Perfect Sound Forever

Cherry Natural

Photo by Bernard Cohen

by Eric Doumerc
(October 2012)

Cherry Natural is a Jamaican dub poet who has been writing and performing since 1979. Her first collection of poems, entitled Come Meck We Reason (Kingston: Careso/Volunteers Socal Service), was published in 1989 and bore the influence of Oku Onuora's poetry. This collection contained poems ("Come Meck We Reason," "Gold Chain Mentality," "Feel De Pessure," "Traces," "Question Dem") but also various sections with headings like "Exercise Tips," "Health Tips," "Intelligence Tests" and "Facts" which testified to the inherently social nature of her art. Indeed, Cherry Natural considers herself as an activist and views poetry as a means of making an impact on society.

In the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's, Cherry Natural appreared regularly on radio shows and on television in Jamaica and her reputation became firmly established as a performer. In 1999 her first CD, entitled Earth Woman (Virquarian Music Ltd), was released and her second collection of poems, Earth Woman - Selected Poems 1989-2001 (Bloomington, Indiana: Rastazumska Productions, 2003) was published in 2003 by the American academic John D. Galuska, who wrote his PhD thesis on Jamaican dub poetry. More recently, a second CD was released, entitled Memoirs of a Praying Mantis (Kingston: Bamboo Media) which featured the poem "Send Di Poem Come" among others.

Cherry Natural has performed many times in the USA and regularly appears in Jamaica at various events, conducting workshops or reading her poems, sometimes with a reggae band. She has been nominated five times for a JAMI award (Jamaica Federation of Music Award) which she won twice. She perfomed at various poetry festivals, in Jamaica and abroad (for instance at the Chicago World Mucis Festival and in Indiana). She is also a martial arts instructor (karate black belt) and has conducted self-defence workshops for women in the Caribbean, in Canada, the United Kingdom and in the USA.

Cherry Natural considers herself as a feminist dub poet or activist, and her sources of inspiration include the late Jamaican poet Louise Bennett. Louise Bennett is well-known as the first Caribbean poet who used Creole or patois consistently and to great effect in her ballads, and who relentlessly stood up for the people's language as opposed to standard English which was then considered as the only passport to social elevation. Bennett's art was based on social commentary and humour, but from a female point of view. She used proverbs and sayings to make her point more forcefully and her poems are thus steeped in the Caribbean oral tradition.

She grew up listening to Bob Marley's songs, which she found poetic, and was inspired by Peter Tosh's revolutionary lyrics and outspoken manner.

Natural's poetry is an offshoot of the Jamaican dub poetry tradition, but with a feminist twist. Her 2003 collection is divided into three sections which give a fairly good idea of the main themes developed in the poems: "Tribute to My Sistas," "Self-Love" and "Revolutionary Soldiers."

In the first section, her best-known poem in Jamaica is probably "Earth Woman," a piece which is paean to the black mother or to black women as "earth women" and revolutioonary freedom fighters. "Be Yu" has proved very popular too witht its radical message of self-determination:

dem give yu a costume dat is not your size
and yu punish yu self to fit in to it.
tell yu who yu be, interpret what yu see,
wat yu tink, wat you eat, wat yu drink.
how to walk, how to talk,
how to fix yu hair, wat to wear.
yu too slim, yu too fat,
yu too white, you too black.
yu too tall, yu too short.
you too salt, yu need a bath. (Earth Woman, 13)
The poem entitled "Pickney Poems" celebrates the link between creativity and womanhood and is about the relationship between life and art, about the creative process:
Woman mysticism strong, hard fi understand.
I don't have to hurt no one,
a just leave dem to a full moon night.
When blood and creativity flow,
ink and paper unite,
and more pickney poems born (Earth Woman 21)
Cherry Natural sees herself as a revolutionary poet, and to her, art is part of the revolution. To her, poetry is a living art form which is embodied by the Jamaican oral tradition and which cannot be bound in books. In "Send Di Poem Come," she warns that her language is "no Anglo-Saxon English" and that the words she uses will not be found "inna Oxford or Webster." She claims that poems should not be "lock up inna book," but should do the work they are supposed to do by being performed. In "Word Soldiers," she celebrates the Caribbean oral tradition and namechecks or mentions virtually every important performance poetry practitioner, thus taking part in the Caribbean tradition of "naming" or calling the ancestors back to life.

Many poems take the form of dramatic monologues or observations on life spoken by a Jamaican persona, usually in Creole. Many pieces deal with social issues and provide a feminist and anti-colonial take on things, but the two often merge. A certain declamatory style places her poetry firmly in the classic dub poetry tradition developed by Oku Onuora and Mutabaruka in the 1970s and 1980's.

The poem entitled "I'm Walkin' Out of Your Jail Tonight" was written for Emancipation Day in August 1997 and is in standard English, proof that radical dub poetry need not be in Creole:

Take a good look at me, make a mental picture.
Capture all the details and put t hem on your computer.
I'm walking out of your jail tonight.
Yes, I'm walking out of your jail. (Earth Woman 44)
Social and cultural themes abound in her poetry, as shown by the poems "Pressure in Di Home," "Senseless Killing," "Harlem," "Natty," "Fia Bun" and "Jah Guide." As a Rastawoman, the poet has written several pieces on the theme of social responsibility and on the need to project a different image of the Rastafarian movement. For instance, the poem entitled "Fia Bun" addresses the issue of the violence contained in the lyrics of many reggae songs by artistes like Capleton or Anthony B. In the 1990s following the success of Anthony B's "Fire Pon Rome," a string of songs was released on the same themes, with apocalyptic imagery and repeated calls to burn down "Rome." Natural pointed out the fact that this appraoch had become a mere fad or fashion:
Unu a fia bun dis an fia bun dat
an still a buy inna Babylon shop.
Unu a fia bun dis an fia bun dat
an still a nyam out a Babylon pot. (Earth Woman 54)
Cherry Natural's outlook on life is probably best summed up by these lines from the poem "Earth Woman":
Roots firm inna di groun, stan up strong like any tree trunk,
as di universe makes space fa dis one.
What a ting eeh.
Di cherry tree a come to maturity. What a ting eeh.
Di cherry tree a come to maturity. (Earth Woman 10)

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