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Jamaica Day 6: Kids, Producers, Night Jams, Warnings From Ike, by Davin Michael Stedman

I have so much to tell you about Trench Town.

Let me just start by telling you I showed the kids of 3rd street my songs and they were singing along to the hooks and improvising guitar solos I challenges them to take one out for a rip. And it was actually a really nice hook based I want to hear a guitar player emulate.

“If we use that riff kid, we’ll credit you.”

I got to be honest, I was fighting back tears at a couple moments as these kids were singing straight off my lyric cheat sheets on songs like ‘Rum Kings’ and ‘Spanish Guns’ that I wrote about Jamaica right when I got back. One kid even laughed as he sang the line,

“Brains laughed at me like an old Pompe, a little African blood seems Sephardic in a way”

About how an engineer at Chinna’s fondly called me a magical left handed Jew, or a Pompe.

“Brains but I am not Jewish”

“You are but you just don’t know you are.” Said Brains.

I took a double take that the kiddo laughed at a punchline that I was just hoping a Jamaican somewhere would get.

These kids are so bright. F_ck racism. These kids are from one of the most famous and traditionally poor neighborhoods, in a poor Caribbean country. But they are also from a neighborhood that turned out murals full of genius that expressed their intellect through recording arts and sciences.

My host and champion Ricardo Brown laughed out loud when I said how countless Ghetto Dons could have been Doctors, but few Doctors could have been Dons.

He shot back what skill it took to keep everyone so happy and constantly triangulate, in a Patois I can still only have understand while being completely understood.

That’s Ricardo’s youngest daughter. His eldest daughter is 17. He is trying to figure out how to put her through college, which is daunting for my friends making over 100 k a year. The people of Trench Town are struggling to make minimum the wage of $50 US a week.

But this neighborhood has generated over a billion dollars in the time the old timers have grown up as boys and survived the shooting gallery. Imagine all those tickets and drinks Nectar Lounge sells at reggae shows, and imagine every venue in the entire world doing the same. Hawaiians and Africans and White American dudes only make a living off of reggae because of the unique DNA and cultural traditions of these 7 tiny streets and its maze of back alleys lined of zinc and scraps of ‘tings’ that were thrown away.

Now I am not going to be mall minded and bray ironically about Cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is a major issue, but it’s what made Jamaica a world leader in music and brought me here.

There were once kids who appropriated whatever they could get their hands on, and with the help of a grown up that taught them harmony and self discipline, became one of the greatest bands of all time. They became The Wailers. Rita, Peter Tosh, Bunny, Marley, all these larger than life characters and super heroes played futbol on the streets as kids did this afternoon as some sang along and sat down to listen.

In another world, they would all go to Harvard.

One of Ricardo’s best friends that painted the murals I admired was gunned down there a couple weeks ago.

Should you go to Trench Town? Yes. With Ricardo and his friends during daylight hours, you will be warmly welcomed. Though they may shout at Ricardo with something along the lines asking if you are a CIA agent.

“No mi bredren Davin a real link!”

But if you read the Booker Award Winning, A History of Seven Killings, you will understand why people genuinely wonder if I am an American spy and hope I am not, because gosh darn it they really like me.

These folks could use a little help. Like some more work. They are trying. Ricardo mentioned they could use two more soccer balls as we watched the kids race up and down the streets using both curbs as their field.

One year ago, Ricardo saw me sing at Chinna’s and asked me if I would sing in Trench Town for his friends when I came back. We stayed in touch and he drove across town and up into the Red Hills and picked me up at noon.

I got some stories from Trench Town. The first one I posted about playing music with kids was a good one. But the story continues as I return to Trench Town having been invited to jam with the house band that gathers in Bob Marley’s yard this evening.

You shouldn’t necessarily hang out in Trench Town at night. The Government issued a warning to avoid Montego Bay and parts of Kingston all together, but I am with the pillars of the neighborhood, and you can’t turn down jamming in Bob’s Yard, a spiritual place, even if you have to duck under barb wire and it is surrounded by the Kaiser.

This is where people live and are raising families, and where their rich history of those that rose above hunger and the odds make them stronger and taller.

This neighborhood is everything I tried to say in ‘Bad Neighborhood’ and what my Mom said when she made watch Bronx Tale, which represented her childhood. But Momma don’t want me hanging out in Trench Town.

But such a national heritage site and the birthplace of a music revolution isn’t something you often find in a ‘Good Neighborhood’.

And I am not going to Montego Bay. I wish I could. That sort of trouble in a ‘paradise’ is an economic disaster for its residents that depend on the tourism industry that sprang from the sugar plantations their forebears tended from cradle to grave.

The Dons of Jamaica know especially so that peace is good for business. If you really believe war is good for business, you are a monster. Only the monsters win, by aligning themselves with Merchants of Death. You say you win the War, but your culture takes the L. What has War won America since WW2, when we stopped a Monster and arguably became the monster Dwight Eisenhower warned us about?

The ripples of these words make waves in the Carribean.

“Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

– Dwight Eisenhower, Farewell address

Here’s a great interview with a producer I am working with right now on the title track of West Indian Rock. Lenni I-Music is opening up some wonderful doors here in Jam Rock.

Working with the legendary bass man and producer Owen Bassie, on ‘3 Wheel Motion’ and the title track, ‘West Indian Rock’.

I showed Bassie ‘3 Wheel Motion’ and he said he really wanted to produce it and cut it LIVE with the heavy weights.

I knew once I pulled out the riff in Jam Rock, something was going to happen. When I came up with it I thought to myself,

“This is going to handy in Kingston.”

There is something about this riff. But there is something much better about this island.

Stay tuned.

Jam Rock university has kept me on scholarship for my sophomore season and I am going in the game.

I can’t wait to tell you what I am doing tomorrow for Bob Marley’s Birthday. But It’s best if you see it when this transpires.

But I can tell you that tomorrow my song with Sly & Robbie and the great Anthony Red Rose is premiering tomorrow on Reggaeville to their half a million subscribers.

Lenni I-Music has been a force this entire trip. His advice is just wise and in a friends best interests as we navigate Kingston. The fact we booked a session to work on our song ‘West Indian Rock’ today with studio legends was something he orchestrated as only a true Rasta can.

“You must have the proper links.”

He gave me the headiest lesson today, paying respects to Red Rose and Chinna as a Godfather of Jamaican music. I can’t share the nuances of his speech yet, but it demonstrated the respect musicians of this country have for their culture and their elders. You really felt a part of something. The Jamaican music story.

If you are musician that is serious about exploring this scene, Lenni I is the Ace. No wonder Mark Wonder recommended him to Bluejay. I am going places I wouldn’t otherwise go, and we’re avoiding the place he doesn’t even care to test.

Adventure in the Caribbean. This is the Deep South, this is the Wild West, this is what Nashville should be if it were a more spiritual place.

Next stop…Nine Mile.

– Musician and writer Davin Michael Stedman has many musical ventures and is one of the driving forces behind the Staxx Brothers. He is partying and working in Kingston, Jamaica right now.

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