 1991, by a psychotherapist Jill Brown, and is located in a town house in central Bristol. It provides professional counselling and psychotherapy, free of charge, for people affected by a physical life-threatening illness. The Harbour’s service is unique in the South of England. It is delivered by qualified and experienced counsellors and psychotherapists, and adheres to The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Code of Ethics and Practice. The Harbour provides counselling and psychotherapy services to over 130 people each year. The counselling relationship can last from 16 sessions up to 2 years depending on the client’s needs.
The Prison Phoenix Trust
The Prison Phoenix Trust encourages prisoners in the development of their spiritual welfare, through the practices of meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath. They offer personal support to prisoners around the UK and the Republic of Ireland through teaching, workshops, correspondence, books and newsletters – and to prison staff too. They work with people of any faith, or of none, and honour all religions.
Futureversity believes all young people have the potential to be extraordinary. They provide free courses and activities for 11-25 year olds to help them develop the skills and self-belief they need to make the most of their lives. Their programmes have been proven to raise aspirations, reduce youth crime, break down racial tensions and get unemployed young people off benefits and into work. They continue run their core activities from Tower Hamlets (most are open to young people from across the capital) and also roll out our summer programme to other London boroughs.
Ungaged is a peaceful international animal protection organisation based in Sheffield, England. Its main campaigns are against animal experiments (vivisection); against xenotransplantation animal to human transplants.
The Vegan Society
Patron and honorary life member
The Vegan Society is an educational charity that promotes and supports the vegan lifestyle. It maintains contact with government departments and submits responses to consultation documents on subjects such as food labelling, climate change, nutrition and global food security. They have two Information Officers research a variety of subjects including nutrition, climate change and global food security. They answer queries from individual members of the public, caterers, food manufacturers, health-care professionals and many other groups. They support vegans in vulnerable situations such as when in hospital, care homes and prison. A large range of free leaflets, booklets and information sheets is available to anyone who requests them.
The Society publishes the quarterly magazine The Vegan as well as a number of books. The magazine is sent to all members and is sold in some health food shops. See our publications page for more details.
VIVA (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals)
Viva! campaigns for a vegetarian/vegan world because most farmed animals spend their short and miserable lives in the filth of factory farms and are killed with sickening barbarity. Viva exposes this abuse by secretly going inside these shameful places and filming the suffering – publicising it with nationwide campaigns that bring about change. Viva monitors the latest research from all over the world on the environment and development issues and argues for change with hard science.
London Metropolitan University (formerly University Of North London) Doctor of Arts and Humanities. 3-Dec-1998
University of The West of England Doctor of Letters 28-Oct-1999
Staffordshire University Doctor of The University 12-July-2001
Oxford Brookes University Doctor of Arts 25-Sept-2002
South Bank University Doctor of Letters 28-Nov-2002
University College Northampton Master of Arts 12-Nov-2003
University of East London Doctor of Letters 20th Nov 2003
University of Leicester Doctor of Letters 5-Feb-2004
Open University Doctor of University 1st May 2004
Birmingham City University (formerly University of Central England) Doctor of the University 8th Feb-2005
University of Exeter Doctor of Letters 21-Jan-2006
University of Wolverhampton Doctor of Letters 12-Sept-2006
University of Westminster Doctor of Letters 14-Dec-2006
University of Birmingham Doctor of Letters 17-July-2008
University of Hull Doctor of Letters 29-1-2010
University of Glamorgan Doctor of Literature 13-July- 2011
Associate Fellow of Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick
De Montfort University Leicester 22-January-2015