Maypen Cemetery

Jamaica 2013 1547

This is the sepulchre of the great Lloyd Brevett, bass player for the Skatalites. He was always one of my favorites with his little jump to the rhythm as he played, his dreads long and thin like him, like his bass. What a master. His resting place here is located at Maypen Cemetery off of Spanish Town Road and I was able to visit it last February, escorted by the superintendent of the cemetery, Mr. Cornwell. Why I had to be escorted is no surprise, if anyone knows this location. Maypen Cemetery is located in West Kingston near the yards of warring factions of the garrisons, the Jamaican term for housing project which then spread to include neighborhoods. Aligned with their political parties, the PNP and JLP, the gangs and their dons rule the nearby garrisons which include Tivoli Gardens (scene of the 2010 raid involving Dudus Coke–see this wonderful article for more info:, Olympic Gardens, Denham Town, Tower Hill, Trench Town, Cockburn Pen, Brownsland, and more. Dons rule their garrisons and dictate elections and their micro-economies through the sale of drugs and weapons.

When I visited, Mr. Cornwell was certain to taut the benefits of former prime minister Edward Seaga for his people. He asked me if I had met him and said he was a “very good man.” Cornwell wore a green shirt, an affiliation with the JLP. It was evident which gang ruled the area. Cornwell told me that we could not go into an area of the cemetery I wished to visit, the area where Don Drummond is buried, although it is unknown exactly where because he was buried in an unmarked grave in a section reserved for paupers, criminals, and lunatics. The number of his grave is known, but the numbering system is long abandoned and without record, I am told. Why can’t I visit the area I wish to see? Not only is it covered in bush, graves and tombs destroyed exposing human remains, as I witnessed, but it is also ruled by the gangs. When a “flare up” occurs in a nearby garrison, members of the gangs flood out from the cemetery to clash with their opposition. They are lying in wait. They rule the cemetery like their garrisons so that even the superintendent of the cemetery is not safe to visit, to maintain.

Ska greats are interred here–Lloyd Brevett, Don Drummond, others perhaps–among the violence of the gangs, among the rotting bodies that are dumped here after a “flare up,” among the areas no longer touched for fear that those buried during outbreaks of cholera and typhoid will release their toxins like zombies. Instead of monuments to honor the legacy of these heroes, this is what remains. I say, let’s honor them by celebrating their life, their music, their genius by continuing to carry the torch of their creation. Roll on!