Origins of Mento

Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music that predates and has greatly influenced Ska and Reggae music. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the rhumba box (which is a large mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played.) The rhumba box carries the bass part of the music.

Mento is often confused with Calypso - a musical form that originated in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Much like Calypso, Mento uses tropical lyrics with a humorous slant, commenting on poverty and other social issues in the islands with sprinkles of sexual innuendos being commonly used. Although the two share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms.


On the other hand, Mento is a distinct style of Jamaican music as it draws its traditions from African slaves brought to the country with some European folk culture as well. Slaves were sometimes made to play music singing European folk songs which largely influenced the development of Mento. Inevitably, the slaves would infuse their own traditions with the music and it became common practice to sing Mento songs about social lives of the people. In Jamaica, Mento is sometimes referred to as country music, because of it light hearted and simplistic lyrics as well as the omitting of electric instruments. 

Mento came to real prominence in the 1940's and 1950's before being displaced by Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. It was not until the 1950's that the first recordings were made and many of the more popular songs were pressed by Stannley Motta and Ivan Chin. Because of this early recordings of traditional mento are difficult to find.
To this day, Mento is still listened to in Jamaica but mostly be heard in tourist destinations. 

For more information on Mento click here!

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