Guest Story and Photos by Edward Williams
High expectations before a holiday can often leave you disappointed, so, despite my excited anticipation and romantic views of Jamaican culture I braced myself for a let-down; would I get mugged, murdered and left in a ditch, or racially abused for the historical misadventures of my ancestors? I seriously hoped not!
First on the list of priorities was a visit to the Bob Marley museum on Hope Road, very interesting and well worth a visit but the best thing to come out of it was an invitation to the Culture Yard at Trench Town. This is where Bob learnt to play the guitar; where he’d hang out and watch Georgie make the fire light, and leave log wood burnin’ t’ru da night… Trench Town is also one of Kingston’s most deprived and notorious ghettos.
Sophia Dowe, the wonderfully powerful and welcoming tour guide at the Culture Yard came out to meet us. When we stepped out of our taxi-bubble we could feel the atmosphere in the streets instantly; tough and poor, just like the people milling about on them. Having said that, the friendliness of the people we met soon eased our nerves and the tour of the yard was a very real, enlightening and informative schooling in the history of this famous ghetto. And it was very nicely finished with a cold bottle of Red Stripe in the local bar afterwards!
The Culture Yard itself is like a living museum, one in which local artists still produce and sell their work, and it’s also a place where people congregate for meals, ‘reasoning’ and jamming sessions, just like they always have done. You don’t need an invitation to go there either, but a call to let them know you’re coming would be appreciated.
One of the beauties of travel is how one thing leads to another; “What are you guys up to this evening? There’s a yard party going on at the top end of Trench Town, you wanna go?” Wow! Of course! Thank you Sophia!
Six of us from the hostel were up for the party, but Sophia told us the appetiser would be a couple of hours in a club in Tivoli Gardens – another famous ghetto in Kingston. Tivoli Gardens is famous for being the home turf of the Shower Posse, headed by Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke who’s now serving 23 years in the US for drug trafficking. Despite the formidable reputation and intimidating look of the streets we had a good time in the club while our taxis waited outside, just in case anything untoward kicked off. It was still early though so it’s not as if there were many people in there…
Back in Trench Town a couple of hours later we jumped out of the cabs and headed straight for the dancehall rhythms we could hear rumbling across the street. By two am the party was getting into full swing – a camera crew from the local party channel had turned up and plenty of revellers were shaking their booty’s and showing off their moves in the limelight when, all of a sudden, two armed cops barged into the party. Er, should we stay or should we go now?? We stayed. Nervously. Two minutes later the biggest, bald headed cop appeared again and grabbed the microphone, he told everyone they’d come to check for weapons but that everything was cool and we could start the party again. The DJ dropped the record in and then the cop, who still had the microphone, let rip with a wicked bit of freestyle mcing that sent the crowd absolutely wild! The atmosphere for the last two hours of the party were electric – as sure as the Sun rises in the East, there ain’t nothing like a Trench Town Party! Once again, many thanks to Sophia. Without someone like her we’d never have got to experience such a night.
I’d also been hanging out in the market just south of Twin Gates plaza with a record shop owner, Martin. He’s an old school reggae buff with an amazing collection of rare and collectable vinyl that he off loads to tourists, and he’s Trench Town born and bred – as tough as they come! “Eh bwoy, wha’ you do tonight? There’s a Trench Town derby on, a Jamaican Premier League spectacular! You wanna come?” I was there as soon as asked!
After a couple of warm-up drinks at the Michelle’s Halfway Pub in Concrete Jungle we walked to the stadium, it was still an hour or so before kick-off. By going so early Martin had given us the chance to watch the crowd and the atmosphere build. All the fans were mingling together, there wasn’t a cop to be seen in the stadium and the pre-match entertainment was in true Jamaican style – dancehall playing through the PA system and several dancehall-style cheerleaders showing off their athletic routine in the middle of the pitch. The home team, Arnett Gardens, were the strong favourites but after no more than fifteen minutes they were two goals down. Boys Town were getting all the luck, and the home fans were getting tetchy. The second half was a proper barn-stormer; Arnett Gardens managed to pull one back, and then a quick second to make it 2-2. The excitement was all too much for a group of fans on the terrace opposite us, a fight started and caused a bit of mayhem but credit due to the Jamaican fans because, with no police in sight, two minutes after it started it was all over and back to normal again. No harm done. Arnett Gardens then went and scored a winner, at which point the home fans erupted as did I! What a night! It was back to Michelle’s again for a few high-spirited post-match Red Stripes and a late taxi home…
Jamaica obviously has much more to offer than a few nights out in Trench Town, but if you’re going there on holiday try and tear yourself away from the beaches for a day or two; the real Jamaica is a lot less scary and a lot more fun than you might imagine!