Mento Makes News

Photo: Bounty Killer and Summerfest Promotions Johnny Gourzong

Kingston, JA: June 26, 2010
Reggae Sumfest 2010 was launched this week in a high-profile event attended by a Who’s Who of entertainment industry stars, who were exited to hear that American R&B superstar Usher will be the event’s star attraction. But by far the biggest entertainment news this week was the surprising revival and media launch of the Jolly Boys, a Jamaican mento band from Port Antonio that used to play for Hollywood movie star Errol Flynn’s celebrity parties half a century ago.

First, Sumfest news. The announcement that Usher was coming to Sumfest was greeted by shrieks of delight from the women and nods of approval from the men. An announcement weeks ago that Chris Brown, was on the list of performers, caused a Facebook page to be started by those who felt he should not be invited because of his domestic violence conviction. But Brown’s fans buy tickets, and are looking forward to seeing and hearing him. So with two American superstars on the line-up, the Jamaican stars had to be equal in stature. Sumfest did not disappoint and there was a roar of approval when it was announced that Summerfest Promotions would be specially honouring ace deejay Bounty Killer this year.

Sumfest week begins Saturday July 17 with a beach party, and continues with Dancehall Night July 22, and International Nights on July 23 and 24. Other acts on the 3-night reggae extravanganza include Shaggy, Beenie Man, Tarrus Riley, Gyptian, Ce’Cile, Queen Ifriica, Etana, Elephant Man, Movado, Gramps Morgan and Tony Rebel, plus a host of others and prom.ises to be another excellent showcase of the best of Jamaican reggae

Mento was the original Jamaican music, a mix of Caribbean calypso – and with it, a love of double-meaning sexy lyrics – along with a special beat provided by a rhumba box, maracas, guitar and banjo, an instrument hardly played in today’s Jamaican bands.

Until the advent of reggae, mento was the holiday tourist music, heard in every North Coast hotel bar, beach and dance floor in the early days of the hotel industry. “Yellow Bird”, “Jamaica Farewell” and ”The Big Bamboo” were popular favourites and the bands in their ubiquitous tourist shirts, straw hats and sandals became the image of Jamaican entertainment. In Port Antonio, where Hollywood movie star Errol Flynn had purchased the small offshore Navy Island, the Jolly Boys regularly provided the music at his wild parties.

But musical fashions changed in the reggae 70s, at the same time that skilled mento musicians were getting older. Few passed on their musical skills or songs and mento soon became a part of Jamaica’s musical past, not present. Two years ago the Jolly Boys group, led by 70-year-old Albert Minott, was re-discovered Jon Baker – an Englishman who settled in Portland a decade ago, opened Gee Jam Studios and then expanded the property into a super-luxury hotel where superstar Sharon Stone spent her 50th birthday. “The hotel was doing fine, but the studio wasn’t busy. I heard the Jolly boys playing at a club in Port Antonio and invited them to come and record some songs. Everything just snowballed from there.”

The snowball gets bigger, as the recording session grew into an album GREAT EXPECTATIONS which features some traditional songs plus the Jolly Boys’ versions of modern songs, including Amy Winehouse’s mega-hit “Rehab” which has become the group’s first music video. (Winehouse recorded last year at Gee Jam Studios).

As the group’s fame grows, I can be forgiven for likening them to the re-discovery of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club, another group of old musicians whose music has enjoyed a revival. Not only has the group been signed by the leading international artist management company William Morris Agency, but they leave for an international tour next week immediately after what promises to be a memorable performance on Friday, July 3, at Red Bones Cafe – hotspot for Kingston’s culturally hip.

Flynn’s widow, former actress Patrice Wymore who still lives in Port Antonio, remembers the Jolly Boys from their young days. Today she is still a fervent fan, and can be seen dancing to their music in the “Rehab” music video, filmed by director Rick Elgood (‘Third World Cop’ , who is already shooting footage for a feature documentary on the group. 70-year-old lead singerAlbert Minott is still fit enough to do handstands at the slightest request, and band members who have fallen have been replaced by younger musicians with the same love of mento. An added plus is a new generation of fans, including a posse of beautiful young women calling themselves the Jolly Girls, whose appreciation brings a modern edge to the music and performances.

Who would have thought that Mento would be the next Jamaican music to hit the world!!!

Richie Spice and his backing band have been abandoned in the most remote part of Holland – Haarlem with no return tickets to Jamaica, no show payments and no sight or sound from promoter Ron Remak of Jazz & Jamm Entertainment, Holland. According to the artist’s booking agency, Remak contacted Richie Spice and group for a four week European tour in June. Two weeks before scheduled departure they received a tour schedule with a budget considerably smaller than anticipated, but due to the time and the fact that the artiste had been advertised for some weeks prior, he still went ahead with the tour.

After the third week of the tour the group has received no payment for fourteen (14) shows. Remax has been collecting all payments and presenting expenses never discussed and approved, saying that he owes the artiste no money. Promoters are now very distraught because they’ve paid over funds to him for their shows, but with shows left to do and shows that have been missed because no monies have been paid for shows already done, Spice has had to make a management decision and refuse to perform on any other shows booked by Remax.

The group’s management wants to wholeheartedly apologise to Richie Spice’s European fans and to let them to know that he has honored his end of all agreements to date. He says that because of sly, sneaky and dishonest people, he can no longer work without compensation and will resume only to close his tour with two shows in Italy this weekend after which the group will return home without any compensation for 3 weeks of performances every night.

I understand this is not the first time this promoter has proved to be unscrupulous, so let this be a warning for other artists.



Caribbean Fashion Week

Life has gone back to ‘normal’ in Jamaica after the events that made international news headlines. ‘Dudus’ – the man who some say is a community hero and some say an international narco-terrorist – has still not been found, after a security incursion that left 70+ people dead. A One Million Dollar reward for his capture was upped to Five Million after a poll indicated that 67% of the population would NOT tell the cops if they knew where he was hiding.

So confirming ‘normal’ as the mode, Caribbean Fashion Week was just the tonic to revitalise the spirits of Kingston’s fashionistas and party people. It pushed the negative headlines off the fromt page, replacing them with the beautiful faces and figures of Nell Robinson, Jaunell McKenzie, new girl Sedene Blake and hunk Oraine Barrett. Wednesday night’s launch party was crowded with the top models, would-be models, past models and beauty queens, not forgetting the good looking men who like to keep such company.

Then on Friday night at the National Indoor Auditorium three nights of beautiful Caribbean fashions unfolded down the runway, as colour, fabric and style mingled to captivate and entice potential buyers with an extensive buffet of beautiful clothes. It’s hard to single out any designer, as we all have our favourites. But these were mine.

Keena Linton has made black lace her trademark, in some dresses that were sophisticated and classy, yet daring. Not content with being an ace designer, Keena has also pioneered the hugely popular College Lifestyle TV show and also a glossy magazine to go with it. Big moves for this young lady. Minka, the lady with the clicking fingers, took her crochet art to new heights that awed the audience again with wonder at her fashion inventiveness and technique.

Meiling, the Trinidadian couturier, was simply show-stopping, with an all-black collection that showed inventiveness and intricate technique in a series of extreme tops that were as dramatic coming as going. Biggy was his usual shocking self, with a series of dancehall designs that needed wearers as confident and as good-bodied as the models showing them.

Hugh Johnson’s Yardman Style always has some new T-shirts for men and well-cut jeans. He did not disappoint this year. Sandra Kennedy stepped up to the plate for full figures women, with a collection that was simple and well cut, bringing roars of approval from the audience. Robert Brown of The Cloth gave a short lecture before his collection began, asking all to attend next year’s CFW wearing only Caribbean clothes. His unusual collection of wrapped garments was innovative and adventurous. Mutamba’s collection of tye-dyed and Afrocentric swirls of soft fabrics received tumultuous applause, ‘my best collection ever’ she said.

Some nice pleasures for CFW attendees were the Hagen Dazs booth dispensing sample scoops of their delicious ice cream with toppings, whipped cream and smiles, and the Red Bull and Smirnof Vodka bars sensibly located at the rear of the main VIP seats that provided an informal party atmosphere throughout the evenings’ shows.

In addition to soundtrack and intermission music by Mutabaruka as DJ, CFW featured live musical performances each night. US singer Johnny Gill took the stage on Saturday night, while on Sunday Morgans Heritage’s Una Morgan made her first appearance as a solo artist, performing tracks from her upcoming neo-reggae-soul album, then was later joined by brother Gramps, who led the audience in a sing along with some of the group’s hits – both a fitting end to the excellent 3 nights of fashion and fun.

CFW10 lived up to its tradition of presenting the best of Caribbean fashion, influenced by the many cultures that have blended to make a unique people whose lives are shaped by the sun, the brilliant seas and the blue skies. Congrats CFW; on now to the next 10 years!