Jolly Boys

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The Jolly Boys, a trio of elderly Jamaican musicians who play a rollicking type of folk music nearly forgotten by time, are enjoying an unexpected revival after nearly 60 years of entertaining tourists on the island’s hotels.

Playing on acoustic, sometimes homemade instruments, the group’s forte is mento — a Jamaican dance music created by the descendants of African slaves in the late 19th century. It features banjo, maracas, a rough-hewn wooden box with metal prongs to pluck bass notes, and often bawdy lyrics.

For Albert Minott, the group’s 72-year-old guitarist and gravelly voiced frontman, preserving the once vibrant musical genre and expanding its possibilities is a lifelong mission.

“Over the years, mento has been locked down in a cooking pot by these guys with their big amplifiers, big soundboxes. So it’s been quietly cooking, simmering,” said the dapperly dressed Minott, his brown eyes brightening in his deeply lined face.

“But now,” he said, “we the Jolly Boys take off the pot cover, spoon out the mento and serve up the good taste to the young people who didn’t know it. Nobody else can do it.”

“We’d been down all those years. It was rough. The officials in Jamaica, they don’t step forward to the mento. I don’t see why they turn their back on it,” said Derrick “Johnny” Henry, the band’s “rumba box” player who has worked as a fisherman when gigs were scarce.

Joseph “Powda” Bennett, a veteran Jolly Boy who is a member of Jamaica’s Maroons, whose ancestors were slaves freed by the Spanish in the 17th century to repel invading British forces, said their recent international success has effectively made them the biggest Jamaican band around.

“Over the years, we’ve stayed in the hotels preserving this mento. It’s finally paying off now,” said the 73-year-old Bennett, who has played in various incarnations of the Jolly Boys group, which has had at least 18 members over the decades.

“There are places we go now that we didn’t expect that we would ever know. Places that as a boy you read about in a comic book — Russia, Germany, France, Spain, England. And now we go to all those places. Isn’t that wonderful? To do that at this age,” said Minott, grinning. “Our grandkids brag about it.”  (edited from David McFadden, Associated Press, http://repeatingislands.com)

The Jolly Boys sing “Bitter Cassava Killed Joe Brown”:

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One Response to “Jolly Boys”

  1. harmonia Says:

    I love to read that. So good that these people are getting the respect for their music that was due them all along. Great that they kept hangin’ in there despite all, without compromising their music.
    Side note- the name “Jolly Boy” is commonly used in England (even today) for a certain style of limberjack.

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