On June 27, 2014, Ivan Chin, a remarkable figure in the history of Jamaican music, passed of pneumonia at the age of 90. Chin’s Calypso Sextet is one of the most prolific and most fondly remembered mento acts of the golden age [1950s]. Chin’s was consistently a strictly rural mento band, with lead singer Alerth Bedasse’s mento voice and an instrumental line up of bamboo instruments, banjo, acoustic guitar and rumba box. The band was named for producer Ivan Chin rather than for any of it’s musicians.
Ivan Chin: The band consisted of a rumba box, a bamboo saxophone, a bamboo Flute, a banjo, a guitar, a floor bass guitar with four strings, a maracas and two heavy sticks called clave, which they knock together. All the instruments were made in Jamaica with local wood, bamboo and other things.
Although a handful of Chin’s tracks have appeared on compilations, most have never been compiled, and many of the original 78s are incredibly rare, even by mento standards. Most of these tracks have not been available since their initial release on 78 RPM singles in the 1950s. Many of these singles were limited to just one pressing of 400 copies, making them ultra scarce, even by mento standards. Some of these recordings were never pressed to vinyl at all, being released for the first time in any form almost 50 years after they were recorded.
In 2004 Ivan Chin began to (re)issue Chin’s Calypso Sextet, personally handling all aspects of this project. Ivan even provided his personal recollections that shed more light on this seminal golden age mento and label act than has been available before.
These CDs, though made by Ivan Chin, are being marketed by CD Baby. The CDs collect nearly all of the 84 released Chin’s tracks, plus some that were never released. There is not a bad song in the bunch and the music, vocals and lyrical content are nicely varied. This is hard-core rural mento. The melodies are strong and catchy and the playing is excellent, as almost all the tracks have little jams between banjo, bamboo sax and/or flute.