by Howard Campbell
Cause – ’cause – ’cause I remember when a we used to sit
In a government yard in Trenchtown,
Oba – obaserving the ‘ypocrites – yeah! –
Mingle with the good people we meet, yeah!
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we have lost
Along the way, yeah!
In this great future, you can’t forget your past;
So dry your tears, I seh. Yeah!
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Those are some of the heartfelt lyrics from No Woman No Cry, Bob Marley’s classic ode to Trench Town, the Kingston, Jamaica ghetto that inspired many of his songs.
For the past eight years, Sophia Dowe has been director and tour manager of that “government yard” Marley wailed about in 1973. Known as the Trench Town Culture Yard, it hosts thousands of visitors from around the world, including superstars like Jay Z and Beyonce.
The Culture Yard has not escaped the coronavirus’ sinister reach, and has been inactive for over a month.
“It was closed because there was a decline in the attendance since the coronavirus outbreak. And yes, we weren’t expecting any more visitors because the borders were closed,” Dowe explained.
A Trench Town resident, Dowe is supported by a staff of 10 including her son Shaquille. The facility, which houses the shell of a VW van Marley once owned and the bed he slept on, is usually open daily.
According to Dowe, it is a community-based project operated by the Trench Town Development Association, a non-profit organization.
Dowe never tires of relating stories of the Marley legend; of how he, his wife Rita, fellow Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) overcame urban poverty and became superstars.
While tourists from Europe, North America and Asia are intrigued by that remarkable rise, not many young people in Trench Town know the story of the area’s most famous citizens.
“There are a lot of older folks from Trench Town that can tell you about Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer but for the younger generation they don’t really know much. They just know that tourist visit our community because of the musical history and just want to get a glimpse of Trench Town itself,” she said.
Marley died in May, 1981 in Miami from cancer at age 36. Tosh was murdered at his Kingston home in September, 1987 at age 42.
Rita Marley and Wailer, both in their 70s, have suffered life-changing strokes in recent years.
Dowe’s appreciation for early Jamaican music is understandable. She is the eldest child of Brent Dowe, former lead singer of The Melodians, an outstanding harmony group that recorded hit songs such as Swing And Dine and By The Rivers of Babylon.
With Jamaica under partial lockdown because of the coronavirus — which has claimed seven lives there with over 450 positive tests — it is uncertain when the Trench Town Culture Yard will re-open.
It can’t be too soon for Sophia Dowe.
“I got no regrets (working there), I enjoy doing my job,” she said.