A JUTC bus tour laced with the spirit of Marley

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer staff reporter skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 30, 2015

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FROM the tenement yards of Trench Town to the studios of Tuff Gong Records, patrons both young and old aboard the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) Kingston City Spirit of Reggae Tour were recently given a truly authentic look into the life of the late reggae icon, Bob Marley.

There were no heightened expectations by many patrons, except to go out and have a good time, but many were pleasantly surprised and impressed with how the day's events turned out.

The bus left the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre approximately 10:30 am on Saturday, August 22 to go to the various destinations offered on the tour, such as the Bob Marley Museum and the Trench Town Culture Yard. However, while being transported to these destinations, patrons on the bus were given mini informative sessions about the different structures, buildings, and even roadways on which the bus was travelling.

From the history of Half-Way-Tree's well-known clock tower to the building of the popular ice cream haven, Devon House, by millionaire George Stabel many years ago, the two tour guides Tracy-Ann Graham and Shanese Reid ensured that patrons were never bored and pumped up before they reached the first stop on the tour.

After a 15-minute wait, the group's tour guide Susan Maxwell began the long- anticipated tour. The tour started outside the house where Maxwell first put into words one of the murals on the museum's walls that depicted Bob at various stages of his life. A bubbly and energetic Maxwell captured the patrons' attention from the first word she uttered, encouraging responses of 'irie' from the group as she went along.

Following that, the visitors were led to other areas outside the museum, where brief explanations of items or other murals covering the walls were given.

Many patrons were surprised when they saw the mural of Bob and his seven acknowledged sons on the wall as many only knew of one or two of them. This marked but the beginning of surprises for many patrons as the tour had not yet reached its peak.

After all electronic gadgets were put away -- as no photography was allowed once inside the reggae icon's former residence -- patrons were led into the house of Marley, not knowing what exactly to expect but anticipating it would be something great.

The first stop on the tour inside the house saw patrons admiring a room that proudly displayed Bob's various awards and lifetime achievements mounted from wall to wall. It was here that patrons first started to embrace the reggae spirit as Maxwell encouraged the singing of some the artiste's greatest hits such as Three Little Birds.

Visitors were then asked if they wanted to meet the icon himself, which elicited raised eyebrows by the adults and shouts of 'yes' by the children. Smiling mysteriously, Maxwell led the group into a semi-lit room where a full-sized hologram of the late artist was being projected into the room. Despite the laughter that followed, others were enthralled by the image and even reached out to touch the realistic representation of Marley.

After leaving the 'hologram room', the group was led back into the hallway at the entrance of the house where decorating the walls, were the national and international medals presented to Marley and his wife Rita such as the Order of Merit which was given to him by the Jamaican Government posthumously.

The group was then led into a part of Marley's original recording studio that is still used today by one of his sons.

After having a brief look of Marley's mixing board, the JUTC Kingston tour patrons were then led upstairs.

While on tour upstairs, patrons were given the chance to view some of Marley's favourite pieces of clothing and even see inside his former room.

When the viewing was completed, patrons were led back outside and around the back to yet another room which chronicled the events leading up to a failed assassination attempt on Marley's life in 1976.

A short while later, patrons were led to another building on the museum's grounds that housed a gift shop, among other things, but not before meeting with Bongo Herman, popular master percussionist and former friend of Marley.

Herman allowed the group to try out some of the interesting instruments he had on hand, which delighted everyone, especially the children.

The tour concluded with a short film that depicts Marley's life as a reggae artiste.

Treading through Trench Town

But this was just the first stop on the tour as, immediately after, patrons were back in the bus heading to Independence Park to view and take pictures with the statue of Bob Marley located directly outside the gates.

Ten minutes later, patrons were on the road again to go to the Trench Town Culture Yard, which was essentially the birthplace of reggae music and Marley's career.

Upon entry into the Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, patrons were immediately greeted by a small group of Rastas and later asked to sign a guest book before starting the tour.

Chief tour guide Donnette 'Sophia' Dowe gave patrons a short introduction about the typical setting for the tenement yard, where families would have their own room but would have to use communal kitchen and bathrooms.

Patrons were then invited to tour the dwellings at their own leisure and view artefacts. Even though Dowe highlighted that Trench Town Culture Yard is home to numerous reggae artistes apart from Bob Marley, patrons were still delighted to see relics from Marley's past were still present on the grounds, such as his first bus and the 'kitchen room' that he shared with his wife Rita Marley once they were married.

While listening to strains of reggae band Lyving Kulcha's music, visitors also got to enjoy a complimentary cup of Georgie's home-made cornmeal porridge.

Afterwards, it was onto the final leg of the tour, where patrons visited Tuff Gong International Records. While en route, the tour guides ensured everyone was engaged by having mini giveaways and, as usual, providing background information about the next stop on the City Tour. One fact that patrons learned while heading to Tuff Gong was how the company got its name. According to the tour guides, the name Tuff Gong came about because Marley was nicknamed 'gong' by his friends and because the music industry was a hard business he had to remain tough to come out on top.

The Tuff Gong trek

With some basic information about Tuff Gong Records fresh in the minds of patrons, although tired and hungry at this point, they braved the light shower of rain that started as soon as they departed the bus to enjoy the last stop on the tour. Here patrons got to see what is termed as Jamaica's first 'tour bus', essentially a truck that was used to transport Marley and his instruments to the various performance venues. Although the truck hasn't been driven in a while, it is still fully operational and is emblazoned with, 'Ride Natty Ride', the title of one of Marley's songs from his 'Survival' album.

Patrons were then showed the murals of Bob Marley as well as some of his family members that were done by primarily international artists that hold the reggae icon in high regard.

While touring the studio facilities and listening to the history of Marley's music, many patrons were surprised when an elderly man of Asian descent slipped quietly into the room and took a seat around the equipment. Initially silent at first, Marley's former sound engineer gradually opened up to the patrons and drew them in by his quiet yet warm personality as well as experiences working with Marley before his death. Known as Mr Chow, the engineer was discovered by Marley while he was in Asia, and he liked his work so much that he brought him back to Jamaica to work with him.

Following interactions with Chow, patrons were then led to the area on the compound where the vinyl records were made and saw step by step how they are produced.

The tour of the factory finally culminated with the opportunity for patrons to leave a permanent mark of their visit by signing their names and message on boards erected at the back of the factory.

After a few more photos outside, the patrons finally bade Tuff Gong Records farewell and headed to Scotchie's Jerk Centre in New Kingston for a well-needed meal and then it was back to the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre to head home after a day that was well-spent.



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