Over the past twenty years, Sheldon Shepherd has been a notable figure in the Jamaican entertainment world, and it’s clear his momentum isn’t slowing down.
You might recognise him from Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie (2018) or his award-winning role in Better Mus Come (2012), but Sheldon’s talents go beyond acting. He’s also the driving force behind The No-Maddz, a Jamaican art collective and roots reggae dub poetry band. Plus, he’s the author of In the Morning Yah.
With new projects on the horizon including a role in the upcoming Bob Marley biopic, Bob Marley: One Love (2024), we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Sheldon and learn more about his journey …
Please introduce yourself …
My name is Sheldon Shepherd I am a Jamaican creative with a strong passion for Culture, Stories, Theatre, Music and Dub Poetry.
Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …
I would describe my life and journey thus far as poised and ever growing – I live by “everyday is better than the one before.”
The first time we spoke to you was on the Red Carpet for Idris Elba’s Yardie – how much has changed for you since then?
Since Yardie – which was my first film produced out of Jamaica – I have garnered much appeal and appreciation from audiences all over the world and also from my peers and fellow industry professionals – I think that the film has added much acclaim and has been a purposeful step towards sharing my works, building a supportive community and adding credibility to the Jamaican film industry.
You have quite a lot going on right now … first up the Marley biopic One Love can you tell us a bit about your role and how it came about?
The Marley biopic for me has been really important and special, for one, I got the role on my Birthday in September 2022. The film also allowed me to share in a timeless legacy.
The powerful legacy of Bob Marley and his impact on the world is almost indescribable – but for you, what does he mean to you and how has he impacted your life as a creative?
I play Neville Garrick – Bob Marley’s art director – One of the high points for me was to meet Neville Garrick – we spent a lot of time together on set and bonded in a special way, we found out that in reality we have so much in common; we went to the same high school in Jamaica, Neville’s art teacher at KC (Kingston College – Mr. Ivan ‘Wally’ Johnson) was my principal and we are about the same height and weight … We spent time hanging out in my trailer where he would share personal stories about Bob Marley with me.
I must say that throughout my creative Journey, I have been compared to the legendary man, my band The No-Maddz, in our formative years were compared to The Wailers – As a creative I welcome comparisons, especially with individuals and ideas that i resonate with but in the true teachings of Bob Marley, as a creative I prize being new, fresh, innovative and incomparable – this ideal gave me blinders to the comparisons and made me more focused on charting my own course and in a world where they say nothing is new – Bob Marley’s legacy has fuelled me to “Improve upon the wheel.”
Now tell us about your upcoming Returning Resident one-man show and Dub Poetry One ….
The show from scene to scene uses audiovisual techniques, minimal sets, props and costuming to narrate in dub poetry language – Man’s Benevolent Nature, the idea to travel far with the intention to learn, share and gather, returning to develop and inspire. It’s a personal story, involving; migration, disenfranchisement, attitudes to love, life and relationships and figuring out the place of the African/Caribbean Immigrant in a world where we have laid significant building blocks, figuratively and literally and where most often the world has placed little value on our contributions – there are many individuals and families that are faced with the difficult decision of belonging, the Returning Resident keeps this conversation alive. The play will create a space and a community for enlightenment, helping with decision and continued communication on the subject.
How did you get into Dub Poetry?
I guess when other children were given lullabies at bed time, I was given Dub Poetry. My father Keith Shepherd would use dub poetry around the home to entertain and pass the time and I guess children do live what they learn or follow what they see and hear – from then I started to use my father’s works to enter competitions where I found myself victorious and now here I am today.
How do you create your art – where do you draw inspiration and who are your main collaborators in bringing your poetry to life?
I create in many ways, some would seem unusual, some more common. Some are influenced by society and social constructs, my experiences and encounters, family and just the conscious need for behavioural change. I usually create alone in quiet spaces but on occasion group banters are required. I try to leave room and open spaces for spontaneity. My most prominent collaboration in dub poetry to date is the works I have done and continue to do with The No-Maddz.
Where does the line between acting and performing cross for you and how do you use both skills to enhance the other?
In staging performance art, for me, it’s about the rhythm, vibration and the suspension of disbelief – dub is rhythmic and poetry is the word and stories, with appropriate timing, true impact in resonance will be made – as an actor the discipline of rhythm, cadence and timing is paramount – I tend to draw on all my knowledge of dub poetry, stage craft and vocal resonance in embodying my roles.
Highs, lows, solutions – with your one man show what are some of the challenges of taking something like this on the road and how did you resolve them … ?
A friend of mine director Storm Saulter – he directed my first feature film Better Mus’ Come, (I won best actor for this in 2012 at ABFF) would always say “Film making is problem solving” I would add also that Life living and creating is problem solving – especially when you are cutting against the grain, doing something different, something like… iconoclastic in your approach… hurdles will be in your lane for you to leap, hot battles will arise to make the victory sweet.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
What’s your current plan B?
Wrong? I do not view my journey through the lens of wrong or right. I have been creating art thus far and if creation wills me to change course then I am open to a gift from the All, that will bring added fulfillment to my journey.
What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad this week?
I was saddened when I heard the news of a couple I know quite well, well enough to call friends, who fell victim to a murder suicide. What makes me mad is the prevalence of guns in my community, and I am glad that I am expecting a son.
What are you watching right now?
I am watching Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix; beautiful film.
What are you reading right now?
Currently I am reading Banksy: Completed by Carol Diehl and Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton.
What are you listening to right now?
I find myself listening to a lot of Afro House music.
The last thing you saw on stage?
The last play I saw was a Jamaican play (theatrical review) – Jamaica Land We Love by Daliah Harris
What’s on your bucket list?
I have not made one of those.
Where’s your happy place?
Negril Jamaica, Skylark beach.
Celebrate someone else?
I don’t know them but I appreciate the onscreen presence of the actor Lakeith Stanfield and I appreciate the on stage and vocal resonance of the artist Burner Boy.
Celebrate yourself …
I was able to take my Mom on a weekend at my favourite resort – she could see her toes out in the water. And I was able to take my father to a weekend literature festival in Treasure Beach Jamaica – he had always wanted to go.
Whose footsteps are you following in?
Not sure about exact footsteps but my older brother is an exemplar human and father, we call him Gibby. Professionally I love Louis Bennett Coverley and I think my father Keith is the best dub poet.
To see the manifestation and fulfilment of all my beautiful aspirations.
Where can we find you?
You can check out my social media on IG @thedonshepherd.
Where can we see / read / listen to your latest work?
My audiobook In The Morning Yah becomes available everywhere this years’ end. My music is available everywhere – The No-Maddz, Heaven On Earth and if you just use my name Sheldon Shepherd in your search engine you will find the hard copy of my dub poetry book In The Morning Yah and other writing.