Mento is Jamaica’s Country Music, Banjo Included

It’s not often that you get more than Marley (and maybe Jimmy Cliff) when you’re staying at a Jamaican resort, so it was a real delight to hear some authentic “mento” music played at the bar at the Half Moon resort in Montego Bay last week.

Sometimes called the “grandfather of reggae and ska,” mento is a blend of African and European musical styles, typically featuring guitar, banjo, and a rumba box (a type of thumb-played piano, as shown here) as well as woodwinds made of bamboo and assorted hand-percussion instruments.

In short, it’s Jamaican style “country music.” Popular among island residents and tourists alike through the 1960s, mento was overshadowed by reggae, calypso and R&B, but has never completely faded away. In addition to Half Moon, which presents mento music every week, you can still hear the style performed in some bars and restaurants, and the pioneering Jolly Boys are still going strong, with a regular gig at the boutique GeeJam hotel in Port Antonio.

Robert Curley

Rhode Island based travel writer, author of Rhode Island: Off the Beaten Path, and an active member of the American Society of Travel Writers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *