If you don’t know the story of the Alpha Boys School, then you’re missing out on an indispensable part of Jamaica’s cultural birthright. Located at 26 South Camp Road in the heart of Kingston, the school for orphaned and at-risk boys is actually a dream factory for turning victims of negative experiences into positive young men, while using music as a legitimate weapon. Or, as one student put it, “Music is the magic and it’s a good place where students can turn their lives around.”
Alpha is managed by the Sisters of Mercy order and provides a school for its students, as well as a working farm, a printery, a music academy, a football club, a woodworking shop, and more recently a radio station, each of which offers platforms for real world skill-building. For the past 28 years Winston ‘Sparrow’ Martin, who came to Alpha as a student at age 8 and toured professionally with Inner Circle and recorded as a drummer on Bob Marley’s classic “Stir It Up,” has been the mind behind the school’s music program.
According to Sparrow, trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, one of the founders of the Skatalites, got into trouble on purpose as a youth so that he could be sent to Alpha, as did Sparrow himself. “I misbehaved, you know, because I wanted to get sent here,” Sparrow recalled, rattling off the names of jazz giants like Joe Harriott, Dizzy Reece, and dancehall superstar Yellowman, as among those who have passed through Alpha’s doors. Alpha was also home to Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, the star of the film Rockers, who is still an active session drummer and recently visited his old stomping grounds for the first time since the 1970s. As well, the Geejam Collection’s esteemed jazz band boasts members of the current generation of Alpha alumns. “You come with nothing and you leave with everything,” said Sparrow. “I’ve been here for 28 years. And I’ll stay until God tells me ‘that’s it.’”