Tue | Dec 6, 2016

From the streets to the stage

Published:Saturday | January 24, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Linval Walker story

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

NEGRIL, Westmoreland:LINVAL WALKER, now living in Westmoreland, performs with fire and passion, from venue to venue, on Jamaica's north coast and other places. He is the leader of an Afro-Caribbean movement called Artistry in Motion, which involves traditional singing, drumming and dancing.

His performers, numbering as many as 15 at times, live all over western Jamaica.

Linval Walker's life started more than 37 years ago in the east; Port Morant in St Thomas. He spent his boyhood days in Bath in the said parish, and at Alpha Boys' Home in Kingston. He was not orphaned, however, but when his mother and father went their separate ways, his life, too, was to change in many ways. From five to six times per week, he said, he travelled to and from Kingston, where his father lived.

Around age 14, sick and tired of the daily journeys between St Thomas and Kingston, one day Walker didn't return to either parent. For quite a while, he stayed with relatives and friends in St Thomas, but the freedom on the streets was escalating into trouble. He was brought to Homestead Place of Safety in Stony Hill, St Andrew, but he said he returned to Half-Way Tree before the police car that brought him to Homestead.

The streets of Kingston and St Andrew became his world. Rae Town, Southside and Tivoli are some of the places he frequented. He was all over the place, with not a care in the world. "Mi no business," he told Rural Xpress in December last year. He was in the parish to perform at Kumina Queen Bernice Henry's funeral.

But his return to his father's home didn't bode well either. The man was a pastor, and Walker was not prepared to be a devout Christian. Ironically, when he was eventually taken to Alpha Boys' Home in Kingston, he was baptised by Ronald Thwaites, now education minister, on December 3, 1993.

INFLUENCED BY SPARROW MARTIN

He became an altar boy, and learned to make furniture, but his sojourn at Alpha was to see him also delving into the world of music. He learned to play drums and the saxophone, and was heavily influenced by noted musician and music educator, Sparrow Martin. His official stay at Alpha ended at age 18, but he was around until he was 21.

Walker returned to St Thomas, but didn't stay for long as things were not so bright. On the bus he was again, to Kingston. There, he played basketball for Aqua Club, but he said he got into "big trouble" for something he knew nothing about. The consequence could be a prison term, so his coach took him back to St Thomas.

This time it was to Sister Bernice Henry, a well-known spiritualist. He went back to the place of his birth, Port Morant. To him, Sister Bernice became a second mother, he said. He lived at her house and became part of her Kumina group, playing the maracas (shake-shake). In time, with his musical training from Alpha, he became one of Sister Bernice's main drummers, winning many gold medals with the group at the annual Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) festival of arts.

After years of travelling the island with Sister Bernice, a friend told him of opportunities in Ocho Rios, St Ann. He pressured the friend to take him there. The friend eventually took him, and he fell in love with the place. That was 10 to 11 years ago.

Thirteen of them later returned to Ocho Rios with Kumina drums. It was all about Kumina, but after one year of performing in Ocho Rios, they brought in the conga and the gumbay drums.

As fate would have it, someone saw Walker perform at a prime minister's gala and was impressed. The person contacted him through the JCDC, with the view of giving him work in Negril, Westmoreland. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled, Walker had no money and nowhere to sleep.

He slept at an associate's house on a piece of ply wood for three weeks before doing his first gig at Couples Negril. He said he got US$20 from a tourist, which he used to buy a piece of sponge and a sheet. Laughing, he told Rural Xpress, "From dat, mi still a gwaan."

In essence, the rest is history and, for seven years now, he has been leading the group, doing what he loves best, showcasing Afro-Caribbean singing, dancing and drumming, and other types of drumming.

rural@gleanerjm.com