July 22, 2010


The Jolly Boys: sound that rocked Jamaica - and Errol Flynn: Calypso-style 'mento’ music, which pre-dates reggae by decades, is enjoying a revival. Pioneering practitioners the Jolly Boys are coming to the UK. (Neil McCormick, 21 Jul 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Albert pauses to point out the marina, where he used to dive for coins back in the Forties, when the banana boat pulled in. “Way back when England was our mother,” he says, a mischievous smile displaying his few remaining teeth.

This was where Errol Flynn used to dock his yacht, Zaca, back when the buccaneering Hollywood star was known as “Jamaica’s greatest tourist”. “Mr Errol Flynn, man. Yeah, baby!” twinkles Minott. “He loved the local bars. He’d hang here and buy a bottle of white rum for the people.”

Like most of Port Antonio, the bars have seen better days, a parade of gaudy rum shacks touting lazily for business. Higgledy-piggledy housing lurches up the mountainside, where the Jamaican rainforest sweeps down to the sea. “I show you the city’s ripped backside,” Minott chuckles, incongruously quoting Iggy Pop.

At an age when most of his contemporaries are retired or dead, Minott is about to release his debut album, with septuagenarian mento band the Jolly Boys. Entitled Great Expectations after a run-down bar where they sometimes drink, it remakes punk-edged hits (including Iggy Pop’s The Passenger) with a raw, acoustic Jamaican sound that the Jolly Boys have been playing for more than 50 years.

“Mento is the word, mento is the world,” says Minott. “Mento is a whirl of music coming from the cane field. Every other music come off mento in Jamaican style, and that’s why I stick to my mento, and I never leave it.”

Jamaica has become synonymous with reggae, but there was an island music before that. “It really emerged in the late 19th century, although some people say it goes back to slavery,” according to ethno-musicologist Daniel Neely of New York University. “It’s a community music, based on folk, gospel and popular songs everyone is going to know. A mento band would play at funerary events, weddings or festivals, wherever people come together and everyone could join in, so you might have 20 musicians playing a kind of a composite of different rhythms that fit together in easy to identify ways.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 22, 2010 6:32 AM
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