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Blue watch

Tribute to Dr Roi Kwabena (1956-2008), By Eric Orji

I MET him first in May 2007 at West Midlands’ Walsall Library. Dr Roi Kwabena was talking about his book ‘Dialogue’ and giving a lecture on how the African traditional religion travelled with the slavery ship to the Caribbean. When he mentioned the link between the Jamaican word ‘obeah’ and the Yoruba word ‘obi’ I was struck with surprise. He explained in details the throwing of kolanuts (obi in Yoruba language) pieces and prayers to the gods and goddesses.

He mentioned the names of some Yoruba gods and goddesses; a proof of his vast knowledge of mother Africa. On Thursday, January 10th 2008, I opened my email box to find the shock news that Dr. Roi Kwabena died a day before (on Wednesday the 9th of January). The mail was sent to me by griotologist and dub-poet Kokumo who actually introduced me to the excellent works of Dr Roi Kwabena.

Roi had a tremendous and positive impact both on individuals and on organisations lucky enough to encounter him. He offered endless encouragement and inspiration to try things, to do things and to believe in the value of doing those things. Everywhere you go you meet people who acknowledge that they would not have started writing or performing without a nudge from Roi. Many more were touched by his poetry, his drumming, his compassion and his humility.

Dr Roi Kwabena was named Birmingham’s sixth Poet Laureate in 2001/2002. Born in 1956 in Trinidad, Roi Ankhkara Kwabena came to Britain in 1985 after political and cultural activities in his home country. As a poet, musician, storyteller, historian and publisher, Roi describes himself as a "cultural activist". He has performed with Hugh Masekela, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Opai Adisa Palmer among others. He has lectured, performed and conducted workshops in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa in universities, schools, libraries and other venues. His published work includes collections of poems and spoken word and music CDs in a distinctive style of dialogue, drama and rhythm. He performed his poem about Birmingham for National Poetry Day in the Library Theatre and, on his appointment as Poet Laureate, was presented with a symbolic hammer and palette by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham.

He wrote a poem to commemorate National Holocaust Day 2002 and another to coincide with Birmingham's bid to be Capital of Culture in 2008.

Dr Roi Kwabena has hosted numerous readings by writers and actively promoted literature development for over 30 years internationally. His poetry has been commissioned for diverse purposes.

He has lectured and performed at many schools, universities, cultural and social venues. In the mid-1990s he served as a Senator in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.

Roi's affirmative advocacy has ensured his suitability for a variety of specialist projects addressing wide ranging issues such as functional and Cultural literacy, therapeutic harvesting of Memories by elders and young people (including cross generational dialogue) Anti-Racism, Community Cohesion, Social Inclusion, Cultural Diversity, redefining the Heritages of Indigenous peoples plus confidence building for convicted prisoners, excluded and traumatized students, Refugees and more.

Dr Kwabena is renowned for using critical analysis to examine the historical roots of racism and to assess the direct relevance this has on present society. In 2007, Roi Kwabena was included among activists, artists, campaigners, sport and media personalities on a wall celebrating efforts of The World's Black Achievers; Past and Present at the Liverpool based International Slavery Museum.

Dr Roi Kwabena’s works
��Lament of the soul (poetry), 1974
��Insight (poetry/essay), 1975
��Follow de path (poetry), 1980
��Marijuana (thesis), 1981
��Vegetable & fruit Juices (health), 1982
��C.U.R.E. 84( health journal), 1983
��C.U.R.E. 85 (ibid), 1985
��In other words (poetry) 1986
��Black molasses /brown sugar (journal), 1986
��Seasons of exile (poetry), 1986
��About the Caribbean (socio-geography), 1986
��Sojourn: towards victory (travel journal and history), 1988
��Profile 96 (journal of culture), 1994
��Manifestations (poetry), 1997
��Destiny (journal black history), 1997
��Kush Reclaimed (poetry/ history), 1987/1997/1998
��Nubian Saints of Christianity (history), 1997/1998
��Nubian Glory : our heritage (anthropology/history), 1999
��A job for the hangman (poetry), 1999
��Never trouble, trouble (children stories), 1999
��Ancient inscriptions & sacred texts of Ethiopia (anthropology), 2000
��Whether or not (poetry/ history), 2001
��As Long As (poetry), 2005
��Muse of Maps, Muurs, Mounds & Mysteries (essay), 2006
��DIALOGUE (journal for Cultural Literacy), 2006/2007
��Orisha Songs for Celina (poetry), 2006
��In the moment (Poetry), 2006
��TA MERI KA EL (Anthropology), 2006.

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