The Drums of Count Ossie

drums

Today is a celebration for many around the world who recognize Easter, so today, I bring you another kind of celebration–that of the drums of Count Ossie. The above article appeared in Swing Magazine in 1969 and it speaks of a program featuring the drums of Count Ossie to encourage further understanding, or overstanding, of the instrument and culture.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist about Count Ossie including recollections from Rico, Carlos Malcolm, and Clive Chin:

Count Ossie was born Oswald Williams in March, 1926. He is considered to be the originator of Rasta music which began in the late 1940s at his first camp on Salt Lane in the Dungle, an area that was a refuse dumping ground for the government and tenement yards. Count Ossie was living at the bottom of Slip Dock Road at the time but he started a camp in the Dungle since he frequently traveled to the area to reason with local brethren about such subjects as Rastafarianism, Garveyism (the teachings of Marcus Garvey who advocated for repatriation to Africa and who prophesied the birth of a king in Africa), and black awareness. They discussed their belief that Haile Selassie, who was crowned King of Ethiopia in 1930 and was a descendent of King Solomon, fulfilled the Biblical prophecy as noted by Marcus Garvey. Selassie was given the title Ras, an Amharic title of royalty, Tafari, the king’s family name. He is called King of King, Lord of Lords, as proclaimed in the book of Revelations. He is considered by followers to be the incarnation of God and a savior for black people in times of great oppression.

File Count Ossie

During these conversations with fellow Rastafarians, Count Ossie, who always had a love for music, particularly drums and percussion, met a master Burru drummer named Brother Job. Brother Job played drums in the Dungle and at a camp held by a Rastafarian who went by the name Skipper.

The Burru were a group of men who emerged during the days of slavery on the island. Bands of Burru, African drummers, were permitted by slave owners to play drums and sing for the workers in the Jamaican fields to raise the slaves’ spirits—not for emotional reasons, but to impose more productivity. The first Burru drums were heard on the island of Jamaica in 1903 in the parish of Clarendon. Their drum beat was the heartbeat of Africa. After slavery was abolished, the Burru could not find work and so they congregated in the impoverished areas of Kingston. They continued their drumming and music, which was not religious in nature, but still had a ritual component grounded in the Jonkonnu, a West African musical festival and parade. Each Christmas season, the Burru men gathered to compose their own music with words about local events or about people in the community who had committed an act of wrongdoing. They worked on these songs starting in September and then on the holiday they traveled throughout the community, going from home to home, playing their bamboo scraper, shakka, and rhumba box for percussion, singing songs which were intended to purge the evil of the previous year before the new one began. Although the music was composed during the months previous to the event, they also were known to improvise on the spot.

Because the Burru were mischievous in this manner, and because they lived in the slum areas of the city, they were mistakenly considered by many to be criminals or undesirables. They were not unlike the Rastas in their early days. Both groups were persecuted by society and the government, both were anti-establishment, and both were firmly rooted in their African origins. So in the 1940s the two groups merged. The Burru acquired a religion or spirituality from the Rastas, and the Rastas acquired music.

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Although Count Ossie learned his drumming from Burru men like Brother Job, he also developed his own individual style. In the early days, Count Ossie didn’t own his own drum but he had Brother Job’s teacher, Watto King, make a custom set for him. Count Ossie then traveled to meet with other groups of Rastas and share his drumming with his brethren, spreading the musical form in areas like Brother Issie Boat’s camp which was located in the Wareika Hills. Soon other brethren learned to drum and because the communal camps were transient in nature, the music spread quickly. In 1951, Count Ossie’s camp at Salt Lane was destroyed by Hurricane Charlie. He then spent some time at the Rastafarian camp at Rennock Lodge before establishing his famous camp in the Wareika Hills off Adastra Road near the area known as Rockfort. Saxophonist Herman “Woody” King says that Count Ossie taught them all how to play. He says, “Count Ossie was a magnificent drummer. He not only played in the Rastafarian style, but he was able to play with the musicians, like jazz musicians, so he was very versatile. He could adapt his style. And me being such a lover of music and the Rastafarian doctrine, I was right there when he was coming along and playing.”

ossie1

Count Ossie’s camp became a place for groundations or Nyahbinghis or Issembles, a spiritual communion of music composition, herb smoking from the chalice, and reasoning. Nyahbinghi originally meant “death to the whites, or death to the Europeans” in the 1930s, but then evolved to mean “death to the white oppressors and their black allies.” During these musical sessions, it wasn’t uncommon to borrow from melodies of other songs, such as hymns, a practice that also took place by other musicians in the studios and on stage. The groundations were a time of spiritual bonding meant to heighten one’s spiritual consciousness. They were gatherings that took place anywhere from three to seven days in length when brethren and dawtas engaged in communal activities, such as music, chanting, dancing, and smoking herb. A purpose of the Nyahbinghi was to restore the natural order of creation through purging the evil from the world. The music had an emotional purpose, a healing purpose, and a religious or spiritual purpose. Numerous visiting musicians came to participate in the groundations, including Roland Alphonso, Cedric Brooks, Little G McNair, Bra Gaynair, Rico Rodriguez, Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Vivian Hall, Ernest Ranglin, and Don Drummond. This group of musicians, sometimes called Count Ossie’s Band, performed until dawn throughout Jamaica at dance sessions and at Coney Island, an amusement park in Kingston.

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Carlos Malcolm recalls the days when music was created in the Wareika Hills. “We used to practice against the hills. Oliver Road used to come down from Wareika Hills and that is where the Eastern musicians mostly used to congregate. This was, when we started, a little before Count Ossie started recording. He grew up in the hills. Don Drummond used to hang out at Oliver Road with Vivian Hall (trumpeter). Everybody used to go up to the hills,” says Malcolm.

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 Clive Chin remembers the times he too went into the hills, not as a participant, but as a spectator when his dad, Vincent Chin, came to talk to the musicians. “They used to go up there and my dad would take me up there and at times he would leave me out in the car and sometimes I could get upset because he would leave me out there for hours, although he had someone watching me, but I ask him permission on a number of occasions to come out and look and see what they are doing, and I think one of the things my dad didn’t like was the atmosphere of the ceremonial things that they had to do, the smoking and stuff, he didn’t want me around it. Ossie would be playing a full setup of drums and it was mostly just rehearsals where Don would come in and solo and then back out and Tommy come in and do a solo and Johnny Moore come in and it give them a little way to introduce themselves and flow in. They were improvising. Herman King was there a lot too. He’d always be there. There were quite a few men, mostly men,” Chin says.

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Drumming was always the foundation of the music in the hills. The drums used involved three drums: a repeater, or akete which is the melody line; the fundeh, or funde which plays the steady rhythm or life line in addition to syncopation; and the bass drum, a two or three-foot drum hit many times with a paddle, which keeps the same basic beat of the fundeh but varies it in rhythm and tone. Count Ossie’s bass drum featured a phrase written in large letters on it— “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” a passage from Psalm 133. Percussionist Larry McDonald says the camp was a place for drumming and dancing and it was a popular place for musicians in the 1950s and 1960s. He says, “I used to go up to Wareika on Sunday evening because on Sunday evening the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari would play up there, Count Ossie. Ossie is a friend of mine, so I go up and carry my drums up and every Sunday they’d set up and we’d play a big set. And me and the little kids would hang out. It was just about going up and getting a chance to play the music.” The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari was a group consisting of Count Ossie and some of his drumming brethren. They later recorded music and performed on stage, even for the visit of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica on April 21, 1966. This date is marked each year still today with celebratory groundations.

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The musicians came to Count Ossie’s camp because it was a chance to be free with their music and they could truly expand their skills in a way no studio or stage would allow. But they also came because of the spiritual and emotional connections to their fellow brethren, led by Count Ossie, although there was no leader in a strict hierarchical sense. Rico Rodriguez who spent time actually living at the camp pays respect. He says, “Count Ossie was like a chief. He was like a chief in the hills. Everyone look up to him. Once he told me he wanted to learn trumpet but he was more into the drums, so he played the drums instead of the trumpet. A lot of Rastas around and I used to go home. I used to go home. We go away and play and I don’t go back to my mother’s house no more until I’m ready to come to England. I was leaving from Wareika Hills to come to England. Some of us stay in Wareika Hills. It was safe there. We cook and eat and they had Wareika school for the children to teach them about history. Communication everyday was about prayers, psalms and we chant psalms and play instruments. No really bed, just makeshift, yeah. Rough living, you know? No house, shelter, sheltered place. Everybody lived in stiffs, a variety of stiffs, you know? But it was a community. We play music all day, all day, all day and night.”

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Get Up Adina Edwards

In February 2015, I was having breakfast with Tommy Cowan and he mentioned that he was the one who discovered Adina Edwards. I had just finished writing about this incredible woman, and so here was the person who took her from the street where she, a blind woman, played accordion and sang for a few coins and recorded her for his own company, The Talent Agency, after he branched off on his own from Dynamic Sounds in order to promote more local talent. He had Byron Lee’s blessing and support, both financial and emotional, and so Adina Edwards was able to experience some success. This past February, 2016, I was delighted to see Adina Edwards’ accordion on display at the Jamaica Music Museum at the Institute of Jamaica, a place that everyone must visit. Tommy Cowan told me, “I will never ever forget this is when Byron allowed me to record a woman named Adina Edwards. She was a blind woman who sang and played accordion for years at the corner of Barry and King Street and Byron said go for it. I said I always pass this woman and she’s there for years. I went down there and took this woman off the street side and took her to Dynamic Sounds because they had to give me the money to record her and she went straight to number one, ‘Don’t Forget to Remember.'” The accordion was donated to the collection by Tommy Cowan and here is a photo I took of the display below.

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Below is an excerpt from my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, on the amazing Adina Edwards:

Adina Edwards was a blind performer who sang and accompanied herself. She was a self-taught accordion and keyboard player and always performed spiritual and gospel music, but in 1972 she recorded for Byron Lee. Her career starts in 1939 during a performance of the Salvation Army Institute for the Blind when she performed for a holiday program. She was a student at the institute and received such applause for her performance of “You Can Smile,” that she came out to do an encore. In July of 1946 she performed for a recital which was covered by the Daily Gleaner. The headline read “Blind Soprano to Give Song Recital.” The article stated, “On Wednesday evening July 31 a song recital unique in Jamaica’s musical history will be given when Miss Adina Edwards twenty-year-old blind soprano will give a recital of songs at Bartley’s Silver City Club. Possessed of a warm, colourful voice, Adina Edwards is certain to satisfy her audience with the songs she has chosen for this programme from Negro Spirituals to the light classical. The singer is being presented by Mr. Granville Campbell who will act as her accompanist for the evening while Mr. E. Roosevelt Hinchcliffe will contribute violin solos as fitting interludes to the programme.”

adina

In 1949, Adina was presented with a cash donation of five pounds, 18 shillings, and three pence which was collected from the audience at Eric Coverley’s New Year Morning Show at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. Adina sang the song “Because” and was accompanied by Granville Campbell, followed by an encore of “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life.” She received “tumultuous applause from the audience,” according to the Daily Gleaner article, which prompted Coverley to comment, “This girl is not here because she is blind but because she can sing. I am asking you to help her.” Audience members placed money into hats while Adina performed “Red Hot Boogie Woogie” on the piano.

In 1959, Adina performed on the famous launch pad of talent, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, although she did not win. Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson sang “Manny Oh” to take first place, the Blues Busters took second place, and Adina placed third with her vocal rendition of “The Lord Got the Whole World In His Hands.”adina4

Jamaica Gleaner columnist Roy Black wrote, “Little is known about Adina Edwards, except that she made a big impact with her gospel-tinged, 1972-Tommy Cowan-produced recording ‘Don’t Forget To Remember Me.’ She started her career as an inauspicious blind musical entertainer, who accepted collections for her performances on the streets until Byron Lee recorded that hit for her.” In early 1972, Adina’s accordion broke. She obtained a new one through the effort of local admirers.

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In 1973, Dynamic Records recorded her album “Soul of Adina.” Musicians Boris Gardiner performed on bass, Peter Ashbourne on keyboard and violin, and Marjorie Whylie and Dawn Forrester sang back up. In December 1982, Adina performed in the Salute to Our Musical Heritage show at the National Arena with Ken Boothe, The Heptones, King Stitt, Bunny And Scully, U Roy, Derrick Harriott, the Gaylads, Lascelles Perkins, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, Theophilus Beckford, Marcia Griffiths, Jackie Edwards, Lord Comic, Val Bennett, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Tommy McCook, Derrick Morgan, and Pam Pam and Gloria Kid. In 1983 she performed in an all-island gospel festival and was a popular billing on the lineup. She was still performing for audiences in June 2000 and a Jamaica Gleaner article interviewed her before the gospel show. “Adina Edwards, an enduring gospel artiste, said most gospel songs earned the message of love and that men and women were not loving each other. Gospel singing is becoming like olden days when music was composed and most male performers nowadays cannot bother to reach perfection in their craft. ‘Women are into experimentation until they get it right. I am doing a song called ‘Real Real’ and I am applying all kinds of techniques to let it appeal to people,’ she said. Adina has now taken her singing ministry to a higher level where she is no longer singing for adults on the sidewalk, but participating in school devotions.” The following year she gave another gospel performance for a Mother’s Day celebration at which the Alpha Boys Band also performed. “I am very excited about the concert,” she stated in the Jamaica Gleaner article. “Already I am getting a lot of support. I will be performing all of my favourites, songs like ‘Keep The Love Light Burning,’ ‘When Waking Up This Morning,’ and ‘Just A Closer Walk With God.’ People always like to hear ‘Don’t Forget to Remember,’ which was produced by Tommy Cowan and promoted by Byron Lee. I will never sit back and allow my disability to defeat me,” she said.

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In 2001, an article on female musicians who had adopted children, including Lady Saw, told the story of Adina Edwards who had also adopted a child. Adina Edwards has had her daughter, Amoie, when she was two days old. “At that time she was very sick and God help me to make her better. I do not call her an adoption and she does not call me anything but mother because she never knew any other. She is my sixth child. The most special thing about Amoie is that she a pretty girl and to think she loves this blind, ugly, old woman. It’s very touching. I love her. Whenever I needed any of my children they were always there. And when I called them to flog them, they would come and I wouldn’t bother,” she said. The article also stated that Adina had run a large nursery in the 1970s in Kencot, Kingston where she was responsible for over 48 children.

Though Adina Edwards passed away on April 4, 2008, her music lives on. Enjoy the incredible Adina Edwards with the links below:

Jamaica My Isle

Talk About Love

Lay Your Guns Down Brethren

Adina_Edwards

 

After a wonderful conversation with Jumbo Shower of the Netherlands, I wanted to post our exchange here to further enhance this history:

Nice article, but why is there no mention of the 45s and the album she recorded for Tabernacle in the 60s, and that single on Help the blind?

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn Well I do talk about her gospel career, but I rarely get into every song title or labels, there are just too many details in that and too many others who are far better than I in that kind of history, yourself included! I like the narrative.

Jumbo Shower
Jumbo Shower Yes i think it was a spontanious attack of amnesia, when Cowan forget that she already was an established gospelsinger who had recorded and album and a handful of singles before he discovered her… smile emoticon

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn I see what you’re saying now, Jumbo! You’re right. Hmmm. Well I guess it wouldn’t be the first time someone claimed credit that wasn’t theirs! Thank you, that has me wondering what the real narrative is now. Tabernacle was Coxsone, so wonder how he came to find her.

Jumbo Shower
Jumbo Shower I don’t know if you can read it from this link , but on the back of her Tabernacle album Jackie Estick writes that she was very well known for singing in Kingston and that Coxson discovered her and offered her an exclusive recording contract. https://www.discogs.com/Adinah-Edwards…/release/3733164

Heather Augustyn
Heather Augustyn I see that, thank you Jumbo! And this was in 1968 which definitely predates Tommy’s account. If you don’t mind, I’m going to add this to the bottom of my blog post. Many thanks.

Happy 82nd Birthday Don Drummond

Birth CertificateDon Drummond’s birth certificate.

 

Donald Willis Drummond was born on this date, March 12, 1934. He would have been 82 today, had he not died on May 6, 1969 at Bellevue Mental Hospital. The above birth certificate took me about two years to secure from the Registrar General in Kingston but I wanted to prove once and for all when he was born, as the record from Alpha Boys School has him born in 1932. This is a mistake, for whatever reason. He first lived at 26 Potters Row in Kingston, and his mother, Doris Munroe, was a domestic. You can read more about that in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist by going to skabook.com. I was even able to find classified ads for her domestic services and more information about her, but little on his father, Uriah Adolphus Drummond, though I did find his birth record, as well as Doris’s birth record, pictured below.

uriahUriah Adolphus Drummond’s birth record.

Doris Munroe birth recordDoris Maud Munroe’s birth record.

To celebrate Don Drummond’s birthday, I would like to offer the foreword that Delfeayo Marsalis wrote for my book. Marsalis, as you may know, recently performed at one of the Grounation events last month at the Institute of Jamaica courtesy of the Jamaica Music Museum. Carter Van Pelt wrote an extraordinary summary and review of this performance for his blog that you most definitely need to read HERE. Delfeayo Marsalis is one of the top trombonists, composers, and producers in jazz today. He is a member of the distinguished Marsalis family, father Ellis and brothers Branford, Wynton and Jason who earned the nation’s highest jazz honor, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, in 2011. He considers Don Drummond to be a masterful trombonist. The following is his foreword, for which I am very grateful and feel it is a perfect homage to the great Don Drummond on the day of his birth:

In 1985, I was returning to the Brooklyn residence of my eldest brothers Branford and Wynton from a sojourn in Manhattan late one evening. As fate would have it, the Jamaican taxi driver recognized my slide trombone and proclaimed, “You know about Don Drummond and the Ska-talites?” At that point it occurred to me that I had indeed seen in Branford’s collection several albums by this particular group, but—not being interested in Ska music at the time—had not checked them out. The driver continued to rave about Drummond being one of the greatest in history, which I basically accepted with a few grains of salt until he asserted, “J.J. Johnson went to Jamaica just to hear Drummond his legend was so strong!” The matter had suddenly become serious business with the utterance of such a proclamation. Johnson was not only my primary jazz influence, but he was also one of America’s great jazz masters, known for his precision and profound command on the trombone at all tempos and volumes. Would J.J. have traveled to Kingston, Jamaica solely to hear Don Drummond?

I immediately scoured the library and discovered three Ska-talites albums. I listened and was overcome by the pathos and immediacy of Drummond’s improvisations, his melodies expressing an adolescent innocence undergirded with the knowledge of an elder. Extroverted, eccentric and self-taught, Don Drummond’s trombone style has an earthiness and songlike quality that makes it immediately identifiable. His melodies are so simple, perfectly constructed and memorable that they are reminiscent of children’s songs; each note placed in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. He managed to consistently maintain certain qualities not steadfastly present in Johnson’s style.
My interest in Drummond led me to the Brooklyn storefront studio of Mr. Coxsone Dodd at some point in the mid 1990s and eventually to a few trips to Kingston, Jamaica. I found that many of the older people were aware of Drummond and his music. His celebrity was such that stories were shared with equal aplomb about his extraordinary musicianship as well as his peculiarities. He not only worked the women into frenzies with his aggressive rhythms, but he also would cause many to weep at the sorrow he expressed on ballads. During the 1950s-60s, Jamaica was a hotbed of musical talent featuring the likes of Roland Alfonso, Johnny Moore, Lenny Hibbert and Tommy McCook. Don Drummond, it turns out, was able to channel emotions from gentility to absolute rage through his music with as much authority as anyone to ever play trombone.

Trips to Jamaica were learning experiences on many levels; however, the greatest single lesson for me concerned understanding and accepting the traditions of the Jamaican people. Although they were respectful towards me and happy to assist in my efforts to learn about this musical giant, they still let me know in subtle ways that they were Jamaican and I was not. When they wanted to have private conversations, the language became unrecognizable. If there were even a hint of impatience from me, actions slowed down to a snail’s pace. These quirks gave me a sense of how strong nationalism and pride was in the Jamaican people. As a whole, the individuals I encountered had a way of thinking that was centered on honesty, integrity and good old common sense. While they would never admit to the reality as such, these unique qualities of a people, when codified properly, can form the backbone of their art.

Bob Marley gave a voice and hope to all Jamaicans during the 60s and 70s with his songs of political awareness and protest. The individual who influenced Marley the most with songs that celebrated Jamaica and its unique characteristics was Don Drummond. Marley spent a period of time performing with Drummond and clearly knew of his brilliance. Marley’s voice covers the same basic range of Drummond’s trombone and as further proof, his “Crazy Baldheads” is pretty much Drummond’s “Eastern Standard Time” in a minor key! Even without lyrics, the trombonist displayed his socio-political awareness with songs entitled “Man In the Street,” “President Kennedy,” “Lee Harvey Oswald” and “Reload.” Marley was able to take Drummond’s music to the ultimate level, internalizing its strongest characteristics and incorporating them in his own style to great advantage.

Whether by Drummond’s own design or that of producer Coxsone Dodd, the Skatalites performed all of their songs with the famous guitar-led ska (boom-chick, boom-chick) beat. Certainly, a studied and adventurous musician like Drummond was capable of creating less formulaic compositions, and his desire to do so is evidenced in at least one example, “Far East.” This song highlights an awareness of other cultures and musical contributions as it is a tribute to Eastern music in Jamaican terms. One captivating aspect of ska is the degree to which it is specifically localized (from the people) and universal (for all people) simultaneously. While Don Drummond’s distinctive sound was strengthened by consistent performance with the same Jamaican musicians, if he had been afforded the opportunity to share experiences with musicians from different cultures as is customary today, his music could have expanded to even greater heights.

Speculations aside, we celebrate all that Don Drummond accomplished as a great musician and representative for the Jamaican people. Thanks to his ingenuity, ska remains the only music in the world in which trombone plays the lead voice with trumpet and saxophone playing the secondary harmonies. Don Drummond was a soft-spoken introvert whose life was defined by the trombone and the great music he created with it. Trombone provided his voice in a way words could not. Don Drummond played music as though it was all he had; or perhaps as though he felt it was all he had. As listeners, we have benefited greatly from his immense talent and unique ability to touch human souls around the world.

This is the definitive documentation of a seminal figure in the history of Jamaican music which is long overdue!

Delfeayo Marsalis

 

Perhaps an even better way to celebrate is by listening to his music. Here are links to a few of my favorites. Roll on Sweet Don.

Don Cosmic

Confucius

Addis Ababa

Cleopatra

Chinatown

Occupation

 

 

 

 

Memories of Chocomo Lawn

From the Daily Gleaner, June 23, 1964

This week I am asking for you, the reader, to share your memories of Chocomo Lawn, should you have the experience in your past. Even better, if you have photos of Chocomo Lawn, then or now, I would be very interested in hearing from you. This site was a “ground zero” of ska, as were other sites such as Forrester Hall, Orange Street, Brentford Road, and many more. Chocomo Lawn was/is in West Kingston and was the headquarters for Edward Seaga during his early years in politics. In a Daily Gleaner article on December 23, 1967, Seaga held a holiday party for thousands of children in West Kingston, and he held the fete at Chocomo Lawn. The article read, “About 4,000 children were given a Christmas treat at Chocomo Lawn, Wellington Street, on Thursday afternoon sponsored by the West Kingston Constituency Committee and the Hon. Edward Seaga, Minister of Finance and Planning. This was the fourth Christmas treat for children of the area since Monday. Mr Seaga assisted by Miss Veronica Carter handed out the gifts at all the treats. Mr. Seaga announced that a special feature of this year’s Christmas treat for the constituency application forms for admittance to two youth camps for boys in the area
between 15 and 16 years were available at the constituency headquarters. To close the series of treats a special dinner for 1000 old people of the area was given yesterday afternoon, Supt. Joe Williams of the Denham Town Police was special guest.”

Years before this charitable gathering, Seaga, had come to West Kingston as a site of culture where he would study and cultivate the music–music of the revivalist religions (kumina, pukumina) and ska. In a Jamaica Observer article on March 21, 2004, former Kingston mayor Desmond McKenzie recalls this era at Chocomo Lawn. The article states, “A decisive turning point in the lives of the residents, particularly the young people in Western Kingston, came with the arrival of Edward Seaga, McKenzie remembers. He would make an awesome impression on them and under his tutelage some would rise to national prominence, notably “Babsy” Grange, Daphne Hurge, Samuel Dreckette, the late reggae superstar Dennis Brown, Winston Bopee who was lead guitarist for We the People band, the Techniques, among others. Seaga had entered West Kingston on grounds that he was researching culture and revivalism in the area. . . .  They were also thrilled by the way Seaga could move to the beat of the revival drums. Seaga eventually bought out Victor’s Pop Band that gave birth to the Techniques. Many young Jamaican talents were nurtured there. Young upcoming stars such as Jimmy Cliff, Marcia Griffiths, Delroy Wilson, Count Prince Miller and the like played at Chocomo Lawn, the cultural centre that Seaga developed. Such was the reputation and prestige of the place that ‘anybody who was anybody played the Chocomo Lawn.'”

One of these “anybodys” was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires who came to Chocomo Lawn, along with Ronnie Nasralla, to learn about the ska. Until then, like most other bands on the island, Lee and his group were playing in the American rhythm and blues styles that were popular at dances and in clubs. Other bands, like Carlos Malcolm, performed jazz. Each club, each studio, was an incubator of sounds from the Caribbean, America, and Africa, but at Chocomo Lawn, the scene was ska and Seaga encouraged his friends to come for a listen, to help spread this new sound. In a Daily Gleaner article, October 25, 1980, the writer chronicles a celebration of Seaga’s imprint on the culture. “Mr. Seaga mentioned such names as Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, Toots and the Maytals, Hortense and Alton Ellis who he said always frequent Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston — the place where ska was born. He said that as Minister of Finance and Planning in the JLP government, he tried to popularise ska internationally allowing Jamaica to be known as a country of creative people. After the ska, he said,
there was the rock steady, then reggae from which super stars like Bob Marley were born. Mr. Seaga said that Jamaican music today was acclaimed internationally, ‘It began as a little seed planted at Chocomo Lawn in Western Kingston, nurtured into a bigger tree and blossomed so that the entire world can see its beauty,’ Mr. Seaga said. Mr. Seaga paid tribute to Byron Lee and the Dragonaires who were celebrating 25 years in the music field. He said they have helped to spread Jamaican music abroad more than any other artistes in the country.”

Though I’m sure the above text will cause some debate. For every person who claims they are the one who started ska, there are an equal amount who feel they know who started it. This is good! This speaks to the passion of the music! There is ownership and pride! So those who may have memories to share of one of these sites of creation, Chocomo Lawn, please share your thoughts here and if you have photos, please contact me at haugustyn@yahoo.com. I am researching this time period and would very much like to hear your oral histories!

You can read more about the connection between Chocomo Lawn and ska here.