Mento is a 19th century musical form that has its roots in both Europe and Africa. The mento is a blend of quadrille and Afro-Jamaican rhythms, and was used to entertain slave masters. A typical band of five musicians performing on fiddle or violin, banjo, fife, shakers and a vocalist who doubled on guitar or one of the other instruments mentioned. By the early 1900s, the rhumba box (a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played) was introduced by Jamaican workers returning from reaping sugar cane on Cuban plantations. Read more about mento.
Mento reached its highest popularity in the 1950s with stars like Harold Richardson and the Ticklers, Lord Fly, Count Lasher, and Lord Flea, its biggest star. One such star was Sugar belly a unique musician playing homemade bamboo saxophone. He lasted well into the seventies doing studio recordings and performing on stage shows and festivals.
Mento’s earliest stars found themselves entertaining tourist in hotels on Jamaica’s North Coast. Mento bands are sometimes required to supply the music for floor shows acts like limbo dancers and stilt walkers, and usually relieve pop music bands in tourist resorts. Many, especially in rural areas, also perform in communities at ‘wakes’ and ‘nine-nights’ for the bereaved family and friends of their recently deceased loved ones. This light hearted Jamaican music has re-emerged within the last few years as an addition to Jamaica’s music export. Current bands include:
- Jolly Boys
- The Lititz Mento Band
- The Blue Glaze Band
- Triangles Group
Mento continues to be popular among Jamaicans, visitors, and foreigners (especially Europeans) for its humor, social commentary, and lively entertainment.