Now comes “Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Mento Story”, a fine documentary film about mento, making its subject more accessible than ever. The film covers the music’s history, complete with rare vintage film clips, spends time with aged mento veterans (several of which have, sadly, since passed away), includes comments from such luminaries as Toots Hibbert, Ernest Ranglin, Harry Belafonte, and more. And in doing so, it lives up to its name by telling the story of mento in satisfying fashion.
Crucial for any reggae fan and recommended to all music lovers, “Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Mento Story” fulfills a need and does justice to its subject.
Still, children grow up and the father is not always the family’s driving force, especially in his declining years. And, as the documentary outlines, mento had waned around the time of Jamaica’s independence as ska took hold (though the influence was there, mento singer Lord Tanamo was recruited into the Holy Grail of ska, The Skatalites) and the sound systems – boosted by rural electrification – overpowered the acoustic mento musicians. However, it ends on a note of hope, following tours outside Jamaica by The Jolly Boys and Gilzene & The Blue Light Mento Band.
“Sometimes they want us to go away, but we can’t make it.”
After opening with a dramatisation of Dry Weather House at each clearly defined stage, among them The Early Years and Music and Instruments, it contextualises the content with the consistent input and analysis of people like Garth White, Dr Daniel Neely, Colby ‘Vintage Boss’ Graham and former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga.
This analysis makes the documentary valuable beyond a chronology, and shows that mento is beyond rum and raucousness.
And the bands involved, among them The Happy Smilers, Lititz Mento Band, The Triangles, and Kew Park Mento Band, show that there are active units, even if they are not as loud – in more ways than one – that performers in the genres succeeding mento. Due credit is also given to the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission for mento’s revival though its Festival competition.
Among the fascinating names in Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Story of Mento Music are the travelling duo Slim and Sam, Lord Flea and musicians Baba Mac, Pork Chops and ‘Sugar Belly’ Walker, who plays the instrument that earned him a place in dancehall classic Pumpkin Belly by Tenor Saw, who sang “yu tink a so Sugar Belly became the king of the saxophone?”
Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Story of Mento Music screened last February during the Jamaica Music Museum’s February 2017 Grounation series which focused on mento, and does more than trace the music’s life cycle.
Chris Salewicz- British journalist and author – Redemption Song, Untold Story