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Mento Souvenirs

 

Page last revised: 1/17/2017

 

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Introduction

Mento, or as it was was often generalized, calypso, was popular enough with tourists in Jamaica to be the basis of a variety of souvenirs. First and foremost were the mento records for sale in stores such as Stanley Motta's, Chin's Radio Service and Times Store, as well as the hotels and resorts where the music was performed for visitors to the island.  
 
(Today's mento bands who perform at Jamaica's vacation resorts continue this tradition by selling CDRs of their music.) But mento souvenirs did not end
with these recordings, as a variety of other items were available..



Shirts

A tourist in Jamaica during the 1950s could have been so impressed with the local music that he was moved to purchase a calypso Rayon shirt by Dadlani's of Jamaica, British West Indies.
 

 

 

       

         

Below is another Jamaica/Calypso shirt. Probably sold in the 1960s, I do not know if this Gala Wear cotton shirt was made or sold in Jamaica. (But it does have a big endorsement from the mento/reggae world as seen here.) It quotes from the touristy mento song, "Take me to Jamaica Where The Rum Comes From" along with a drum, maracas and the legend, "Calypso Band". Other legends and illustrations include "Jamaica", rafting on the "Rio Grande", "Blue Mountains", and other tourist attractions.

                     

                      

Smoking

A 1950s tourist might have chosen to enjoy "Calypso Cigars", a product of the Jamaica Tobacco Company Ltd, Jamaica B.W.I.

          

 

Two choices to to light up: a "Calypso Singers, Jamaica" lighter, or the matches below.

Still intact after all these years is this souvenir book of matches that commemorates The Arawak resort and its live Jamaican music.

Thanks very much to Dan Neely for the scans of this great, rare item.

Visit the More Middle Period Album Scans for more on the Arawak hotel's mento albums.

        

Postcards

Postcards are the most ubiquitous of souvenirs. Some (though not enough) Jamaican postcards feature mento bands. The one on the left, featuring The Triangles  is from the late 1990s. The others are earlier.

    

 

       

Here's a postcard of uncertain origin along with the band excerpted:

 

Here's a postcard from the Victoria Crafts Market with the band excerpted:

  

Here is a postcard with a mento band from The Gloucester Hotel. Though undated, it looks like the late 1950s or the early 1960s.

 

Another postcard featuring a familiar figure from the mento/reggae world can be seen here.

And also check out this mento postcard with something extra.

Miscellaneous  

 


Good friend to this site, Jeremy Collingwood, has made a find in the silver comb holder with a mento band theme.

          

 


A percussion-heavy mento band is featured on this deck of playing cards.

Notice that the photo same session gave us the postcard above.

  


Here's a good indication as to how important mento was to Jamaica's tourist industry.
It's a brochure from 1957 for "Jamaica Calypso Cruises". Though the bands are not described, a number of hotels associated with releases on this page and elsewhere on this site are pictured and described inside. These include The Tower Isle, Arawak, Silver Seas, Shaw Park, Plantation Inn and Montego Beach hotels.

In case you are curious, 1957 pricing is fully described. The Arawak is the most expensive hotel of those described in the brochure. Also, the text recommends spending the extra $13.40 to upgrade the flight from coach to first class. I don't think that offer is still valid! Click on a leaf to see a large, readable version.

    

Perhaps Jamaica's calypso music made such a strong impression on you the tourist, that you were looking for a way to be reminded of it back home, say, at each and every meal. Well then your souvenir shopping would have ended once you discovered these "Calypso Jamaica" wooden salt and pepper shakers.

    

"Calypso Notes" is mento
themed stationary from
The Novelty Trading Co, Ltd
of Kingston, Jamaica. The
artist is Margaret K. Rhodes.

  
Of obscure origin is what appears to be a collection of mento musician dolls. There are male dolls with what look like banjo, guitar, maracas and percussion, plus female dancer dolls. Unfortunately, a larger image is not available.

Courtesy of Francesca Zahrai of Edmond, Oklahoma, here is a 28" x 15" mento souvenir linen towel. In addition to the musicians, its ringed with song titles: Chi-Chi Bud Oh, Hill and Gully, Island in the Sun, Water Come to Me Eye, Love Love Alone, The Big Bamboo, Sammy Dead Oh, Yellow Bird, Linstead Market, Matilda, Maryann, Day Oh.

Francesca would love to hear from anyone who could help her date this item.

Posters and Prints  

Here are some Jamaican tourism posters featuring mento. First a reproduction of a Trans-Canada Air Lines add with a a mento duo. Next is the rumba box shot from the 1960s. Third is a nice vintage 1957 poster from the Jamaican Tourist Board promoting Jamaica as "land of calypso" with a mento duo and a pair of tourists.

 

 

Here's another vintage touristy mento poster that I did not encounter until 2016. It  promises mento music as well as beaches and service to visitors

 

But not every mento memento is tourist-aimed. To the left is a print of "Two Mento Players", by Jamaican artist Joshua Higgins. For more on this artist, visit www.joshuahiggins.com/






Below is the work of self-taught artist Richard Hugh Blackford specializes in scenes of Jamaican life such as the two paintings below. Original oils and prints are available at http://www.richardhblackford.com/

      

Pottery Figurines

Here are some more souvenirs that skew far closer to fine to art than to kitsch.

   

On the left is a collection of a friend to this site, Jeremy Collingswood of London. The figurines come from Montego Bay Pottery. The rumba box player on the right may also come from there. 

Musical Instruments  

The ubiquitous entertainment of live mento inspired many tourists to bring home not just recordings, but scaled down renditions of rural mento instruments as a reminder.

Drums  

A visitor to Jamaica in the 1950s, perhaps inspired by the fine hand drums of Boysie Grant and Reynolds Calypso Band, could pick up some souvenir hand drums of their own.  Hand painted single and double drums were available to the souvenir buying tourist.

     
Here are three pictures of a double drum.

Apparently, these Jamaican W. I. drums are equally applicable to calypso, cha cha and limbo.

     
Hey, this one sort of looks like the same drummer as above but wearing a different outfit!

Below, left, is three views of a single drum, painted with "Jamaica", "Calypso" and a stylized pineapple that was not uncommon on these souvenirs. In the middle is a double drum, with "Calypso", "Jamaica" and two dancers painted on it. Right is another double, with "Jamaica, W. I.", "Calypso Joe", and, dating this item, "Ska". Rasta colors appear in the stylized palm tree.

  Left is a multipurpose drum, as it bears the following text:

Jamaica Minto Rumba Ska

One side is ribbed for additional percussive versatility.

Multiple views of another ribbed drum.

 

Two views of Calypso, Limbo, Day-O, Jamaica drums


 
 

 

 

Three
more
sets
of
Jamaican
bongos.
 

  Front
and
back.
 

Rumba Boxes

A similar souvenir was the scaled down rumba box, often sold, as in this case, under the name "Calypso Joe". These were about a foot and a half across and not very deep, perhaps to assure that they fit in a vacationer's valise.

Though not pictured, the sides if this rumba box are painted with the legend, "Jamaica".  

Two more souvenir rumba boxes. First is one with a "Calypso", Limbo", Day-O" theme and a maraca player. Second is one celebrating "Lord Flea and His Calypso Band".

  


 
Here is a more complete view of a somewhat less impressive rumba box, or as it reads, "Rhum Box". It has fewer tines and the painting is a bit crude. It features what I think are supposed to be bananas in a variety of colors, the word "Ska" (dating this as from the mid 1960s or later) and, for no ascertainable reason, "Roy".  
       

More souvenir rumba boxes. These items measure 15" x 11.5" x 6".

 

 

.

 

   

    

   

This specimen includes the names of the members of an unnamed band. One name, Horace Johnson, is familiar and recorded.

 

Another style of painting adorns this rumba box, picturing a drummer and a female dancer, musical notes and the legend, "Calypso  Jamaica W.I.".

 

 
One Lord Pepper and His Calypso Band are celebrated on this rumba box, along the the legends, "Banana Day", "Cha Cha Cha" and "Jamaica W.I.". In addition to musical notes, a dancer and a pineapple are pictured.

   


Another Calypso Joe unit, with added "Day-o Day-o", "Banana Day" and "Jamaica" text, musical notes and pictures of fruit.

And
these:
        


       

    

  

 

 

 
Our final souvenir rumba box  is one with a pedigree. It was made and presented to Bill Black by Lord Bravo.

Bill Black was Elvis Presley's original bassist, recording with him on his best Sun sides. Thanks very much to Bill's daughter, Nancy Black Shockley for providing this photo for my web site. 

 

 

Other Percussion

Maracas or ridged claves were a more portable musical instrument souvenir. The maracas have "Jamaica" worked into the finish or painted on. The claves have Jamaica W. I Cha Cha" painted on them.

  

 

 

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mike@mentomusic.com

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