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JAMAICA-MENTO 1951-1958 (2CD)


Louise Bennett, Hubert Porter, Ben Bower & The Baba Motta Orchestra, Lord Flea, Lord Fly, Laurel Aitken, Count Lasher's Seven, Lord Messam, Boysie Grant, The Wigglers, Cecil Knot, Chin's Calypso Sextet, Harold Richardson & The Ticklers, The Wrigglers featuring Ernest Ranglin.

You could be forgiven for confusing the Jamaican mento music with better known calypso music from Trinidad and Tobago. Blame Harry Belafonte for this - it's all his fault. In the fifties, he introduced as calypso a selection of songs he'd recorded when in fact, it was mento music, inspired by his Jamaican grandmother's record collection.

The LP released included Ben Bower's Brown Skin Gal, an old spiritual called Hosanna and rewrites of Lord Flea's Donkey Bray which became the Jackass Song and Hubert Porter's lascivious Iron Bar which was remodelled as Jamaica Farewell. One of the songs was an international hit: Day Hah Light, a reworking of the 1954 recording by Louise Bennett of an old work song, became Day O or The Banana Boat Song and it zoomed to the top of the charts. If, at this stage, Belafonte had properly labelled it as a mento song, we wouldn't all now be saying: Mento? What's that?

Granted, mento and calypso sound quite similar but they are completely separate musical forms. Jamaican mento draws on African traditions mixed with European (via the slave owners) influences while calypso has a distinctly Spanish feel.

This double CD contains a collection of mento songs full of great rhythms, solid musicianship and tremendous humour. There are songs about Island Gal Sally, Mary Ann, Charley Bell, Nebuchadnezzar, Night Food Recipe and Irene and Yo' Fr'en, as well as ribald numbers like Don't Touch Me Tomatoes, The Biggest Maracas, Bananas and Iron Bar - all good time music recorded in its heyday.

Mento's golden years were the fifties but even then, other music was sneaking onto the island. American rock'n'roll and R&B in particular were gaining popularity with records from Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris and Rosco Gordon leading the attack. Gordon's shuffle beat on records like No More Doggin' is credited with seducing young Jamaicans away from mento and starting the transition to ska which, by the sixties, had developed into the international phenomenon known as reggae.

Mento on record reigned in Jamaica for a glorious ten years and there are 36 tracks here for you to savour. This is a set of fabulous music with a great booklet full of fascinating facts.


Review Date: May 2010

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