Part I~~Willie Stewart…Who is he? Let’s start from the beginning…
William Stewart was born in England to Jamaican parents, Herbert Stewart and Evelyn Maude Chung-Taylor. His mother hails from Balaclava, Christiana and his father is from Westmoreland. Willie’s brothers are, Neville Lee, Gene Lee, Paul (Pablo Herbert) Stewart (who died (6) six years ago), and oldest brother, Byron Lee of the celebrated band Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. Byron came to visit Willie’s family in England and encouraged his mother and father to come back to Jamaica to live. They conceded. Willie came to Jamaica in 1964.
Willie began playing drums ‘from his mother’s womb’, he says. At the age of (6) six, he began banging on anything in sight- the tables, the chairs, pots, pans and so forth. He says his obsession for beating on anything was so bad that his father says ‘when Willie was fast asleep, he would continue to play a ‘beat’ on the headboard’.
Playing the drums came naturally for Willie, but his family was of great influence in his musical talent from an early age. His brother, Gene, played the guitar and his god-mother’s son used to play drums. Willie says his god-mother’s son exposed him to the rudiments of drums on the ‘practice pad’, as he practices every day. His brother, Gene, bought his first toy drum set and he was a great encouragement to Willie in his young age. Another brother, Neville, loved Jazz and Willie learned to appreciate the various music styles as he listened to Neville’s vast collection. Willie was bombarded with all forms of Jazz, Pop, Ska and Soul music while growing up.
*Willie shares his story-in his own words:*
“When I first came to Jamaica at 11 years of age, I loved Jamaica. Then, I got a chance to see Byron Lee and his band play at all the big dances and shows, and I realized I wanted to play in a band. I told my mother and she said “No! You have to go to school first”. At the time, we lived near Mona (off Wellington Drive). My parents owned and operated a restaurant called Herb’s Steak House, which started in Liguanea and then they relocated to Bellmont Road, New Kingston. My mother’s passion was flowers and my father’s passion was cooking. My mother loved her gardening and my father was a fantastic chef; they were passionate about their pursuits as I was about drums. I attended the Providence Primary School, after which I went to Mico Practicing School for (1) one year. Mico Practicing School was located near Wolmers Boys School. I wanted to play the drums so badly I joined the cadets at Kingston Senior High School. It normally takes (6) six weeks to get into the cadet and six (6) months before you can play an instrument in the band, but it took me one (1) week to pass the test with a score of 100%, and to secure a place in the cadet. They saw my determination and I was allowed to play the drums because of my tenacity. Back in England, and even in Jamaica, drum sets were not readily available as today. The first one I saw was in Byron Lee’s band, when they played at a stage show for RJR in Jamaica. I could not stop looking at it!
Shortly after I joined the cadet, my parents moved and went to live in Havendale where I attended Meadowbrook High School for about (9) nine months. Then I moved to Liguanea and began to attend the Wolmers Boys High School. It was at that time, my friends and I decided to start a band called ‘Dynamic Visions’. However, the Headmaster, Mr. Bogle, did not want us to perform in any band, because he felt it was more practical for his students to focus on their academics first. Furthermore, if there would be any form of music, he would encourage students to be involved in Classical music as oppose to Ska and Pop music. But we had a proposal. We told him that if he would allow us to perform at the school activities, then we would donate part of the money raised from our performances to the school’s library rebuilding project. He accepted our proposal and we were allowed to play. As stated in our proposal, we donated a portion of our earnings to the school’s library project. The other portion we used to purchase better instruments for the band. We began to get very popular in the school and the community and as a result, we were receiving a number of invitations to play for other schools activities, parties etc. Once we played in a church band competition band, and it was shortly afterwards that our band broke up and we went our separate ways. That was a rough time! Members of Dynamic Visions include, Richard Grey, Collin Leslie, Paul Thorborn, Phillip Brady, Keith Jones, Winston Stoner, Scotty and Willie Stewart.
Music was still in our blood. It was Independence celebration in Jamaica and there were quite a few street dances taking place all over the island. We attended a street dance/concert at the Lane Plaza. The lead guitarist from Dynamic Visions, Richard Grey and I went up on stage and ‘jammed’ with the Ingrid Chins Band called ‘Avengers’.
Roger and Ian Lewis, who had a band called ‘Memphis Underground’ saw us playing with the ‘Avengers’. Roger approached us and asked us to join his group. We accepted. Shortly after we were joined by keyboard player Michael “Ibo” Cooper and we then changed the name of the group to the ever popular “Inner Circle”. They were made famous for their theme song “Bad Boys” from the TV series COPS. Sufficient to say, they had many other hit records in their later years. In the earlier years of ‘Inner Circle’, the band was managed by Roger and Ian’s father, Mr. Lewis. We rehearsed at the University of the West Indies at Mona Campus and we played together for a long time. We practiced at least twice a week and we played the latest top 20 (twenty) local and foreign as well as ‘oldies’ songs. We were the resident club and show band at ‘The Tunnel Night Club’ in Liguanea. One Saturday night, Bunny Clarke came to the club while we were performing and asked us if we knew the song ‘Fall in Love’ in the Key of D. We played the song and he came up and sang with us. At the end of that week, he was a member of our band. During this time, Stephen ‘Cat’ Coore used to ‘jam’ with us on lead guitar and eventually he became a member also. After the departure of Richard Grey, the band was prepared and ready to begin its musical journey. We played for Festival competitions and we were the selected musical band to back many artists on their stage shows, including the singing group ‘Blue Busters’. We became quite popular. We became one of the first bands to open the show for Stevie Wonder at the Carib Theater. It was a treat for us musicians to open for Stevie Wonder! This was our first exposure and opportunity to have a live and real experience with such great musicians, who we have only heard on radio and records. We went on a short tour to Bermuda and started to record with artistes like Derrick Harriott, Scotty and Burning Flame and many more. We also began working on our first band album.
Then it so happened that Byron Lee’s drummer, Esmond Jarrett, broke his leg in a car accident, so they asked me to be the ‘interim’ drummer for the group, as they were scheduled to complete an international tour. I accepted and our first stop on that tour was Europe. We also went to Iceland. Imagine! I was 16 years old. My parents saw that I loved music so much, and they thought that this would be a good opportunity and experience for me. When I decided to leave ‘Inner Circle’, it was not that easy as we were so bonded as a group of musicians. Prior to my leaving the group, Bunny Clarke had returned to New York. I spent two and a half years with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. One of my most memorable trips was when we drove straight from Miami to Montreal. This was the first time I had a chance to see the cities of the United States of America in their ‘hectic’ brilliance. It was quite a ‘crash course’ on the vastness of America from the I-95 point of view, South to North. Man, it was a trip! We played in Montreal and we had (3) three shows every night. From there we went to Greenland. My experience with Byron Lee’ s band was one of discipline, uniformity and being able to ‘drive the band musically’ every night.
A couple of years went by. I felt I needed a break from music so I went into sales. I decided to work with another brother of mine who gave me my first play drum set, Gene Lee. Gene was about to launch into his sales company called Miracle Corporation. I had gotten married to my beautiful wife, Carol Chung. Carol and I both went to Meadowbrook High together. Five (5) years later, I went back to Meadowbrook High School for a visit. I saw her and the rest is history. Our union has produced six wonderful children, namely, (from oldest to youngest), Lisa, Kezia, Sara , Alieka, our son-Monea William and Leea.
All of my children loved music. Three of them got involved in some aspect of the music industry. Alieka appeared to enjoy engineering, so I sent her to engineering classes on week-ends or afterschool. She learnt very quickly and she did very well. She engineered all of my compositions. She is now a manager at Enterprise Rent a Car in Florida. Monea, my son, plays everything-the drums, the keyboard etc. However, his first love is the keyboard. He is also a producer and creates original rhythms. He is the one to look out for; great music to come! Leea is a singer and is involved in productions. She is currently pursuing an album. I am expecting great things from her .My other three (3) daughters-Lisa was a flight attendant for Air Jamaica, Kezia worked as a Court Liaison for the Department of Children and Families in Florida, and Sara is a Manager for the Doctors office at ‘For Eyes Optical’ in Florida.
I am proud of all my children and their achievements, and I am also proud of my six grand children.”
Part II~~ Willie Stewart AND Third World…..
Willie stayed with Byron Lee and The Dragonaires for two years. He caught sight of the Third World Band when they opened up for Michael Jackson at the National Stadium in Jamaica. When Willie attended the Michael Jackson show, he was not involved in any band for about a year and a half, as he was raising his family and working. However, he was restless and his love for music led him to join another group, ‘Happiness Unlimited’. This group was managed by Hart Richards. Willie felt like himself again. They played mostly in the country areas and on the Northern Coast of Jamaica.
During that time, Third World was also engaged in weekend resident ‘gigs’ at Holiday Inn in Montego Bay. They would play at the poolside of Holiday Inn on Sunday evenings and they would play upstairs in the club at nights. Collin Leslie, a former bass guitarist of Dynamic Vision, originally began to play bass for Third World. Eventually, he decided to assist with the management of the group, and Richard Daley took over the position of being the bass guitarist. ‘Happiness Unlimited’ would ‘get the Holiday Inn gig’ when Third World could not make it. Willie was still employed as a salesman and his travelling and work responsibilities became a conflict. He was the road manager for the group and he was also managing his work load simultaneously. He had to make a choice. Willie decided to leave the group, Happiness Unlimited, and began to get serious about his job. However, music continues to follow him wherever he goes. He teamed up with one of his former teachers, Mr. Chin, and they started to promote Christmas fetes. He had always kept in contact with his former members of Inner Circle, namely, -‘Ibo’ and ‘Cat’ who started Third World.
Third World performed at the Epiphany Club in New Kingston, and that was Willie’s first time seeing the group perform a new show before going to England. He was blown away by what he saw! They were really good! Third World group then left for England and opened up for (4) four of Bob Marley’s shows. While in the United Kingdom, Chris Blackwell signed the group to Island Records and they completed their first album entitled “Third World”. They eventually came back to Jamaica and continued to perform at various functions. They were quickly gaining recognition on the local market from all the ‘reviews and buzz’ from their UK tour.
The drummer for Third World, Cornel Marshal, resigned from the group and they were searching for a creative and unique drummer. As fate would have it, Willie was shopping in Liguanea Plaza when he ran into Richard Daley, bass guitarist for Third World. Willie inquired of the group and Richard informed him that the drummer had left the group and they were auditioning for new drummers, as they were about to embark on their promotional tour for their first album. Richard told him that ‘Cat’ & ‘Ibo’ said that there was only one drummer who could play without an audition and that person was Willie Stewart. Willie says he immediately met with Ibo and told him he was available. The group had a meeting and Willie came on board without an audition, but with ‘nuff rehearsal’. Their first engagement was at Playboy in Oracabessa on the 31st of December 1975. Two months later, the group was on its way to San Francisco. Willie did not play on the first album, but he played on their promotional tour. They went everywhere in the United States on that tour! Third World Band spent approximately (7) seven months in America. During their musical excursion, the group also met Carlos Santana and opened one of his shows. Willie says Santana loved Third World. It was on this tour, Third World Band made their first appearance on the ‘Good Morning America’ show. They wrapped up the tour at Bottom Line, New York. The Third World group at that time consisted of, ‘Ibo’, ‘Cat’, Richie, ‘Carrot’, Prilly and Willie.
After this successful tour, the group took a break. Prilly Hamilton decided to leave the group. Bunny Clarke came back on the scene and he was drafted into the group as the new lead singer. Third World was trying to build an international and local name at the same time. The first ‘gig’ with Bunny was CARIFEST at the Carib Theatre. The Band went into Harry J Studios and created the first album ‘96 Degrees in the Shade’. Third World became very active in Jamaica and wanted to do something different for the Jamaican people. They created a production with Tommy Pinnock and Fred Hickling and staged a production which was a culmination of drama and music. The title of the production was called ‘Explan-i-tation’. They completed at least (50) fifty shows and it was reported that all shows were sold out.
The Band was without a manager and it was at one of these shows that Eulysis Lewis from Seattle Washington came on board as the Third World new manager. After an incredible spiritual retreat in Portland, the group went to Compass Pointe Studios in Nassau and created the ever popular album ‘Journey to Addis’ with the featured single ‘Now That We Found Love’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNAC7P_9Yf8). In 1988, Third World went on a Caribbean tour of Guyana and Suriname. It was during this tour that they were informed by their record company, Island Records, that the single ‘Now That We Found Love’ was taking off in the UK. It was understood that they had to leave the tour to promote their new album. Island Records had a distribution deal with Warner Brothers in the United States, and the first two albums scheduled to be released in America was of Bob Marley and Third World. Their single ‘Now That We Found Love’ went to number # 2 on BBC Charts in the United Kingdom and Europe, number #16 on the US POP charts, and high on the R&B Charts, as well as twice number #1 on the New York radio charts. Third World also completed a documentary/movie called ‘Prisoner in the Street’.
The group then went to Los Angeles to work on their next album, ‘Stories Been Told’ which had the number one (1) hit single in Jamaica, ‘Always Around’, written by ‘Carrot’. They also completed one last album at Tuff Gong Studios for Island Records ‘Arise in Harmony’. Third World then went on to complete another drama/music production at the Little Theater called ‘Transmigration’. It was after this production that the group left Island Records and signed on with CBS. Under the auspices of CBS, they completed their first album entitled ‘Rock the World’ at Criteria Studios in Miami. It produced a hit single ‘Dancing on the Floor’ which was number #9 on the BBC Charts.
Afterwards, Stevie Wonder came to Ocho Rios and the Band became associated with Stevie. Bob Marley had passed away during this time and Third World was going to perform at the Reggae Sunsplash as a tribute to Bob Marley. History was created at Jarrett Park Mo-bay as Stevie Wonder came on stage with Third World. It was a show to remember! This association with Stevie Wonder sparked a collaboration of two songs ‘Try Jah Love’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INY3kQJbylc) and ‘Playin’ Us Too Close’ on the CBS album ‘You’ve Got The Power’. This album was certified platinum in Japan.
Amnesty International is an organization whose mission is to promote awareness of the worldwide human rights injustices and prevent human rights abuses. As part of their campaign, they launched a huge concert and its purpose was to draw international attention to their mission. Third World opened the show at the Giant Stadium with about 80,000 people in attendance and MTV coverage with over 20 million viewers. Also performing on that show were Santana, Miles, Sting, Cat Stevens , Brian Adams, to mention a few. After this momentous event, they toured West Africa, which included Lagos, Benin, Port Harcourt and also the Ivory Coast. They spent approximately two months in Nigeria, where they were inspired to write the song ‘Lagos Jump’ from the album ‘All the Way Strong’. Third World’s final album for CBS was ‘Hold On to Love’. This was in collaboration with Kenny Campbell and Leon Huff (from Philadelphia International Records), who wrote the lyrics to the song “Now That We Found Love”. Third World was the proud recipient of the 1986 “United Nations Peace Medal”, 1992 and 1996 Jamaica Music Industry awards for Best Show Band, and several nominations for the Grammy Awards. ‘Serious Business’, the debut album for Polygram, had the R&B hit single ‘Forbidden Love’ and this went to number #17 on the R&B Charts. ‘Forbidden Love’ was written by Rupert Bent (new co-writer), Richie, ‘Ibo’, Bolten, Bunny and ‘Cat’. ‘Committed’, the final album for Polygram, had the hit single ‘Committed’, and this went to number #17 on the R&B charts. The title track for their album ‘Committed’ was written by Willie, Steven Stewart and ‘Ibo’ Cooper. Their last independent album before Willie left the group was ‘Live it Up’. The lyrics for were written by Willie and Bunny.
Willie says his best traveling experiences and memorable moments with Third World were: Playing at their own place at Zinc Fence, New Kingston; ‘Backing’ Bob Marley at the ‘Smile Jamaica Concert’ at National Heroes Park,(this was the time when Bob got shot); Playing at SunSplash and the Mud Splash where Third World received (5) five encores that night; Playing with Stevie Wonder in 1981 at SunSplash; Trip to Nigeria & Ivory Coast; Playing live with Santana when Third World was his opening act; Playing for the United Nations and receiving the “United Nations Peace Medal,” award; Playing in Uganda; Playing in Paris to a crowd of 11,000 people (vibes was amazing); The concert at Montreaux Jazz Festival, Switzerland; The Botswana concert; SunSplash at Radio City Music Hall in New York; Performing for Mandela’s visit to Atlanta; Performing for the 1996 Olympics at the House of Blues in Atlanta to a sold out crowd of 7,000 people, during which Santana spontaneously joined the group on stage and played along with the band; Playing in Los Angeles at the Poly Pavilion and playing in New Orleans. But most of all, it was most memorable to just be able to play with Third World, a set of talented brothers and musicians, who were able to create their own unique creation style of music and expression. This venture gave Willie a life time of joy and happiness. As he says, “I feel really blessed and give God Thanks”. The Third World successful journey is captured in this written excerpt from the United Nations presented to the Third World Band:
“United Nations Staff Recreation Council-Cultural Society Salutes Third World and takes great honor in presenting you with this citation in recognition of your achievements in the world of music and in the struggle for the betterment of peoples everywhere. Through your original and powerful music, you have made a vital contribution to the highlighting of public awareness of the problems faced by the continent of Africa, and by the struggling peoples all over the world. Your success in the International arena attest to the universality of your music, as it transcends cultural, racial and social differences. We thank you for sharing those immeasurable musical talents with us. Once again, we salute you the members of Third World and wish you continued success in your quest for international peace, goodwill and cooperation. United Nations, 30th of May 1986.”
(*from the actual United Nations citation transcript)
Willie completed his last tour with Third World in January 1997 and his final show was in Barbados in March 1997, after which, he left the band. Willie was a part of the Third World band for (21) twenty-one years.
Part III~~Willie Stewart BEYOND Third World…
*Willie shares his story-in his own words:*
“In 1981, which was the time of collaboration with Stevie Wonder and Third World, I decided to pursue formal training in music, but did not know how to go about it. A friend of mine who was the drummer of the band WAR, recommended Dr. Billy Moore as a great teacher, who taught many of the top drummers today. He encouraged me to pursue music academically. I followed his advice and completed a three (3) year certified course in orchestra snare drum/drum set with Dr Billy Moore. He advised me that “everything is great now, anything can happen, so get your certificate now so that you are able to teach when you are older.” He sure encouraged me. I took his advice and after Third World, I flew to England to pursue this path. I returned to England to see if I could produce new music with a Jamaican sound out of the English experience. Deep down, I wanted to give back something unique to the youths which could inspire and make a difference in their lives. I checked the local newspapers because I wanted to see if there were any openings for working with children. In my search, I came across a training program offered by ‘Access to Music’. I decided to complete the music facilitator/educator and workshop leader course. In my training program, I had a chance to work and study with some of the top music workshop facilitators, educators and leaders in the UK. It was a little different working in the English school system. My UK training with ‘Access to Music’ showed me how to coordinate and conduct workshops. I used this knowledge to develop my own unique workshops. In fact, I had invited ‘Ibo’ to join me in presenting a couple of educational performances and workshops. Firstly, we completed an incredible (3) three day workshop on the History of Reggae and Music and Modern Creative Recording, which included song writing, at Breeton Hall. We then completed a concert/lecture workshop at Lambeth College, and a Special Education workshop at Haling Manor High School. After graduation, ‘Access to Music’ wanted me to come back and work with them, but I was home sick for Jamaica.
A friend of mine, Eddy Grant was planning a concert in Tobago and wanted me to come along and be a part of this special event (Ring Band Celebration 2000). I decided to go and rehearse in Barbados and assisted him in assembling the band (Eddy Grant Frontline Orchestra). It was broadcasted live from Tobago to 2.5 billion people through BBC and ABC coverage. I lived in England for three (3) years and so in early 2000 I decided to leave and return to Jamaica. I went by way of Los Angeles to complete an album project with ‘Ibo’, ‘Carrot’ as well as Keith Jones (a former member of the Dynamic Vision group). After that project in LA, my family and I decided to migrate to Florida, Pembroke Pines. I developed a workshop called ‘Introduction to Percussion’, a workshop designed for the youths to build self esteem , build character, expose and re-acquaint the youths to a variety of styles and culture used in drumming. I began to work with the Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation, Middle and High schools of Broward, Miami Dade and West Palm, communities, colleges and universities. In 2002, I started to receive contracts with companies and that’s when the idea popped into my head to conduct teambuilding/stress relief percussion workshops for Corporate America. Eventually, the idea developed into workshops with Western Union, McGraw Hill, American Express, For Eyes Optical, Johnston and Johnston, Jackson Hospital, FPL Fiber Net, Miramar Pembroke Pines, Chamber of Commerce and City of Miramar, and much more. The workshops were becoming more and more successful. They are such fun! And it’s great! It is designed to relief stress through laughter and excitement, build team spirit and uplift the rhythm inside of you.
I developed another workshop called Rhythms of Africa for Schools and Universities. This is designed to take you through the history of drums and show where the various types of drum sound and beats come from. It’s a cultural journey in the revolutionary influence of African Rhythms throughout the world. It is a musical journey from Africa to Brazil, Cuba, New Orleans, Jamaica, and Trinidad to the present. A rhythm that never stops beating. Musicians coming together in harmony to paint through music a journey of sound and rhythm of a people, in a concert performance workshop.
Part IV~~Willie Stewart CREATES ‘Solutions in Music’……
1. You now have developed and created ‘Solutions in Music’. What is ‘Solutions in Music’? Briefly describe your passion for this program.
A friend of mine gave me that name and I adopted it. Music is the solution for everything. In ‘August Rush’ movie, it encapsulates this maxim: ‘Music is the harmonic connection between all human beings’. ‘Solutions in Music’ is unique because people are playing percussion instruments and having a good time doing it! I emphasize team building and stress relief music exercises. You play games and engage in fun activities as a group-Play together, harmonize, have fun, laugh etc. I use various tunes to take them on a journey, and teach them about the musical history of the percussion instruments.
‘Solutions in Music’ is the umbrella corporation. I have developed specific workshops under this umbrella namely, Percussion For Kids, History of Reggae Music and Rhythms of Africa. When you teach children you are aiding in the development of personality. When you play drums, you develop in the areas of multi-tasking. It takes practice and technique. Children work hard and the more they work hard, the more positive results they receive. My experience with Third World gave me a different ‘hat’. As a creative musical entertainer, I come with the different mindset that there is no right or wrong way to play drums. We have to adapt and create different and new methods in order to teach effectively. My job is to encourage their unique creativity and inspire them through partnership learning and through facilitation, extract the best out of them. I play a different role as a workshop leader. I have to be passionate and flexible to teach according to the various distinctive personalities. I also believe in using a partnership role to facilitate. It is all about liberating learning through action, using mind, body and sound. Acquisition of skill is achieved through small progressive and successful steps .In understanding that fact, students learn in different ways. There is no one standard way of teaching; it is always developing. (Presentation of Willie’s workshop—http://animoto.com/play/6iKQQI0pSiQOxOyOlhVQPg)
2. How successful is this program so far?
I conducted a workshop for the Juvenile Detention Center Prison Program. I knew this was successful when I heard one of the young men who were incarcerated said to me “If I knew music was so much fun, I would not have wasted my time as a kid trying to be an adult.” Music is the universal language of the world. I wanted to share my love and passion for music because I had so much fun throughout the years. To date, I teach private drum lessons to (50) fifty students. Some have entered competitions and have won awards. I take the time to influence them from the age of (5) five to (60) sixty. Everyone can beat a rhythm. I have done workshops at school retreats. I also completed a workshop with a group of optometrists and they enjoyed it so much. I also met with (15) fifteen top executives with Pearson Group Distributors and my workshop was to ‘break the ice’ for their (3) three day meeting. It was great!
3. In retrospect, could you see yourself doing something else aside from being a musician/drummer?
No, I could not see myself doing anything besides playing drums. Humanitarian pursuits, yes, but I still feel that percussion is the method I would use to deliver my message, and to help people from the core of their being. On an educational level, I am qualified to teach drums. Teaching drums has helped me to move into other areas were I can analyze from an educated informed perspective while appreciating, recognizing and balancing, but most of all, respecting the natural creative God element of talent and creativity that exists in all human beings.
4. What do you think of the quality of reggae music coming out of Jamaica?
I think Jamaica is a gold mine in music. I want to go to Jamaica and have permanent connections with what I am involved with right now. I am in the process of introducing ‘Solutions in Music’ to Jamaicans. I must say that ‘Ibo’, has also chosen to work with children in Jamaica, and he is doing an amazing job! About (4) four years ago, he invited me to Jamaica to conduct a drum and percussion workshop and it was a fantastic time with the students of Edna Manley School of Arts. It was certainly enjoyable ‘jamming’ along with Ibo and the students. It was an unforgettable experience explaining the history of reggae music to these impressionable minds. But we need more musicians to pursue that quality and excellence of music, and that passion for the next generation.
Jamaica does need to change the negativity of some of the music and musicians need to get more involved in helping the younger kids from a musical platform. They should incorporate more training in ‘band’ playing to reduce the children’s idleness and channel their creativity and energy in an active way. I believe music is the way to gain more positivity in Jamaica, but we need the help of the musicians in the society. In pursuit of excellence, if we give the proper respect to our innate musical culture, music can save Jamaica. This is our piece of land. In order for that to happen, we should educate the children in a partnership, using a facilitating method from an early age, to address music from the point of excellence, natural creativity, writing songs and lyrics for more uplifting and positive energy, with proper chord structure and technique, and as a result they can execute music with excellence and improvise. Jamaicans have a unique gift when it comes to music. Jamaica is known around the world for our music and that makes us special. When I go around the world, I am of the belief that God gave us something extra, and we should honor that. If all kids get a chance, and the nation respect music, they will find a way to harness their children. Also, older people need to trust younger people ideas. They need to listen to them and listen to their pain. They need to have more patience with younger generation. Sometimes it’s hard to see through a child’s eye. But older folks have a wealth of experience for the young ones to lean on. I know love is the magic that can make this happen. We complain about things, but we need another focus. We need to be more compassionate. I would say to the younger generation: We are in the technology era and ‘bored’ is a popular word in the young people’s vocabulary. But I would encourage you to get a paper and pen, interview your granny and write a book. I wish my parents could see their great-grandchildren. I have six grandchildren: (2) boys and (4) four girls. I wish their great-grandparents could visit them and pass on the stories, as was the oral tradition to pass down stories from our great ancestors from Africa. I would urge Jamaica not to let the culture die. We Jamaicans, have a ‘knack’ for taking the simple things and making them into big things. Where is the next musical icon of Jamaica? There are more ‘big’ things to come out of Jamaica. It is time to come forward, and start talking from your soul, talking from the truth. When you talk from truth, there is no stopping this generation.
5. What are your hobbies-besides playing the drums?
I like to exercise. I like to run or walk. I also love football and cricket and I like to work out at the gym. I also like to meditate and listen to music, and watch movies.
6. How recognized is your work within the community?
I was invited to be a presenter/workshop leader at the 5th Annual Arts Integration Conference (More pics from conference–http://www.jlastudios.com/galleries/willie-gallery).
The theme emphasizes exercising creativity and developing the whole child through Arts. This is targeting the educational professionals (Teachers of Broward County) as it is being proven that art/music improves language skills, storytelling and multiply intelligence. It is slowly becoming a reality that the introduction of music in the classroom is an important educational component of the students learning. This event was sponsored and funded by Florida Dept of State Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
I was also nominated for the 2008 African American Achievers Award, and in honor of my nomination I got a special certificate Recognition Award in honor of my Achievements and ongoing pursuit of Excellence. (Event sponsored by JM Family, Inc./Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC) ‘Rhythms of Africa’ was shown on the NBC night news. There was also a PBS special on my workshop.
7. How important is Music in the educational system? And how would your method be effective in the classroom? Do you think there should be more emphasis of music education in the core curriculum for students?
I believe that teachers play a very important role in influencing our children and shaping their future. As a teacher and educator myself I know how hard it can be sometimes to keep proper classroom management.
The percussion workshops that I offer have proven to be the key to a successful tool with maintaining classroom management. My method- a tool that can be used to bring students together- helps them to concentrate and gives the student a wonderful opportunity to focus as individuals and as a group in developing and sharpening their listening skills. All students have to participate in the workshop which leads to creativity, teamwork, unity building and team spirit.
I use rhythm as a tool to expand their minds. I have found that rhythm bridges the gap between the teacher/student relationship as well as just the students themselves. The unique hands on experience and the interaction that occurs amongst the participants strengthens their motor skills, as well as relieves any stress through laughter, excitement and creative physical action. It also gives the students a unique chance to play in small groups and also as an entire class; encouraging them to take on leadership roles through individual solos and conducting.
Drumming energizes the body and gives us physical vitality, gets our hearts pounding, our blood flowing and releases the endorphins that are associated with the “runners high” resulting in the mind and body feeling a sense of clarity, achievement, satisfaction and peace.
By sharing this workshop with teachers ‘Solutions In Music’ will set the stage for the teachers to bond with their students and also gain their attention and respect. It will be a teambuilding, educational, musical, fun, cultural, stress relieving moment for everyone, and most of all, it will be an unforgettable experience!
This program can be used by all teachers, not just teachers of music. It is aligned to the Florida Sunshine State Standards and can be adopted quite easily in the classroom. The workshop works well with all students, of all ages, and the various topics it delves into are diverse and connect with the undeserved kids and minorities of our community. It is universal in its approach and methods, and appeals to all regardless of race, religion or creed.
It is a known fact that certain children who have learning difficulties can memorize a whole song, word for word and learn the lyrics and melody as well as beat “rhythm” for up to 30 songs. In fact, we all have seen how students will imitate famous songs, drum rhythms and beats right on their desks and chairs with a simple pencil or pen as drum sticks to express their creativity. This shows that children learn in different ways. We can tap into this rhythm and use this vehicle to teach math, English, science, geography, languages, history and culture! We will capture their attention because they are learning in a format that they easily relate to and students will see the positive results.
Dr. Jean Houston of ‘Foundation for the Mind Research’ says that children without access to the arts are actually damaging their brain. They are not being exposed to non-verbal modalities which help them learn skills like reading, writing, and math much more easily (Roehmann, 1988).
A set of band directors when surveyed spoke in general terms about the benefits of band education; they created a list of benefits: discipline, teamwork, coordination, development of skills, lifetime skills, accomplishments, cooperation, self-confidence, sense of belonging, responsibility, self expression, creativity, performance, companionship, builds character and personality, improves self esteem, social development and enjoyment.
When discussing the reasons why the arts should remain in the curriculum of our schools and colleges, I am passionate. In order to help our children we can lend valuable assistance through our teachers. The teacher is the student’s mentor, parent, advisor as well as someone who the child looks up to and trusts. Assisting and encouraging and sharing our skills and knowledge and ideas in workshops with teachers gives ‘Solutions In Music’ the chance to give something back and contribute in shaping the next generation in a positive way.
8. What makes ‘Solutions in Music’ unique?
Currently, America and the World at large are under going a huge economic shift, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. People are tired and weary, stressed and over-worked. This program is perfect in bringing harmony and a little window of ‘fresh air’. It gives them a chance to share with each other in a free and fun-filled atmosphere in the workplace and in the educational system.
9. Aside from God and your family, who inspires you the most in your musical career?
Sister Feea, Daughter of Zion. She has been the most inspirational individual in my musical career since Third World, and she continues to inspire me. She has been a wonderful friend, sister and just a lovely person. She is sincere in everything that she does and everything that she says. She has been a tremendous example to me over the years and I give God thanks for her. She is a creative and gifted artist, songwriter, inspirational writer and poet. In fact, she had written many songs for many artists including Third World, namely ‘Save the Children of the World’, ‘Rock Me’ and ‘Take this Song’. She also wrote the song “Land of Africa’ for a musical project which includes Steel Pulse, Third World, Gregory Isaacs, Aswad and many other artists. The proceeds of this single went to aid the Ethiopian famine victims.
10. On a side note, what do think of the recent TEAM Jamaica display at the Olympics?
I take off my hat and salute the athletic ‘Team Jamaica’. They have made Jamaica proud. They have shown the world by their incredible spirit, humility and reverence for the Creator, which is a reflection of how dignified and how great Jamaica is. They have made every Jamaican proud. Their bold statement to the young people and future youths of Jamaica is ‘whatever you are passionate about’ once you train and put your mind on the task, and once you have that dream you can reach the to the very top of your pursuits, and nothing is impossible”. They have indeed left a legacy for our future generations to follow. My respect goes to the honorable Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and the rest of the Honorable team. And of course, to the Honorable Women’s Team (Shelly-Ann Fraser, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson). Man, they should receive the highest honor status of Jamaica. To the Team: Thank You! You are the real and true ambassadors of Jamaica. Yu mek wi proud till wi wha buss at both home and abroad!
11. Any final thoughts?
I just want to take this opportunity to thank the Third World fan base who supported us, and are still supporting us today. From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful for the love and support from all our friends and people who have helped and supported me throughout the years. Without any of them, I could not be where I am today. I do wish each and every individual a successful and blessed life.
Willie, THANK YOU for your willingness to participate in this Jamaicans.com Interview! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!
*Pictures: Courtesy of Dominique, Howard Levy, Diane Schafer, Jose Amador and Tom Terrell.
Contact Info: www.williestewart.net