Jamaica Gleaner / Professional actor Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis is widely regarded as one of the Caribbean’s top comedic entertainers. But many are the hats that he wears.
The established comedian has been a songwriter, percussionist and backing vocalist for dub poet Oku Onuora, in addition to being an educator, author, playwright and multi-award winning actor/director throughout his career in the performing arts.
Ellis is a partner in the recently established performing arts school, New Approach School of Performing Arts (NASPA), a subdivision of the privately owned New Approach Learning and Resource Centre, and continues to teach at four schools throughout the island.
“I enjoy teaching and I am also a student at the University of the West Indies (UWI). I have taken on about four courses that are a part of my degree and have already started the research aspect,” Ellis told The Gleaner .
Though known to make fun of serious issues, education is not one of the topics Ellis takes for a joke. He has gathered experience both as a student and teacher in the classrooms at the Edna Manley School of Visual and Performing Arts which has had a significant influence on his teaching style. Ellis is also a graduate of York University in Toronto, Ontario, where he earned his master’s degree in environmental studies. The degree concentrated on the intersection of gender, culture and environment.
The next phase of his educational journey to complete a doctor of philosophy in cultural studies is under way. The entertainer started the PhD at UWI in September of this year, a degree that could take anywhere from two year to five years – even more, depending on the research topic selected. However, he is determined to finish the degree in a shorter period of time.
“It is my plan to complete the PhD in a maximum of 18 months, including the research aspect. I am doing a study on Trench Town as a birthing space within that topic. I am trying to deconstruct the idea of what and who is Trench Town,” Ellis said.
The research is still being fine-tuned. The project will require him to visit all areas of the culture, politics and entertainment that has come from Trench Town – from past to present. Ellis was a resident of and attended the Trench Town Primary School. However, his family moved on New Year’s Day 1976 after their home was set on fire during a political upheaval.
Making reference to his early life in the community, Ellis says, “I was born and raised in Trench Town, so I can claim Trench Town. I didn’t come to Trench Town, I am from Trench Town. My family leaving was because of the incident which was an outcome of political tribalism that was happening.”
Ellis commends the Marley family for their contribution to the Kingston 12 community, for making it known worldwide, but aspires to learn more about the history of it all, adding that Jamaicans and outsiders have to learn more about the communities in Trench Town. more about what caused the division of the
With a hint of hilarity, Ellis added: “Trench Town is a place of pilgrimage and it not only attracts pilgrims but parasites as well, so I’m also interested in the topic of ‘ghetto tours’, the benefits of the tourists visiting and how much of that income goes back to the community,” Ellis said.
“Trench Town is still one of our poorest and crime-infested communities, so I am looking on it as an example. I am going back there to look at the work of politicians, producers, all who play a role in the area, and I may mess up some sacred cows in the process,” he continued.
The entertainer admits it is a difficult research but is passionate about it and is helping Trench Town to learn more about its identity as a home to its residents and as a contributor to Jamaica’s heritage. Ellis continues to teach and perform during his university studies.