Orlando Wong aka “Oku Onuora” was born on 09 March, 1952. He is considered the “father of Jamaican dub poetry”. He was born in Kingston and grew up in the slums of Eastern Kingston’s Franklin Town and received an informal education from a Rastafarian named Negus. Wong’s rebellious nature initially led him to engage in demonstrations against police violence and painting slogans on walls.
A failed project to facilitate a ghetto school and community center to benefit the area’s youth sparked Wong to engage in guerrilla activities in the hills around Kingston, including armed robberies. Wong was captured after a post office robbery and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 1970. He tried to escape twice and was shot five times by the police during the first attempt. After instigating a prison riot, and campaigning for prison reform Wong was classed as a security risk and was subjected to a harsh regime at the Fort Augusta Prison.
He began writing poetry in 1971 but it was declared “subversive” and his writing was confiscated from his cell. He considered himself a political prisoner, and continued writing, with his poetry finding an audience in the outside world after being smuggled out of prison, coming to the attention of Jamaican writers, especially UWI Professor Mervyn Morris.
Literary and cultural personalities campaigned for his release, which was achieved on 1 September 1977, when he received the equivalent of a presidential pardon from then Attorney General Carl Rattray, a poet himself.
After his release, he was granted a scholarship to the Jamaica School of Drama, although he dropped out after a year. In 1978, he and fellow dub poet Mikey Smith performed at the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Cuba, where he came to the attention of Lillian Allen; the performance inspired her to start the dub poetry scene back in Canada.
Onuora married Adugo (née Phyllis Ranglin) in 1978, in preparation for which he had a name change, the name being chosen by his bride-to-be (who did not want to be identified as Mrs. Wong) with the help of an African Professor Umona. Their names were chosen from the Igbo language from the southeastern region of Nigeria. “Oku” means Fire / Light which burns oppression, while “Onuora” means voice of the people. His full name, Oku Nagba Ozala Onuora, translates as everlasting fire or light which burns oppression. Together with Adugo, Onuora founded the “Prugresiv Aartis Muvmant”.
The “Reflections in Red” single was his first musical release, and the first Jamaican dub poetry record, recorded with the backing of Wailers rhythm section Aston and Carlton Barrett at Tuff Gong studios and released in 1979 on Bob Marley’s “56 Hope Road” label. The poem expressed his skepticism over the peace truce between Kingston’s rival gangs, although he went on to perform at the One Love Peace Concert that celebrated the truce. ECHO, Onuora’s first poetry collection, has been reprinted several times with some five editions, some translated into French/patois and one edition in German. Onuora toured Europe extensively, forming a friendship with Linton Kwesi Johnson, and released his first album, Pressure Drop, which featured several poems from ECHO, in France on the Blue Moon Music label and in the US on Heartbeat Records in 1986. He toured the USA and France with his AK7 (Armageddon Knights Column 7) band performing at the prestigious Angoulême Jazz Festival in France.
Onuora concentrated on writing plays and directing drama for the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s, but subsequently returned to poetry and music and recorded several instrumental dub albums, working with musician Courtney Panton. Onuora ceased to be involved in music in the 1990s due to what he called “negative elements” taking over.
In 2010, Onuora announced a new album, entitled A Movement, and his intention to return to live performance. The album was released in May 2013, featuring pianist Monty Alexander and Sly and Robbie, and is a tribute to his wife Adugo Ranglin-Onuora, who died in July 2011.
In 2019 he released his latest masterpiece “I’ve Seen”. It was followed up with the single “Yanga” in 2020. We are told that new poetry is underway.