Take Me to Jamaica -- infectiously fun mento compilation revels in ska/reggae's roots


My three year old loves to sing, and so do I -- and she shares my trick memory for silly lyrics. So every day, I rack my brains for a new ridiculous song to teach to her. Last week, I scored a major hit with Harry Belafonte's Man Piaba, which sent me to Wikipedia to look up Belafonte's life, which in turn sent me to the entry on mento, a Jamaican precursor to ska and reggae. It sounds a lot like calypso, but with horn and rhythm sections I identify with early ska, like the stuff collected on the Trojan box set (another big favorite around our house).

The references section in the Wikipedia entry recommended Take Me to Jamaica: Story of Jamaican Mento, a 24-track tour through the early years of recorded mento, featuring Lord Tickler, Lord Composer, Lord Flea, Chin's Calypso Sextet, and a bunch of other artists I'd never heard of but have been enjoying immensely.

This stuff has resurfaced plenty in pop culture -- Animaniacs fans will recognize The Monkey Song, which apparently started out life as Lord Messam and His Calysonians's Monkey, and is even more fun in its original incarnation; almost as much fun as the Belafonte standard "Hold 'Im Joe" (performed here by Lord Fly). In fact, if I were to make a tag-cloud of all adjectives that occurred to me while thoroughly enjoying this CD, it would be dominated by the word "fun." Songs like "Names of Funny Places" (by Hubert Porter) and "Let's Play Ring Jamaican Style" are so much fun to listen to and sing along with that they're practically criminal.

I love that the world has entire genres of music that I love waiting for me to stumble upon them.

Take Me to Jamaica: Story of Jamaican Mento