MRS Authentic Jamaican Calypsos – The Mento Series and their sleeve notes.


Authentic Jamaican Calypsos & All Jamaican Calypsos – Stanley Motta’s 10″ Lp Output

In the 1950s Stanley Motta the early Jamaican record producer, released 5 x 10″ Lps, each a collection of Mento songs and instrumentals previously released only on 78rpm single. Rare and sought after they all host a collection of illuminating sleeve notes, which reflect the perceived exoticism of a Caribbean Island holiday destination to the nascent tourist and the long held traditions of Jamaica’s people in song.

They are indispensable to any collector of early Jamaican recorded music, folk music enthusiast, or lover of the Roots of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. Many of the lyrics, themes and songs feature in Jamaican popular culture today and once recognised one cannot ignore Mento’s influence on all styles of Jamaican music that followed because the first recorded Jamaican song was birthed on a Mento 78rpm record, one released by Stanley Motta in 1953.

Sleeve notes . . . 

Sleeve notes can tell the interested party so much about the time, the music and the people making it, that they are offered here for those of you interested in that history, but perhaps unable to get hold of the actual Lps themselves (yet).

Authentic Calypso?

Although labelled as Calypso, this is not, this is Mento, a distinct style and genre of music, related to Calypso, the form mainly of Trinidad, but that of Jamaica. In the 1950s though an audience in the USA who had fallen for the romanticism of Calypso would consume a variety of musics, providing it had the attraction of being called Calypso, hence much Mento has wrongly been attributed to this form. It’s something that annoys those that evangelise the Jamaican style, the peculiarly distinct sound of Mento.

The Series

Numbers 1-4 feature the same cover artwork in a variety of colours, the 5th edition has an entirely different cover and is actually called ‘All Jamaican Calypsos’ though it states ‘Series 5’ on the sleeve and shares catalogue and matrices with the other volumes, BUT different sleeve notes. And finally there was a collection, again with different variant artwork to the first 5 volumes and sleeve notes, released in the U.K. on London International Records. All are pictured below, and the accompanying sleeve notes transposed for volumes 1-4, then for Series 5 and finally for the London International  Record label release. It is thought that the sole London International release may have been part of a deal in exchange for pressing the other 1-4 Authentic Jamaican Calypso series and ‘All Jamaican Calypsos’ 10″ Lps for Jamaican release. Those releases all state ‘Made In England’. The London international release was only ever sold in England as far as I can find out.

Sleeve Notes Vols 1-4

CALYPSO JAMAICA

The visitor to Jamaica can never quite forget the music of the island. He finds himself haunted by the memory of the soft murmur of the trade winds, and the breaking of the blue Caribbean on white sand shores. But more haunting than ever, above the music of nature, is the music of the streets, the endless varied obligato against which the life of Jamaica is lived. It is heard in the plaintive cal of the coconut seller, whose “Jell . . . oooooohhhh … Jell . . . oooohhhh” trumpets through the streets in the cool of the morning as he offers the tangy-sweet liquid of the green nut to thirsty passers-by. There is music in the short barking call of the fishmonger who pushes his squeaky-wheeled wagon or rides his laden bicycle from the flat of the plains to the twisted roads of the hills to bring is sparkling catch–grunts, snappers, jack, cutlass — all the glistening treasure of the deep. It is in the laughter tinged gossiping of the market-place, where broad-accented countrywoman and sophisticated city-bred higher meet to share the latest scandals.

Yes, there is music everywhere in Jamaica. It pulses in the traffic of the streets, where the brazen voices of modern auto horns argue with the sharp sudden accents of the donkey driver; it is in the quiet avenues of the suburbs where modern houses sprawl on cool green grounds; it is in the teeming slums where the crowded population finds expression in laughter, and in the provocative music-story of the island.

Jamaica’s music is the mento and calypso. Calypso is the general term that is applied to the ballad song of the islands, the song that tells a story and nudges laughter or amazement as the mood chooses. This is the fiery, fast sometimes risqué song of the troubadour who finds his inspiration in everyday happenings and spins his melodies and words to both intrigue and entertain the listener. Calypso is generally associated with Trinidad, but is a generic term, common to all the Caribbean islands.

Then there is the music that is peculiarly Jamaican — the mento. This is the specific tempo of the island. The result of the meeting of Afro-Latin influences is a distinctive beat and rhythm in the music of Jamaica that identifies it to the tuned ear. To the foreigner there is little difference, but to the Jamaican, dancing his swivel-hipped measures to the reedy prodding of bamboo flute and guitar, bongo and mambo drums, to the tuned intervals of the marimba box, it is unique, a native tempo that has it’s route through the slave chants, the French quadrille, the Spanish flamenca, the English round, all the polyglot, pulsing beats of the many people who have blended their histories and lives to make the golden people of the Caribbean.

Jamaicans are proud of their music. They are proud because in the distinctive beat of their music lies all their own history. Here is the musical meeting ground of the Chinese, the English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, the Portuguese and Spanish, in fact, all the varied people who are hidden behind the designation “Jamaican.”

In this envelope you will find captured not only the music of the Jamaican, but all of the varied tempos of the Caribbean. They are performed by native musicians, often with handmade native instruments. But always they are played with the rollicking devil-may-care musicianship that comes so naturally to the West Indian. Here you have transfixed in a record, moments of pleasurable memory.
Here you have CALYPSO JAMAICA.

Sleeve Notes Vol 5

CALYPSO JAMAICA

FullSizeRender 16. . . Jamaica’s carefree people have expressed in song all of the throbbing vitality that is so much a part of their country. Their songs are humorous, gay, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always enjoyable. It is music with a distinctive character that marks it as unmistakably Jamaican. Its distinctiveness is a combination of the musical dialect of Jamaican speech, the unique sound of native instruments and the subtle rhythm that marks it and separates it from the music of the other West Indian islands. The musical dialect of back country Jamaicans is basically English so interwoven with colloquialisms and the burr of local accents that is is almost unintelligible to anyone not familiar with the island’s speech. It is this distinctive Jamaican accent that gives added interest to the Jamaican calypso. There is also a unique character to the music itself which derives from the hand-made instruments played by calypso troubadours. These are the bambasax, an instrument wrought from bamboo by dextrous native craftsmen, with a bit of wood from a matchbox serving as a reed; the marimba, a deep-toned bass instrument that is just a simple box with bits of metal spring called “reeds” because of their similarity to harmonica reeds, and is normally used in place of the bass fiddle; the chattering marraccas, seed-filled gourds; and a whole family of drums from tiny, tenor bongos to big-voiced congo drums. Bamboo fifes and flutes, bambolins, a violin-like instrument comprised entirely from bamboo, and such conventional instruments as guitars, saxophones, trumpets and bass fiddles add their voices to the song of Jamaica. With voice and instrument, the Jamaican calypso troubadour regales, entertains and amuses, having a wonderful time himself as he brings you . . . CALYPSO JAMAICA.

Sleeve Notes – Authentic Jamaican Calypsos – LONDON International

FullSizeRender 19The visitor to the West Indies awakes to find himself in a tropical paradise — the birds sing and speak, the waters sparkle and laugh in the dancing sunshine, the leaves rustle to the tune of it all: and all is music. The people are happy — they rise with a song and they sing all day, even as they work. The Calypso which is the fold song of the West Indies is the pièce de resistance to this wonderful setting of life and beauty. The Calypso is the crux of it all — its fascinating, pulsating beat and rhythm remain forever in the heart of the visitor stirring up vivid memories of the romance of the West Indies.

No matter where you go among these islands — Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada, Antigua — in any one of the long chain of islands, and irrespective of the language, you will hear the Calypso. It is a common link — the link in this chain of jewelled isles.

The Calypso is a form of minstrel music. The singer, or Calypsonian, cites the chief events of the time, recounts the noble or infamous deeds, as the case may be, of some person past or present. He might sing of the latest scandal or the state o politics. On the other hand, as he frequently does, he might describe some amusing incident in the everyday life of the ordinary person or comically examine the behaviour and habits of domestic and indigenous animals. The Calypso always provokes laughter. it is witty, comic, subtle, ironic. It discusses human relationships in an intimate way, yet it is not vulgar. The spice of the Calypso lies in the ability of the Calypsonian to tell you even about the most intimate things in such veiled, juicy and allegorical language that stirs you, shocks or startles you and yet leaves you to say, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” or otherwise, “Whom the cap fits let him draw the string”.

The Calypso is not only an expression of little doings and things and of great happenings, it is in itself an expression and a manifestation of the local society and tradition and its very interesting historical background and intricate blend of peoples, For once upon a time these islands were the El Dorado of the West — the rendezvouz of the buccaneers, the chosen land of pioneers and the Empire builders and the glorious battlefields of the sea-faring powers, Spices, sugar, tobacco, cotton, cocoa made them prized jewels in the Crowns of Europe, as also did their strategic position as the gateway to the Americas. Thus it was that all manner of people settled upon these islands. The indigenous Amerindians were out-numbered, decimated, and soon practically disappeared. Labour for the plantations was drawn from Africa and India. Descendants of the latter to-day form the great bulk of the population together with large numbers of persons of mixed descent having the spicy complexions drive from fusions of Spanish, French, English, Scottish, Dutch, African, Indian, Portuguese, Chinese and may others who settled there and completely mixed themselves into one solid society. The Calypso is the common denominator of all these cultures.

The pulsating rhythm of the African “tom-tom” blends with the tempo of the Spanish “quarto” and is polished off by the lilting sing-song of the French accent. The old-time Calypsonians or “chant-wells” (note the combination of French and English) used to sing in Patois or broken French. English is now commonly used for Calypso, but with the original exciting accent and intonation. It is written in four-four time, yet very subtly the singer can get in a good many words and syllables to a bar — or very few when he chooses.

Some say, a long time ago slaves on the plantations were not allowed to gossip — so the chanted to the same rhythm as their tom-toms as hey worked. these chants became cities as hey added strange words not understandable by their masters, telling of what was going on, and, in fact gossiping about their masters and the village. When “dancing the cocoa” or cutting the sugar cane or celebrating after work, these ditties became their folk songs. the leader was the “chant-well” later known as the Calypsonian.

The Carnival in Trinidad , celebrated on the two days preceding Ash Wednesday, is a relic of the old Spanish customs. At that time there is universal frolicking, singing and dancing in the streets. All sing the Calypso. The custom has greatly fostered the art of the Calypso. Trinidad’s Carnival and her very cosmopolitan background made her the home of the Calypso. From there it spread to all the other islands — to Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, etc. And now the world is getting to know of this sweet tantalising, minstrel music.

Summarising?

There are of course gaping holes in the tracery of the slightly amateurish musicology you see reflected in the sleeve notes, and yet some rather good early insights into the links shown in and around the Caribbean and it’s musical trade routes. For me the last set of notes on the purely U.K. only release on London International shows a mildly patronising attitude, awash with the kind of romantic notions that refused to engage with the pain of slavery, African servitude and the serfdom of other indentured ethnicities on the island. It also looks at the music therein from the angle of Calypso, and almost completely ignores the very Jamaican nature of the release, the differences between Mento and Calypso or the individuality of Jamaica.

In short all of the sleeve notes are much better than I would expect from what can be a rather blinkered and one dimensioned western approach to any and all cultural pursuits of non European ethnicity in a then 1950s world.

All the issues talk of the cultural influence of speech patterns, Patois, city hubbub and in mentioning the “chant-well” the notes are harking to the West African Griot praise singing and the very culture that helped give rise to Calypso in particular.

I’m also personally intrigued to find or see and more importantly hear a bambolin!
To my knowledge even with a large Mento collection at my listening disposal, I never have.

©MIKE MURPHY Feb 2019

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