Thursday, 2 June 2011

Asian Gang in the US

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Mento, Jamaican Music


When most people think of music in Jamaica, they think Reggae, or some people think the name Bob Marley as synonymous with Jamaica, and sometimes the name precedes Jamaica. And while Reggae music has been one of Jamaicas great exports, there was a long history to reach that point. Many people must have heard of Ska or Rock Steady as Reggaes origin. Before Reggae, Rock Steady, and Ska, there was Mento. The first music that was recorded in Jamaica was Mento which was Jamaicafs own original style of songs, instrumental music, and dancing. Mento is a distinctive style that still has influence today.

History of Jamaica

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As soon as after Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 144, Jamaica became a colony of Spain. After most of native Jamaican Arawak died because of new diseases brought from Spain, the Spaniards started bringing Africans as slaves. In 1655, British took over Jamaica from the Spanish colonists. Many slaves were released by Spanish and some disappeared into the mountains. They are known as Maroons; many remained free and cultivated their own way of life. In 188, all slaves were declared free. Many African Jamaicans chose not to work on the plantations, so British plantation owners brought indentured workers from Central Africa, India, China, and Britain. About 5% of Jamaicafs population is African Jamaican or of African descent mixed with European or Asian descent. Even after the slavery was abolished, the large black majority remained poor and mostly untouched by British culture. Only in areas with concentrations of whites touched elements of European culture have much influence. Church music and sea chanteys brought by British mariners are examples that had a great impact on the black population, who gradually combined these with their own African-based musical traditions. Jamaica received few European musical influences because of the small percentage of white, even after the appearance of commercial radio.

What is Mento?

North American and British popular music jazz reached Jamaica by 10. The many lower classes kept their own African-based folk music, which by 150 was recognized as Mento, a strongly percussive guitar-based style with lilting rhythms and a bass-heavy, shuffling /4 beat. Mento, the most popular social dance music of the day, was a mixed version of European- and African-derived styles. It was performed by street performers using portable instruments and ensembles that combined European instruments, such as the fiddle, flute and guitar, with instruments wholly or partly of African origin, such as the banjo, rumba box, drums, rattle, and scraper. In this sense, the origins of Mento parallel those of popular dance music throughout the Caribbean, such as Merengue, Calypso, and Konpa, which came out of similar processes of musical mix. An African-derived style was similar to rumba that developed in Cuba. Also, Mento uses clever or ribald lyrics with double entendres; the Jolly Boys Touch Me Tomato is a good example. Jolly Boys was the best know practitioners for Mento music. Mento remained popular only with the lower classes, since what little radio there was dismissed Mento as street music. It was the dominant music of Jamaica from its first appearance in the late 1th Century up to the late I0s and was especially popular in the rural areas.

Music Characteristics and instruments

African Jamaican musical characteristics include call-and-response singing, which is one of the most common techniques in West African music, prominent use of drums, reliance on oral tradition, and the use of song, dance, and instrumental accompaniment in religious expression. This religious expression often involves healing and cleansing, and worshippersf appeal to ancestors for help. Ceremonies also exist for weddings, births, anniversaries, deaths, and to express gratitude. The drum is central to all Jamaican music having ties to Africa. There are many kinds of drums, though most have goatskin heads. Several African Jamaican religious groups use a long, one-headed cylindrical drum and a square frame drum, with variations of each. Many village bands use maracas, mbiras (and a bass mbira called a rumba box), graters, triangles, and glass bottles (struck with a stone or any hard object). Some groups also use a bamboo stick beaten with two other sticks and a machete struck with a metal beater. The boompipe is a Jamaican stamping tube. The player may buzz the lips while blowing into the tube to produce notes or simply stamp one end of the tube on the ground to produce a note. An animal horn was played like a trumpet hundreds of years ago to send signals, but is no longer used much.

Religious Cultural Groups

The Maroon people all share a spirit of freedom They fought against slavery and they fought for Jamaican independence from the British. They share a bond with Africa and have kept their ancestral traditions alive. One such African tradition can be found in the maroon ceremony for healing Each medicinal herb has its own special rhythm that is drummed and danced as it is given to a sick person. This is an ancient African form of music and dance therapy. The Kumina people are another unique group in Jamaica who are descended from freed slaves and indentured workers who came from Central Africa. They are a very religious people, with ceremonies invoking the help and presence of ancestors for every occasion in life. Their songs have African-language texts and sophisticated rhythms. The most sacred parts of worship are sung in an African language. The less intensely spiritual parts are sung in Jamaican Creole, which is also used when singing just for fun. There are four other smaller groups in Jamaica that celebrate their African religious heritage with music.

Mento Today

Mento became progressively marginalized to rural festivities and tourist hotels as the capitalfs cultural dominance increased and the number of Mento artists declined sharply by the 150s. By 160 the only real demand for Mento musicians was in the growing North Coast tourist industry. Today Mento is seen as a tourist attraction and is played around some hotels on the island.


Since I couldnft find any Mento concert in this area, I listened to some Mento CDs. Before I listened to Mento for the first time, I was expecting Mento would sound like Reggae. However, as I thought about Mento was that some songs were Reggae from Africa and some songs were old Ska with a lot of talking in the song. One example of the latter is Doctor Luis Bennett, who was talking like a comedian between choruses. I thought it was funny. Since I listen to Reggae and Ska music sometime, I actually liked Mento; it was really healing and relaxing for me.







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