The occasional shivers may move downwards your spine during a tour of the ruins that once was the childhood home of influential reggae/rocksteady artiste, Dennis Emmanuel Brown- also proclaimed the Crown Prince of Reggae.
Fragments of wooden floors and walls of the two-story house at 135 Orange Street, offer an incomplete description of what the structure was like in the 1960s when Dennis Brown started his career in music.
Nostalgia sets in as Miael McGeachy of Rockers International gives The Gleaner, a brief tour of the residence. He says, “There is no way someone can come to Orange Street and not visit ‘Big Yard’. A lot is to be learnt about the location.”
“This particular block is the heart of ‘beat street’, because it gives the global context of how people view Jamaica … there are certain elements of it that provide the narrative,” McGeachy said, almost as though pointing out that it is a tenement yard – part of Jamaica’s culture.
Even without a roof on the western end of the building, persons (some who lived there with Dennis Brown) still make it a home. The roof was destroyed more than five years ago, however, the people around the area have managed to maintain the much needed bathroom facilities.
“When Japanese and other foreigners are coming to Jamaica, the attraction is not the parties, it is places like these, but they are being ignored by mainstream and Government. We globalise youth culture everywhere in the world, but when it comes to the heart … the ghetto, we are ashamed,” he said.
Talented reggae singer, Jacob Miller, sang Dreadlocks can’t live in a tenement Yard, so why would anyone want to live under such conditions? He too, appeared on the entertainment scene in the same period as Dennis Brown, recording songs with ‘beat street’ professionals like Sir Coxsone and Rockers International. Unfortunately, the real inspiration behind the lyrics of the song, may never be shared, as Miller died too early in his career.
The location of the home essentially, is what introduced Dennis Brown to the music industry in his formative years – a road bustling with record shops and recording studios, it was also part of a golden triangle for aspiring musicians. Many of the reggae greats like Big Youth and Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt Carter (bassist of the Roots Radics Band), made the community their hangout spot from then until now, or like Trevor ‘Leggo Beast’ Douglas, who sought work on the street and along the borders while others lived there periodically.
Lines for a phone call
McGeachy remembers a story shared by his elders, of a woman named Claire.
“People used to line up outside the gate just to gain access to a telephone owned by this woman. That single telephone, was used by many of Jamaica’s local artistes such as Gregory Isaacs and Daddy U-Roy, to conduct business with the help of Claire. There were long lines outside just for this,” he said.
Currently, towards the back of the dilapidated home, is DB Recording Studios (DB short for Deadly Beats coined off Dennis Brown’s spiritual presence), but the manager was said to be off the island at the time of The Gleaner‘s visit.
‘Big Yard’ is already a heritage site in the minds of tourists who often have the opportunity to stop by no. 135, during a random tour of the creative city of music, but the efforts of persons connected to the street to get assistance from UNESCO and similar agencies to make it official, have not been fruitful.