ampr fyi: mento, the freshmaker

August 27th, 2010

This week’s installment of AMPR’s FYI comes from Lauren Wintemberg. Originally from outside Philadelphia (go Phillies!), Lauren joined the AMPR team just this spring. In addition to being an avid traveler, she has a passion for running, cooking (well, learning to cook) and cupcakes.

Lauren & Jolly Boys

I am not what you would call a music “aficionado”. What’s on my iPod? I’m usually listening to the likes of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Rihanna. And if I’m really honest, I never held much of a passion for the old music legends. That is, until I saw the light after seeing an amazing rendition of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab by the Jamaican band, the Jolly Boys. This band, which has been doing their thing for 60 years, has put their own groovy mento spin on the popular tune, infusing it with an uplifting island-vibe. Hearing the familiar song via a lilting patois accent with banjo, bongo, maraca and rumba box accompaniments brings on an instant wave of relaxation, transporting you directly to Jamaica, mon!

Just when the charts were being taken over by young artists with Ella Fitzgerald voices and a few renditions of Sinatra’s standards under their belts, here comes the old guard remaking a pop song. Gotta love it. The result is fun, a little familiar and a little exotic. It’s the ideal soundtrack to help you hold on to these last few days of summer – and the perfect way for me to dip my toes into a new appreciation for the sounds of another era.

So here’s the lowdown: Made up of five talented musicians, ranging in age from 71 to 82 years, the timeless group has been tapping the bongos, strumming the acoustic guitar and shaking the maracas since Errol Flynn first moved to Port Antonio and discovered them. Seriously! The Jolly Boys played every party thrown at Flynn’s Navy Island estate and have serenaded the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the members of the Jamaica chapter of the Rat Pack. Now guided by Jon Baker, who is the co-owner of Island Outpost’s Geejam resort and the on-property recording studio of the same name (the likes of No Doubt, Rihanna, Drake, Grace Jones and Ms. Winehouse herself have recorded there), the Jolly Boys are back on top.

Now you know who they are… But what on earth is mento you ask? Mento is the genre of Jamaican music that was the precursor to the better-known and more modern sounds of Ska (No Doubt) and Reggae (Bob Marley). Before the days of email, TV and even radio, mento hits would still make their way around the island. How? Band leaders would travel from far and wide into Kingston’s marketplace, where they would set up shop and play their latest tunes so the others could listen and learn. Then they’d head home at the end of the day, taking their new repertoire of songs back to the dancehalls of their hometown.

The Jolly Boys are currently touring Europe (follow them on Twitter to find out where they’re headed next: @JollyBoysMusic) but will be back in Jamaica late September. If you don’t get a chance to groove to their tunes live, watch this video to see what got me all hyped up – and be sure to check out their sweet dance moves!

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