Reviews

Emiel Martens & Koen de Groot, University of Amsterdam


Pimento and Hot Pepper has significant value as a historical document. The memories, anecdotes and performances of the numerous mento musicians, including Lord Tanamo, Theodore Miller, Ernest Ranglin and Monty Alexander, are of major historical significance – and a great joy for everyone who wants to know more about this early Jamaican folk music.

Mike Garnice – Author of “The Ultimate Guide To Great Reggae” and www.mentomusic.com


Until recently, no genre of music so important was as poorly documented as mento. Jamaica’s first indigenous music, mento was the start of a lineage that also gave us reggae – a music that is enjoyed across the planet. But only in the past 15 years was mento remembered and celebrated outside of Jamaica (where it continues to be played), documented by scholarly research, web sites and print books.

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.

Review

Mento, Sights, Sounds, Meaning From Beginnings To Rebirth

The Daily Gleaner – Mel Cooke

Close to the end of Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Story of Mento Music, the connection between Elephant Man’s Chaka Chaka and the melody of Sammy Dead is clearly illustrated, even before the documentary’s narrative reasserts a point made close to the beginning. Mento is positioned as “Jamaica’s original foundation music, the father of them all.”

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.


This is even as the last words go to now deceased mento standouts interviewed for the Rick Elgood-directed Billmon Productions documentary. The best known of these would most likely be The Jolly Boys’ Joseph ‘Powda’ Bennett (1937-2014), Cecil Chambers (1940-2014), Nelson Chambers (1944-2010) and Albert Morgan (1937-2011). Referring to touring, Morgan makes a statement that could be about mento itself:

“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.



‘The magic of Jamaica’s earliest music is superbly rendered in Rick Elgood’s film, Pimento and Hot Pepper: the Story of Mento. Long before Jamaica had ska, rock steady or reggae, there was the beautiful, lyrical music of mento, the rural, acoustic, indigenous music of the island. With expert witness voices, Rick Elgood’s heartfelt film superbly portrays this little-known crucial keystone of Jamaican cultural history. Pimento and Hot Pepper is an essential addition to an understanding of the development of modern musical society – not merely in Jamaica, but globally.’

Chris Salewicz- British journalist and author – Redemption Song, Untold Story