Trench Town — home of reggae
Reggae band The Wailers had its roots in Trench Town. From left are Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and Bunny Wailer.

The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk continues with the 40th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

Detroit and Memphis are famous for soul music. Nashville is the hub for country music. Trench Town gave the world roots, rock and reggae.

Originally known as Trench Pen, the community borders West Kingston and was once an expanse of shanties. Trench Town has produced numerous famous artistes, the most noted being Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer of The Wailers; Alton Ellis, Joe Higgs, Bunny and Scully, Delroy Wilson, The Heptones, The Wailing Souls, and The Abyssinians.

Denzil Williams, otherwise known as Dipstick or Wadadah, was born at Fifth Street in Trench Town 74 years ago. He not only rubbed shoulders with the area's future stars, but has vivid memories of his hometown before the high-rise buildings.

"It was a slum, whole heap a macka [thorns] and wasteland, like Back O Wall an' Ackee Walk which is now Tivoli Gardens, until [Alexander] Bustamante come an' develop a housing scheme," said Williams.

The second of five children for his parents, he grew up on Fifth Street where his neighbours included Alton Ellis and his sister Hortense, Rasta elder Mortimo Planno, Garveyite St William Grant, and sportsmen Locksley Comrie and Glenford Robinson.

"Is a place wey always possess talent, especially in music an' sports. People did poor but talent was an asset," Williams noted.

Bunny and Scully, who made their debut as Simms and Robinson, were the first recording artistes from Trench Town. Mainstream success, however, first came through Higgs and Wilson with Oh Manny Oh in 1958, followed one year later by Ellis and Eddie Perkins (as Alton and Eddie) with Muriel.

Like Motown and Stax out of Detroit and Memphis, respectively, Trench Town's music talent exploded during the 1960s. The Wailers (Simmer Down, Lonesome Feeling, and Put it On), Ellis (Dancecrasher, I'm Just A Guy), Delroy Wilson (I'm Not A King, Dancing Mood) and The Heptones (Sea of Love, Fattie Fattie) ruled the charts with songs mainly done for the Studio One label.

When Marley became a superstar in the 1970s that was Trench Town went international.

"God bless Bob Marley, 'cause him come a Trench Town from country through him stepfather Thaddy Shut (Thaddeus Livingston) who was Bunny Wailer father. Him emerge as a big star an' never turn him back on Trench Town," said Williams.

The Culture Yard, a renovated tenement where Marley once lived, attracts hundreds of tourists and celebrities to Trench Town annually. The community is also the subject of many books and documentaries.

Denzil Williams became a recording artiste. He is a member of Wadadah, a harmony trio that has released one album and a number of singles; they have toured the United States and Africa with Ziggy and Stephen Marley.

Alton Ellis
Denzil "Wadadah" Williams
Howard Campbell

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