New energy for mento

Observer senior writer

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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IN the 1960s when most Jamaican teenagers were into ska and rocksteady, Ralph Lindsay tuned into mento, a sound many of his peers deemed “old people music”. As leader of the Energy Plus Mento Band, he remains a standard bearer for a fading piece of the country's culture.

The 66-year-old Lindsay and his three colleagues are currently recording their first album, produced by veteran session guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith. It contains mento standards such as Slide Mongoose and Hear What The Old Man Sey.

It is a big achievement for Energy Plus, which Lindsay formed in Spanish Town during the mid-1980s. Recording a mento album, he said, helps keep the music in the spotlight.

“The government not dealing wid mento di way they should. Mento is di root of di music an' they don't pay attention to it; it not even in di schools,” Lindsay told the Jamaica Observer.

Lindsay, who is from Porus, Manchester, remembers mento being part of his school activities as a boy. His neighbour then was Rod Dennis who led the popular Rod Dennis Mento Band. Dennis not only taught him the rudiments of mento but brought Lindsay into his band to sing and play the maracas.

He played at several cultural events with Dennis' band and was part of their line-up when they held a regular gig at the Hilton Kingston Hotel.

Lindsay also sings and plays maracas in Energy Plus. The other members are guitarist Sherman Wright, Lenford Nicholson on banjo, and Lenford Pinglin who plays the rumba box.

There is no release date for their album, but Lindsay said he and his bandmates have enjoyed the sessions with Smith, a veteran musician who has recorded and toured with Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley, and the Melody Makers.

As a member of the Soul Syndicate Band, Smith also worked with Stanley Beckford, a gregarious personality who kept the mento banner flying when roots-reggae and dancehall were the rage. Beckford, who died in 2007, was also a big influence on Lindsay.

“Mi call him di mento king. Stanley was di one who keep mento alive,” he said.

Energy Plus keeps a fairly busy schedule, performing at Jamaica Cultural Development Commission events, or at functions staged by the British High Commission, United States Embassy and Institute of Jamaica. Lindsay believes an album will help boost their profile, just as it did the resurgent Jolly Boys 10 years ago.

“Bwoy, it can only help, yuh nuh, 'cause mento is a piece of gold, a separate music unto itself. Not even di top musician inna Jamaica can play it, so dat help keep people like we in demand,” he said.

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