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Mento A Foreign (From Other Countries)

 

Last revised: 8/3/16

 

Reggae is said to be played in virtually every country that has music. While that is far less true of mento, there are some interesting examples. Perhaps the most striking is immediately below.

On Panama's Grecha  label, a 45 by Black Majesty & The Mighty Bamboo Band, who recorded from 1958 through 1970.

 

 

"The Pony",
     backed with
"Mon Cherie"

was a local hit, selling 45,000 copies in Panama.

 

As can be heard from the clips here (Mon Cherie) and here (The Pony), it's sung in English and the music is indistinguishable from Jamaican rural mento. (Only if you are looking for it will you notice a slight Latin inflection.)

With the singer and band all Panama born, how should this be so? The answer is in the waves of Jamaicans that migrated to Panama to work on the Panama Canal starting in the 1860s. By the time the canal was completed in 1914, an estimated 90,000 Jamaicans had moved there. These clips make clear that they brought mento with them.

Black Majesty was born Claude Morant, 1935, in Panama City, yet he sounds Jamaican. By 1945, he was already interested in music. All his records were original songs. Carlos Garnett was the sax player.

  On the Panamanian, Sally Ruth Records label, the Black Majesty &The Mighty Bamboo Band 45:

"The Cherry Tree"  backed w/ "The Candy Man".

Raucous rural mento from 1970, this was Majesty's last record.
 



 


On Grecha, the Black Majesty & The Mighty Bamboo Band 45:

"Last Day Of Carnival"
      backed with
"The Good Advice".

Both sides sound like late 1950s Jamaican mento, though both the singer and the hand drummer have a South American accent.


 



Again on the Grecha label, another Black Majesty & The Mighty Bamboo Band 45:

"Show Me The Way"    b/w:
"Not Me, She".

I have not heard this record.

  
Another a single by Black Majesty And The Mighty Bamboo Band on the Sally Ruth Records label:

"The Portrait"      b/w:
"Mr. Coffee Grinder"

 

 
Described on the label as "Calypso Samba", "The Portrait" sounds like samba with the addition of banjo bringing the "calypso". (I have not heard the flip-side.) 

  On the Sally Ruth Records label, a single not by Black Majesty, but by Rolandito And The Mighty Bamboo Band:

"G. I."   b/w "Play Calypsoians".

Both songs written by O. Gibbs and sound a bit less like mento.

  Another a single by Black Majesty And The Mighty Bamboo Band on the Sally Ruth Records label. I have not heard

"You Are My Queen",  but the un pictured B-side,
"My Little Tommy",

is rough and ready mento all the way.

Another a single by Black Majesty And The Mighty Bamboo Band, this time on the Tropelco label. The label does not bother to supply song titles. I've heard one side that I will call "Calling Me". It's a raucous mento, with story-telling lyrics.

Yet another a single by Black Majesty And The Mighty Bamboo Band on Sally Ruth:
 
 
"The Day I Die", backed by the unseen 
"I Live For You Alone"

The A-side is a melodramatic dirge that, though played on rural mento instruments, does not sound much like mento. The flip-side sounds like the halfway point between the A-side and a more typical mento sound.

 
  A single by the obscure Lord Skette The Phanter,  backed byThe Mighty Bamboo Band on the Frecha label:

"Manicurist Doris", backed by the unseen 
"Donít Believe What Them Say"

If not for the odd accent of the singer, you would think this came from Jamaica.

The album Panama! 3, on the Soundway Records label includes other examples of of Panamanian mento and songs influenced by mento.


 
  In a tribute to mento's golden-age MRS label, "Jump Up", by  Count Kutu & The Balmers is a ten inch album package in a plain brown sleeve.

The sight of it may cause a double-take from mento fan. So will the sound.  


 

Its rural mento, undoubtedly, but from the Philippines , sung in the native Tagalog language.


Formed in 2002 in Manila by original members Count Kutu, Senyor Lucca, Don Ustollano, Lord Santadio and Doctor Turbo, the band plays strictly rural style Jamaican mento music, lead by Count Kutuís nasal voice and vintage acoustic instrumentation ranging from low end guitars, Tenor Banjo, maracas, catacoo, sand block, bamboo drum and rumba box. Over the years, the band released a handfull of limited edition CDs that were only available at their gigs, and after a short period of inactivity they reformed in 2010 around Count Kutu and Senyor Lucca, adding members Cardinal Jones, Lord Francis, Bob Marlou and female sessionist Atty. Justin. The band performs and records their own renditions of old mento and calypso songs such as Linstead Market, Big Bamboo, Night Food, and Jamaica Farewell, as well as original compositions recorded in their native tongue. In early 2012, the band came under the radar of Chicago based JUMP UP Records Ė who immediately offered to release a new album. "Simply put, We were amazed at the bandís ability to recreate the rural style of Jamaican mento."


 

 
 

The 2007 double-CD "Pirates & Treasures" by French reggae band Orange Street ambitiously takes on reggae, dub, rock steady, ska, nyabinghi, calypso, and in "Sugar Cane", mento.


 

 
The Clash's "Junco Partner" gets a mento makeover by The Freshmakers (get it?). This one-off group is comprised of Americans Dan Neely and King Django along with Dr. Ring Ding of Germany

You can hear the song on Dan's blog at:
http://danieltneely.com/?p=1456.


 

Bustamento is a group out of Australia. Inspired by seeing Stanley Beckford perform live, bandleader Nicky Bomba put together a six-piece group that plays calypso, mento, early reggae and ska.

Left, is their 2012 album, "Intrepid Adventures to The Lost Riddim Islands". For more on this band, visit www.bustamento.com.

 

In 2014, Bastien, of France informed me of Tribu' Acustica, a group out of Italy. They play acoustic mento and reggae, including covers of Jamaican folk songs and some originals with Italian vocals. They also recorded an album with guest vocalist Max Romeo in 2000.

Left, is their 1999 self-titled album. For more on this band, visit http://www.tribuacustica.it. Bastien warns that there is another group by the same name that plays a ska-punk mix.

email me at:
mike@mentomusic.com

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