Mento, the first Jamaican music to be recorded in the early 1950s, is usually seen as a counterpart to the calypso tradition of Trinidad. With its roots in local folk music as well as in popular influences from outside Jamaica, mento sounds today like a recognisably pre-reggae musical form. But unlike reggae and ska, mento never became particularly fashionable beyond Jamaica itself. No doubt this is partly because audiences outside Jamaica didn’t take mento as ‘seriously’ as they took reggae’s focus on themes of religious redemption or political liberation. The prurient themes of mento seemed trivial in comparison. Record companies in Europe and elsewhere were similarly uninterested in promoting mento, presuming it wouldn’t sell.
The Jolly Boys, from Port Antonio, have been around since the early 1950s, playing popular tunes at parties and by invitation to the rich and famous. Their line-up has of course changed a lot in that time, but some of the members to be found on this new recording have been in the band for many years, in particular lead singer Albert Minott. Recorded at Geejam Studios in Port Antonio, and produced by Jon Baker and Dale Virgo, this album features characteristic instrumentation from the mento tradition – acoustic guitar, banjo and the bass sound of the marimbula (rhumba box) – together with a range of contemporary production skills and sounds including ‘sequenced drums’, mainly from Dale Virgo. So it’s the original Jolly Boys sound given a modern production and studio makeover for a wider audience, reminiscent almost of Chris Blackwell’s makeover of reggae all those years ago for Island Records. And look what happened then.