Friday, July 30, 2010


What is mento?

Here's a short answer: Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced ska and reggae music

Mento is the grandfather of ska and reggae (along with rhythm & blues which is the grandmom of ska and reggae) . Mento draws on musical traditions brought over by African slaves. The influence of European music is also strong, as slaves who could play musical instruments were often required to play music for their masters. They subsequently incorporated some elements of these traditions into their own folk music. The lyrics of mento songs often deal with aspects of everyday life in a light-hearted and humorous way. Many comment on poverty, poor housing and other social issues. Thinly-veiled sexual references and innuendo are also common themes. Although the treatment of such subjects in mento is comparatively innocent, their appearance has sometimes been seen as a precursor of the slackness found in modern dancehall.

Originally a country people music with the banjo, maracas and rumba box needing no electronic amplification, but that somewhere along the timeline of Jamaica’s popular musical development, though, it became relegated to ‘tourist music’, the floral-shirt-clad figures beaming under straw hats and warbling ‘Yellow Bird,’ a far cry from and sad caricature of irreverent, bawdy, witty and extemporaneous mento.

Among the best known original purveyors of mento, that comes to my mind was Lord Tanamo who fronted the Skatalites with his hit I'm in the mood for Ska, Lord Flea and of course The Jolly Boys.

The Jolly Boys were the house band for Hollywood legend Errol Flynn who hosted huge parties at an estate he owned in Port Antonio, Jamaica in the 1950's. Flynn is responsible for the band's name as well, as he was moved by their upbeat songs about drinking, work and women. The Jolly Boys used their house band to the Hollywood elite status to launch a career that has lasted nearly 50 years.

Almost 50 years had passed The Jolly Boys remained to be a driving force behinds mento's staying power they are the house band for GeeJam a then residential recording studio in which they entertained artist working there the likes of No Doubt, The Gorrillaz and Amy Winehouse to name a few. The quality of their performances and particularly the strength and charisma of The Jolly Boys lead singer Albert Minott led GeeJam’s co-owner Jon Baker to co-produce an album of rock covers done in a "modern" mento style.

And now they are back with a new album called Great Expectation. Now all in their 70's and 80's the band is enjoying a resurgence thanks to John Baker. He's helping to revive and reinvigorate the band by positioning them as Jamaica's Buena Vista Social Club with a twist. He's steered them towards an updated sound called 'Modern Mento'. The album includes covers of songs by The Clash, Amy Winehouse, New Order, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and The Doors among others .

Above Video is a sample of what is in store on their newest album coming out this 20th of September.