BY RICHARD JOHNSON —
THERE is unbridled passion in Mikey Bennett’s voice when he speaks of his work with young people. He is set to receive the Mentorship Award from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) at its Honor Awards ceremony at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston, on February 26.
The renowned vocalist, songwriter and producer told the Jamaica Observer he got a little emotional when he first heard about the recognition by JaRIA at its premier event which wraps up celebrations marking Reggae Month.
“To be recognized by my peers is something that I take very personal. I have been recognized as a songwriter and producer, but this… this is the best acknowledgement I could ever receive from the music industry, an industry which I love dearly,” said Bennett.
His road to becoming a mentor began quite serendipitously.
“This room was just there idle. After we were done, one of the youngsters said: ‘Why not make this a rehearsal room?’ That rehearsal space started what has been a great relationship with the college, and I have become an Honorary Uncle to so many brilliant youngsters. I am always honored and humbled to be in their presence, to share information and perspectives. I am at my best when I am in this position of role model and mentor to awesome young people.”
Bennett’s role of mentor was recently formalized. He heads the Fi Wi Jamaica program at the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development, it exposes young people to various aspects of the entertainment industry.
He is particularly proud of the Masters in Residence initiative.
“This aspect introduces the students to major players in the local industry for one-on-one discussion and dialogue. It is just wonderful to see this unfolding. It is such a pleasure to bridge that gap. It is my dream job and this recognition by JaRIA is just the icing on the cake.”
The advice Bennett shares today is based on the guidance he received during his formative years. Among those he credits for mentoring him are the Chung brothers — Geoffrey and Mikey.
“I grew up near them and would stop by their house every opportunity I could get just to learn from them. They insisted on standards, showed me that it was okay to be decent, and that made me more comfortable just being myself,” he recalled. “Errol Thompson was also a good mentor who shared with me the importance of understanding the audience for whom I was writing. Plus, there were the mentors at home — my mother and aunties. I had the best of all worlds.
“I have to mention Nambo Robinson who we lost just last week. He was also one of those generational bridges who, along with Dean Fraser, showed me what it really means to be a mentor by giving of self and talent. This award is a tribute to that legacy,” he added.
For those not fortunate to share space with Bennett in his rehearsal space at Grafton or a classroom at UTech, the Kingston College old boy advised aspiring artistes to “be a good person”.
“If you want great results you have to put in great work, so decide what you want. There is a lot of support out there, but you have to do the research. Don’t fall prey to complacency,” said Bennett.