Did you ever wonder what came before ska, rocksteady and reggae? Well, if you've not yet had the pleasure, let me introduce you to Port Antonio's wonderful Jolly Boys. The Jolly Boys have been creating and playing their Jamaican mento music for more than 50 years and are still going strong! :yes:
First, a short mento lesson (partial credit to wikipedia.com): Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced ska and reggae music. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rumba box — a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played. The rumba box carries the bass part of the music. Mento draws on musical traditions brought over by African slaves. The lyrics of mento songs often deal with aspects of everyday life in a light-hearted and humorous way. It has also been said that "Mento is used to ridicule members of the social group or censure them for some misdeed". Some of my favorite song titles are "Bitter Cassava Killed Joe Brown", "Donkey Want Water", "Love in the Cemetary", and of course, "Big Bamboo".
Mento is often confused with calypso, a form of music that originated in Trinidad & Tobago. Although the two share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms. In part, the differences stem from the differing colonial histories of the two West Indian Islands, as Jamaican music lacks the Spanish influences found in other Caribbean musical styles. In fact, some of singer Harry Belafonte's massive hit records in the 1950s - like "Day-O" - were really mento songs but were promoted as calypso because tourists couldn't distinguish between mento & calypso!
So... back to the Jolly Boys! Since their formation in 1955, they have performed throughout Jamaica at all the famous hotels. Most often they performed alongside a dance troupe. One of these troupes was led by Albert Minott, at that time an occasional Jolly Boys member and now its current lead singer. Imagine tourists in the colonial '40s and '50s swaying to this fun & laid-back Jamaican folk music - sweet! The Jolly Boys (known at the time as Navy Island Swamp Boys) were also favorites of Errol Flynn and performed regularly at private house parties in his Port Antonio home. I imagine mento's saucy lyrics, which boasted about sexual escapades, drinking and good times, would have been right up Errol Flynn's alley!
The best part about all of this is that the Jolly Boys are still performing and are in demand... keeping mento alive and well!! They are the house band at GeeJam in Portland so, if you stay there, you can experience mento. They have a new record deal, an album called Great Expectation that will be released in late 2010, and they are scheduled to perform at Redbones Cafe (1 Argyle Rd., Kingston 10, Jamaica) on July 3rd as well as at the Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire , UK, which runs from July 22nd to July 26th.
Dale Virgo's wonderful blog post, "THE JOLLY BOYS: Half a Century of Mento Madness", will give you all the details about the lengthy history of the group. Don't miss it! :no: FYI - Dale is GeeJam’s in-house studio engineer and a recent addition to the group as a Jolly Boys' percussionist.
For your listening pleasure, check out these videos of the Jolly Boys - the first is a vintage recording and the second is a short promo for the modern Jolly Boys:
If you want to download Jolly Boys' mp3s, Amazon.com has some available! Just follow this link: