The Legacy of Culture

I get such a rush when I write about the place where I grew up, one among all the things I am passionate about…The legacy and the culture is so tangible that it brings a smile to my lips just thinking about it. It’s like biting into a sweet juicy fruit and reliving the first time you tasted it.
My childhood home is in Trench Town and memories of growing up are filled with street dances, concerts and celebrities visiting. After all, this was the place where Reggae music was born.
Trench Town is a small community in Kingston, Jamaica and is sometimes referred to as an inner-city community or even a ghetto. It is where the likes of Joe Higgs, Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and many more, whom I can’t even begin to name, got their inspiration and their start as iconic Singers.
Today, the community can say that it proudly has that rich legacy to share with the world.
In the early 2000s the Trench Town Development Association (TTDA) along with Sister Grace Yap of the Franciscan Ministries brought to life a much-needed community heritage project – the Trench Town Culture Yard.
To start off establishing the project, the tenement yard where Bob’s mentor Vincent “Tata” Ford lived, where all the aspiring, budding singers went to hang out and jive as young men or teenagers back in the sixties, was emptied of any residents and secured to be used as a museum. Once the residents were relocated, the rooms were repainted and the wooden floors polished until you could see yourself as clearly as if you were staring into a mirror.
The very guitar that was used to play the first cords of music during the writing of “No woman Nuh Cry”, now belonging to Tata, was secured as the first item to be on display in the museum. Bob’s old blue Volkswagen, that he often used to travel the island, was the second item. It was convenient that the van was already there in the yard under the watchful eye of Tata.
The association decided not to have the Volkswagen restored because they thought it would take away the nostalgic aura of the van. So, against her better judgement, Sister Grace went along with the decision because it was the community’s call to make about what they wanted to get done for the museum as well as how they wanted it done.
Tour Guides were chosen from the community’s locals. They were trained and certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in a joint partnership with the community’s association as well as the Franciscan Ministries. The tours included the Culture Yard and the community of Trench Town as a whole. Now, each room in the yard and every street in the community had its own story to tell.
After all Trench Town is the home of Reggae, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae and Ska.
The yard’s history is one that includes the fact that the rooms were small single room dwellings that were sometimes home to families of nine. Believe me, as I kid you not, because my grandparents lived in one of those rooms with their seven children.
The yard’s amenities were basic and meant to be shared by all its residents. The amenities included two shared kitchens along with four outside toilets, two separate shower stalls and two wash sinks. They were all located at the back of the yard. This meant that the numerous residents had to take turns using these limited amenities, hence the famous “Tenement yard” reference in one of Bob Marley’s songs.
The community’s streets each yield their own tales and you can bet on seeing some of Jamaica’s music icons’ old childhood homes including where Peter Tosh grew up, where Bob Marley lived with his mother and many more. You can even visit Mortimer Plano’s old meeting ground where the Nyabinghi drummers once gathered to play their ritual Rastafarian music and talk about the teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Trench Town was quite the place to be back in the day, or so I was told growing up as a little girl in this community.TTYC1 Pic

JAY-Z (CENTER) AND DAMIAN “JUNIOR GONG” MARLEY (RIGHT),

TRENCH TOWN CULTURE YARD’S MANAGER – SOPHIA DOWE (LEFT).

These days, the Trench Town Culture Yard gets regular tours and most recently saw Jay-Z joining the many celebrities who have taken the trip to get a feel of that special place where so many of Reggae’s talents were nurtured and their music given life. The Marley siblings, mainly the brothers – Stephen, Damian “Junior Gong”, Julian and sometimes Ziggy, Ky-Mani and Rohan – stop in whenever they get the chance, if only to sit and talk with the community’s youth. Continue reading “The Legacy of Culture”

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MY FATHER’S KEEPERS……

My memory at times dishes up random pieces of my childhood and this time around it brought me back to some 32 years ago.

I was standing with my Father on First Street, Kingston 12 in front of the Tenement Yard now known as The Trench Town Culture Yard talking to none other than my beloved God-Father Vincent Ford affectionately called Tata.

He was as cool and confident as he has always been, sitting in his wheelchair with his back to the wall, watching the children as they played in the street. There was no Culture Yard then only the Tenement Yard with rooms where actual people lived. My Grandparents lived in that exact yard when they relocated to Kingston to raise a family.

I remember visiting Tata whenever my Father would take me and we would talk about school and school work. He always wanted to know how I was doing in school and made it one of his priorities to help my Father financially so that my school books were always bought.

The last time I saw him and spoke with him was after my Father’s death in 2002. I visited him in Arnett Gardens at the home he shared with his daughter after she took him away from his longtime address on First Street.9

I was told of his passing a few years later while I was living in the USA. He died at the age of 68 on December 28, 2008 in Kingston. I regretted not getting the opportunity to say farewell to a man who was an inspiration to me and an icon to a community where he contributed so much to its history.

He was a simple man who possesed many gifts including the gifts of teaching and motivating. It was said that Tata was the man who taught Bob Marley how to play a guitar, he was the man credited for writing songs that Bob Marley sang including the memorable”No Woman Nuh Cry”.

His name is mostly forgotten in the greater scheme of things…Still one will always learn about him when they visit the community of Trench Town and the Culture Yard itself. One will hear of him from those whose lives he touched.

Tata was a diabetic who lost his legs due to his health issues throughout the years. He was confined to a wheelchair….Still, he remained the same genuinely honest, straight talking, larger than life and one of the most generous people I will ever encounter in my lifetime. He was, to me, also very wise and insightful.

His old room is still there….The small one bedroom on the left side at the very end of the building in the now almost famous tenement yard on First Street, Kingston. In the yard that holds so much legacy……So much history.

My Father grew up under the watchful eyes of Tata….Under the caring eyes of Georgie….Yes, Georgie who was mentioned in that very song “No Woman Nuh Cry”. Georgie I came into contact with not so much, I would see him mostly when he rode his bicycle through the community.

I remember visiting him at the the Bob Marley Museum when the Marleys decided to have him stay there…He had a small cottage in the back and would only interact with those people he held dear…My Father was one of those people and he would welcome him with open arms.

After My Father’s death Georgie would visit my Mother, he affectionately referred to her as Ms. Maggie (My Father’s name was Magnus and as a child was always called Maggie in short).

Georgie would visit her at Christmas time to bring her bottles of our Jamaican Sorrel Drink. He had made it himself…he loved anything that had to do with cooking and making stuff in the kitchen – food or drink.

Georgie was a bit different, eccentric is what I call it and only those who knew him well could understand him…..Only those few really understood him. He was considered a bit temperamental but had a beautiful soul….And for the times that I came in contact with him as a child and as an adult I understood him for who he was.

In my world Tata and Georgie are the legacy that our community had back when the village helped to raise each child….To my Father they were some of the people in his life who helped in shaping his childhood, the same people who later helped to shape my views of our Jamaican culture.

To me they were my Father’s Keepers.

Jamaican Pickle……..

There is so much to talk about……hmmm, let me think…hmmm….
I love to speak of home so let’s go there.?
The first time I voted in Jamaica was a total thrill for me and I felt like I was contributing to all good things to come. Now, years later I think back and realised that if I were to do it again I would not have had that thrill, that anticipation of thinking that a better Jamaica wwould result from my input as a voter….only because I would have seen the future.

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The Jamaican National Flag

Jamaican politics, years after Independence in 1962, has flirted with corruption, violence and much mediocrity when you look at the calibre of politicians throughout the years. The politician of substance no longer existed after The Right Hon Michael Manley….he was the last of a dying breed of Jamaican politicians that had any inclination of where Jamaica and it’s people needed to go, needed to be.
I would give kudos to The Right Hon Edward Seaga as well, however his dream for Jamaica could be seen in his garrison politics. He often referred to himself as being the “One Don” a term somewhat used to describe the head of a Jamaican gang. I have never been fond of the term only because I realise that it carries with it the fear of might.
This brings us to Jamaica’s present Prime Minister The Right Hon Portia Simpson-Miller who was thought to be the change Jamaica needed…She is the first female Prime Minister for this small island so she has made history and it seems she is making history as the worst Prime Minister as well.
Recent concerns with the Health Ministry not fulfilling its role by implementing policies and improving infrastructure detrimental to the wellbeing of Jamaicans; changes that would have helped to prevent the latest catastrophe – numerous babies dying needlessly.
The Prime Minister’s action or should I say inaction of transferring Minister of Health Dr. Fenton Ferguson to another Ministry instead of relieving him of his position and removing him from the Government was a slap in the face to those affected and has infuriated the Jamaican people…..that is, the ones who care.
Her decision was an injustice to Jamaicans who hoped that somebody would be held accountable for what had been ongoing problems with Jamaica’s healthcare system. It seems the party in power is not prepared to own up to its mistakes, fix its problems and do right by the people who voted for the representatives who are now in office.
The opposition party, now the only alternative to the dilemma faced by Jamaicans, is not in a position to fix anything. That party is still trying to put its house in order and is doing a terrible job so far. Their internal problems are equal to those the ruling party has and things do not look promising for the opposition if they are to get back into office.
The time is coming when Jamaicans will again go to the polls. That time is near and it is clear that none of the two main political parties are equipped with enough qualified, dependable and trustworthy members to move the country in the direction it needs to go.
My Great-Grandmother and Grandmother loved to use a common saying which puts Jamaica’s situation in perspective…..the phrase is used to describe difficult situations with no possibility of a good outcome…..”What a pickle”.
Oh yes, what a Jamaican pickle……

Out Of The Trenches……

After trying to write the perfect first blog and ending up losing everything I wrote because I kept forgetting to save each draft – I decided to try for the last time.

I was beginning to think that maybe the topics I chose were not what I needed to write about which is why I kept losing my stuff, so here goes…..

Now, I have always had a lot to say simply because I can’t imagine seeing an injustice or an act of unfairness and not call it out. Highlighting the positive things happening around us while pointing out those things and those areas where we need improvement is something else I can’t help but do. It is my nature and as such I will start out by focusing on those things that matter to me most.

One of the topics closest to my heart is my hometown of Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica. I have visited home several times in the past two years and each time I go I have a different experience – usually both positive and negative, but mostly negative……each experience more disturbing based on what I would see and hear.

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A local food shop (Cutty Can’s Ital Stew) on First Street, Trench Town. One of the many small businesses found throughout the community. (Photo borrowed from Chris Whyms-Stone).

Putting things into perspective about the residents of this community was something that baffled me and here’s why: Everyone In Trench Town Is Related. Yet, these people seem not to care that if they hurt someone,without a doubt that particular someone can be traced back to them as some form of relation.

They are clueless to not know that if someone molests a child that this child will most likely turn out be their Cousin or their Niece’s or Nephew’s Cousin on the other side of the family; or some other form of family or relation.

They are clueless to not know that if someone shoots someone else that the possibility is high that they shot their Cousin’s Nephew or their Girlfriend’s Niece’s boyfriend ; sounds confusing doesn’t it? but these are some of the ways that people are related in small communities like these.

I am sure I am not the only one who has ever thought about the make-up of the residents of this community and I am sure it’s the same for other small communities where we can all claim to be related in some way, even if it’s just by being in-laws. The bottom line is that we are family, however when it comes down to thinking this deep it seems ignorance always wins with some people.

Still, I yearn to see that difference in the people, to see them take pride in their community, to see them want better for their children, to see them want a future that mostly holds accomplishments as against a community of people who see death from gun violence and child-moms as a normal way of life.

Trench Town holds so much promise, so much potential and a lot more history and culture than any other community on the island of Jamaica and yet all it reflects is despair and ignorance….despair from those who see no way out to achieve a better life and ignorance from those who know no better way to solve their fights but to resort to violence.

There are the few who continue to strive for positive change but can only do what little is within their reach based on the resources they have access to, resources that in most cases are limited.

I give kudos to the Trench Town Development Association (although now a shadow of its former self) and the Trench Town Peace & Justice Center for still still keeping the flicker of hope burning.

A flicker that I know will one day again be a flame lighting the way for a community and its people who only need to realise that its time they dig themselves out of the trenches.