By: Patricia Meschino
KINGSTON, Jamaica – It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in Kingston, Jamaica. Fourteen year-old singer Javaughn Bond is being coached by Ras Kassa, the video director for Javaughn’s song “Superstar,” the title track from his debut album released on the Marley’s Tuff Gong/Ghetto Youths label Nov. 20.
In the video Javaughn, who is known professionally just by his first name, portrays a love struck teenager whose girlfriend’s father disapproves of their relationship. Javaughn and his 15 year-old female costar met just minutes before the cameras started rolling so Kassa, who has directed several popular reggae videos including Stephen Marley’s “Traffic Jam” and Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock,” coaxes the young couple into a more relaxed mood as they sit at opposite ends of a bench.
“Snuggle up, kids, get to know each other,” said Kassa, to the amusement of the crew, as they prepared to shoot a scene where Javaughn serenades his video love interest with the chorus “girl you are my superstar / I always wonder where you are”. Within minutes, however, the director’s instructions have changed direction. “I want you to feel the emotion of a man whose girlfriend’s father just told you ‘don’t come inna mi yard,'” he says. Javaughn then practices how to say goodbye to his girlfriend to convey what might be the end of their relationship. “Remember, you don’t know when you will see her again,” Kassa reminded him. “Look sad, look upset, turn around and look back at her house. Get out your phone, call her, text, text, text!”
Although this was his very first experience on a video shoot, Javaughn convincingly portrayed the broken-hearted suitor and appeared completely at ease in front of the camera. Perhaps that’s because he is, literally, a born performer who has been training for this moment even before his mother gave birth to him.
“When I was in my mother’s belly my father used to play the keyboard and the bass on her belly,” Javaughn reveals in between bites of stewed chicken and rice and peas during a lunch break on the video set. “When I came out of the hospital the first day, he put my hand on the keyboard and taped it and that is where it start from. The same thing with the drums; my father teach me the basics and I just take it up and it develop.”
As his manager, the young artist’s father, John Bond has a vested interest in that development. “Because I am a musician, I wanted my first son to be one also,” Bond explains. “When Javaughn’s mother was pregnant with him, I used to put my mouth on her stomach and sing. She would scream because she said the baby was kicking inside of her and I knew he was responding to the music.”
The elder Bond, who also writes songs and teaches music, kept instruments around the house so Javaughn would play them. Today, his son’s proficiency on drums, keyboards and bass guitar, as well as his ability to play just about any song minutes after hearing it, has earned him the nickname “Javaughn Genius.” “From his childhood days coming up, it amazed me to see someone as small as him mastering so many instruments,” says John. Sadly, Javaughn’s mother was killed in a car accident when he was just five years old but his father says that tragedy did not deter Javaughn’s musical pursuits. “It made him stronger, really,” he says after a moment of careful reflection. “Javaughn was very close to her so he just put himself deeply into his music. Sometimes he says I wish mom could be here but he is doing his best despite the circumstances.”
Born and raised in the verdant parish of Portland located in southeastern Jamaica, Javaughn got his professional start as a precocious four-year-old singing with the aptly named Sensation Band and he quickly became, well, a local sensation. He also performed regular Sunday night gigs at the Dragon Bay Hotel in Port Antonio, Portland’s largest resort area, as well as other hotels along Jamaica’s southeastern coast. This led to appearances on several of the island’s premier stage shows including Sting (where the pint size performer dazzled the audience with his skillful rendition of pioneering Jamaican singer Alton Ellis’ “Get Ready to Rock Steady”) and the annual Bob Marley Tribute Concert held in Bob’s birthplace of Nine Miles, St. Ann.
Javaughn’s performances were praised throughout the reggae fraternity. Dub poet Mutabaruka who hosts the weekly Cutting Edge talk/music program on Jamaica’s only all reggae radio station IRIE FM was so impressed with Javaughn’s first single “Good To Be Humble,” he declared the pre-teen “a star of the future,” adding that “this young man is dealing with consciousness.”
Following his appearance on the Marley Tribute Concert, Javaughn and his father were introduced to Stephen and Damian Marley. The Marleys quickly spotted Javaughn’s potential, and before long he was signed to their Ghetto Youths imprint and recording tracks for his debut album Superstar.
The recording sessions for Superstar, which is also Damian’s debut solo production effort, took place at the Marley’s Tuff Gong studios in Kingston and their Lion’s Den studio in Miami. Because these sessions commenced at the height of Damian’s Welcome to Jamrock success, the time he had available to record didn’t always coincide with Javaughn’s accessibility, which was restricted to school holidays and summer vacations. As a result, Superstar took two and a half years to complete.
“Javaughn’s stepmother is a schoolteacher and she is real tight about him doing his schoolwork, which I endorse,” commented John. “So we just have to balance the recording, and the shows with the schoolwork. But I really have to give thanks to [Superstar’s executive producers] Damian and Stephen Marley because they put in a lot of time working on Javaughn’s album. Sometimes Damian would be in the studio days and nights, straight, he would not leave and he would say I want Javaughn to do it perfect.”
Damian’s conscientious approach, refining each track on Superstar until it was deemed perfect has yielded an impressive debut worthy of the Tuff Gong legacy. The album’s contemporary roots reggae rhythms evoke the tuff edged one drop beats laid down by the Wailers and lyrically it advances the “consciousness” (positive words) that Mutabaruka commented on after hearing Javaughn’s very first single several years ago.
With the exception of the remake of the Christmas favorite “Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto?),” Javaughn’s father wrote all of the songs. Their messages will resonate with a wide range of listeners but are especially significant for the youth because they are delivered by one of their own. “Rich Quick Mentality” warns against easy money acquired through illegal means (“is why nuff youths gone a cemetery”), “Peer Pressure” cautions young people to stay clear from negative influences (“nah go let it lead me astray”) and “Two Roads” urges careful consideration when faced with important decisions.
Clearly, a lot of important decision-making is involved in the life of a teenager who has to juggle rehearsals, recording and concert appearances with his schoolwork, not to mention his love of playing football and building rhythm tracks on his computer. “Basically you have to find time for everything,” Javaughn explains. “School work is important because education is the key. My friends understand that I have my thing to deal with and my thing come first.”
Javaughn’s father, who balances the professional obligations dictated by his son’s burgeoning career (which will include a U.S. tour in support of Superstar in early 2008) alongside commitments to his family, including Javaughn’s 11 year-old sister and 11-month-old brother believes it will be worth all the effort.
“It is a sacrifice for everyone but it is something we have to do,” he offers. “I have mixed feelings sometimes. But once you see the reaction of the crowd you feel great, like yeah man, keep it going. It is a good feeling to know, that is my son going up there, someone you have trained and the world is accepting him. Watching him do his first video, I felt proud. He is used to the stage for a long time, he just wants to go out there and perform. He was born to do this thing.”