Roots and Culture in Rhythm and Music


by Meegan Scott

TitlePimento and Hot Pepper — The Mento Story

Nostalgia, pride, satisfaction and the roots of culture shared preserved and exposed.  A highly entertaining film with high ratings for utility when it comes to cultural exposition and preservation.

Jamaica has much to thank Director Rick Elgood and 7Billwoods Production when it comes to articulating and clarifying the credentials of Mento as a bona fide musical genre and its place in Jamaican history.

Pimento Hot Pepper does an excellent job of unveiling the powerful treasure of Mento that has remained a hot and delightful secret that has been shrouded in even deeper obscurity by being a misnamed genre. The misnomer resulting from marketing tactics in the past when the music was presented to the world as a form of calypso in the early days. Even today Mento is promoted as “Mento- Reggae” on YouTube, a terrible mistake by individuals who assume the popularity of Reggae renders Mento in need of that “brand-aid” in order for it to be desired or explored.

Such an assumption is a fallacy and could have dire consequences for Mento’s coming into its own internationally and to a younger generation.

Marjorie Whylie, Jamaican pianist, percussionist and educator, shared a wealth of information on the history and roots of Mento in the cultural tradition. Whylie emphasized that anyone her age was well exposed to Mento, but many of the younger generation are also well versed in the genre.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga also shared a wealth of information about the history and role of Government in preserving and promoting Mento in the film. Why Edward Seaga? Well, Seaga’s role in participatory research and as a patron of Jamaican cultural traditions is often overshadowed by his role in politics.

Jamaica has done a great job in preserving and promoting Mento though the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s annual Festival Competitions and Jamaica Information Centre productions such as Hill and Gully Ride which incidentally has a Mento piece for its theme song. Dr. Louise Bennett Coverley and Harry Belafonte, along with schools across the island, have played their part and it is now time for Jamaica to continue where Rick Elgood and the others has left off.

The audience erupted in laughter at several points during the presentation. Not only were they learning about the history of the music but they were being entertained and shocked. For even I, an avid Mento fan, was shocked at the prominence given to the “Kathy” song throughout the film. That song has its roots in the Jamaican Big Boy Story tradition that is not meant for the ears of the young or table talk. The use of the song reflects the crude and basic form of the music in the same way dancehall music is often recorded with a crude version for that audience and a more sanitized version for “good company” and the family on the same rhythm.

A few weeks ago, I made a post on Facebook calling for a Mento Festival on the magnitude of Reggae Sunsplash and was surprise to see the immediate support for it. It is needless to say my heart was full of joy when I watched the works of Rick Elgood presented by the film.

Songs like Dry weather house is well known to the Jamaican population of all ages.

An important aspect of Jamaica’s culture that was exposed by the film is the role of singing and music in both praising, shaming, celebrating and rallying local communities. Reference to the song Sly Mongoose and its broadcasting of the entry of a sexual sin into the holy paradise of religious leader Alexander Bedward is a classic example. Without the film many would have missed the double entendre and true meaning of the song for the simple story of sly mongoose stealing Bedward’s best chickens. The technique is often underrated by individuals outside of Jamaica who do not understand the creativity and historical tradition of using metaphors and symbolism to communicate.

That Mento remains relevant is captured in the film as Elgood connects the passion for the music by the young and the old with a presentation of Elephant Man’s Chaka Chaka. The piece performed to the rhythm of popular Jamaican folk song Sammy Dead shows the strong connection and appeal of Mento in song, rhythm, style and dance.

My only disappointment with the film was the fact that though Stanley Beckford was mentioned, not a single piece of his music was played. Stanley is Mento and one of few international artiste who promoted his music as Mento. A piece by Stanley must be played in the film.

The film delivered  a generous serving of laughter, history and music.

Caribbean Tales Film Festival, Elgood and the producer of the film has done an excellent job with Pimento Hot Pepper.

All told, the film was a delight— a  truly entertaining, Jamaican evening in Canada.