A style of folk music that rose to prominence in the 1950’s, mento is the real roots music of Jamaica. Though it bears similarities to calypso, which emerged from Trinidad & Tobago around the same time, mento is distinctive and 100% Jamaican.
Mento has its foundations in musical traditions brought to Jamaica by African slaves, with lyrics mainly centered around normal, everyday events. The song featured in the video above is, perhaps, the most famous example. It’s called Linstead Market, and it’s such a prominent part of our Caribbean musical heritage that it was taught to us when we were in grade-school… in St. Croix, a good 800 miles from Kingston.
The Jolly Boys featured here are the best-known mento band keeping the tradition alive today. They’re big to the tune of opening for Sade on the European leg of her current concert tour. A large part of their new-found popularity is no doubt driven by their 2010 release, Great Expectation, which features mento interpretations of such popular and eclectic mainstream hits as Riders on the Storm (The Doors), Blue Monday (New Order) and Rehab (Amy Winehouse).
It’s good stuff, though I’m more partial to their older classics, some of which you can find here.
Either way, next time you make a musical journey to Jamaica, don’t just stick to 56 Hope Road or the Bob Marley Mausoleum, which by most accounts isn’t worth your time. Make your way to the sleepy town of Port Antonio, where the Jolly Boys got their start some 60 years ago as the house band for Errol Flynn. Walk the streets where they used to lime. Visit with the locals that are their friends. Share a smile, an interest in mento music and the Jolly Boys, and you’re sure to make some new limin’ friends real fast…