Remembering Benjamin Zephaniah

Natalie Howarth

The talented and acclaimed writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah passed away aged 65 Thursday 7th December. Since then, many people in and outside the literary world have been in mourning; often referred to as ‘the people’s laureate’, his poetry is characterised by its performance-oriented style as he draws inspiration from reggae and other musical forms. 

Zephaniah has been a prominent literary figure in British mainstream culture for many years and is best known for his poetry collection Talking Turkeys, a collection of poetry for children that discusses animal rights through spoken word and Jamaican vernacular. With his poetry filled with such passion for addressing social issues that permeate society and promote equality, his poetry has the power to provoke change. 

His poetry often tackles political subjects that affect the sociopolitical climate of Britain and the world during the time: following Zephaniah’s visit to Palestine, he wrote Rasta Time in Palestine, a publication that presents his view of the struggles for liberation under Israeli apartheid.

In 2003, Zephaniah rejected an OBE for his contributions to literature and sent a statement of rejection expressing an anti-imperialist sentiment: “Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” 

With Zephaniah’s renowned poetry career and the basis of poetry being influenced by musical forms and storytelling, it is no surprise that he had a musical career. His debut album Rasta in 1983 is a fusion of reggae, dub and spoken word that featured The Wailers following Bob Marley’s death. Music as a medium provides another platform to make commentaries of what matters, and to Zephaniah that functioned as a mode of expression for his unwavering attitudes towards social justice. His blend of poetry and activism in music in a seamlessly and carefully crafted way has given him such notoriety in the literary and musical worlds. Rasta is an incredible album that celebrates love and unity in the Rastafarian way of life: the lyricism captures the essence of Rastafarianism to celebrate and embrace cultural diversity.  


 As well as his celebrated career in music and poetry, Zephaniah made appearances in television shows like “Peaky Blinders”, “Eastenders” and “The Bill”. His most famous appearance was in “Peaky Blinders” as the preacher Jeremiah Jesus, featuring in the series over six seasons.   

Zephaniah had such an influence across the literary and musical world for his politically charged, meaningful criticisms of modern British society. As one of Britain’s most prolific literary voices, he exuded fearless emotional intelligence, intellect and spirituality that will be forever remembered. 

Natalie Howarth

Featured image courtesy of Laura Chouette via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images and video courtesy of @officialbenjaminzephaniah via and @NTS via No changes made to these images.

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