|Edric Connor, Louise Bennett & Jamaican Folk Music||
Last revised: 6/28/14
Jamaican folk music recordings separate from mento began in the early 1950s with a pair of very influential LPs released outside of Jamaica: Edric Connor's "Songs from Jamaica" and Louise Bennett's "Jamaican Folk Songs". Though influential, Connor's LP would be his last recording of Jamaican music. On the other hand, Louise Bennett's contribution to Jamaican culture would span the decades and multiple mediums. In the late 1950s through the early 1970s, The Jamaican Folk Singers and The Frats Quintet carried the torch and produced LPs of Jamaican folk songs. A variety of others would follow.Louise Bennett and others, along with demonstrations of a number of well known folk songs. A fine performance of "Linstead Market" by The T. Miller Band is also included. Fiddle player Theodore Miller's group is a fiddle driven mento band from St. Elizabeth. (Nine years later, Miller appeared on a release by The Lititz Mento Group.) This performance is interesting, as it's rural mento in its most natural form: free of any constraints that could be imposed either by performing for tourists or the need to sell records. Instead, it's jamming mento for performed live for the townspeople. Additionally, the clip has a fife rendition of "Wheel and Turn Me".
These scenes have been assembled into a 8.5 minute clip that can be downloaded below.
This clip, as well as the information on The T. Miller Band, came courtesy of David Badagnani of Kent State University. David includes mento in his teaching at the university's Center for the Study of World Musics. Below is a very shortened YouTube version that focuses on Theodore Miller's fine performance:
Trinidadian Edric Connor recorded several albums of folk music from the Caribbean. In 1952 (about the same time that the first mento 78s were released), Connor released the LP, Edric Connor and the Caribbeans: Songs from Jamaica on the Argo label. This is a seminal release in the history of recorded Jamaican music, as it contains the first recorded versions of a number of songs that would later appear in mento, ska, reggae and even American folk and pop. It's a safe bet that Harry Belafonte had a copy of this LP.
These are Jamaican folk music recordings, not mento. Connor's powerful voice is accompanied only by sparse piano and backing vocals. The liner notes by Hugh Paget make an earnest attempt to put these songs into the perspective of all Caribbean music. He finds (by 1952), that Trinidadian calypso is already commercialized by the tourist trade. Paget also attempts to explain some of the songs' meanings and defines some of the patios heard in the lyrics. The liner notes also reveal that Louise Bennett was involved in the LPs repertoire.
Edric Connor eventually moved to Great Britain and went on to become an actor. He combined both of his talents in the 1956 movie, Moby Dick, staring Gregory Peck. In it, he played Daggoo, a harpooner. In a memorable scene, as a party of whalers pursued their quarry in a small boat, he sang "Hill and Gully" to the rhythm of the rowing.
For more on this LP and Edric Connor, visit the Quentin Kean's "Folkcatalogue's Blog" at: http://folkcatalogue.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/songs-from-jamaica-edric-connor-with-the-caribbeans/.
The beloved Louise Bennett, or Miss Lou, as she is affectionately called, is Jamaica's foremost folklorist. In the 1940s, she published 5 books of poetry in patios. More than just a Jamaican folk music recording artist, she was a champion of this music. On Jamaican Independence Day 2001, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) for her contribution to the development of Jamaican arts and culture. Miss Lou passed on July 26 of 2006 at the age of 86. Below is an obituary from the Jamaica Information Service. This article describes her many accomplishments outside of her recording career, a description of which appears thereafter.
In 2008, The Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA), celebrated its fifth anniversary on Friday with the first induction for the Jamaica Music Hall of Fame. Louise Bennett was an inaugural honoree, along such stellar company as Bob Marley and the original vocal Wailers, Lord Flea, Count Ossie, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, Vere Johns, Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Don Drummond, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook and "Jah Jerry" Hinds.
Louise recorded "Jamaican Folk Songs", an
LP on the Folkways label [F-6846]. This release (along with others by
Louise Bennett) is still available today on CDR
or cassette via mail order from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at
seen to the right, the CDR comes with a black and white Xerox of the
original LP jacket, but courtesy, again, of Olivier Albot, a cover scan
from the original LP, as well as an alternate jacket from a 10" release can be seen below.
"Jamaican Folk Songs" has a number of things in common
with Edric Connor's "Songs from Jamaica ", aside from collecting a
number of Jamaica's folk songs. Both
many songs that are part of the mento repertoire. Both included songs that were
later made famous by Harry Belafonte. Both
albums feature a sparse arrangement, in this case just backing vocals, hand
drum and, on some songs, acoustic guitar.
Byron Lee and The Dragonaires provide a few very brief instrumental interludes . "Scandal" from this LP is included on the CD 2006 compilation "Dip And Fall Back".
Scans, once again courtesy of Olivier and Laurent, of "Listen To Louise", a 1968 LP on Federal. Although I have not heard it, it is said to have a combination of music and spoken word tracks.
In this live performance of Jamaican folk songs, in addition to singing with an 8 piece band, Miss Lou also performs some songs a capella, sounding like a sweet form of dub poetry. There's even a guest appearance by Linton Kwesi Johnson. So irresistible is Miss Lou's good humor, that it overpowers LKJ's normally serious demeanor, resulting in a funny LKJ! Between songs, she lovingly discusses the language of Jamaica and tells stories, always with great humor.
Below, courtesy yet again of Olivier (with an assist from Laurent Pfeiffer) are photos of the original Island LP release of "'Yes M' Dear' - Miss Lou Live", complete with biographical liner notes.
Below is a 45 taken from the LP.
The 1981 LP on the Boonoo label, "The Honorable Miss Lou" features many songs from Jamaican folk/mento. I have not heard this LP, but Olivier Albot, who also supplied these scans says that Louise sings and speaks. In 2009, I heard from Peter Ashbourne who produced, arranged and played piano on this album (as he did for the "Yes M'Dear" LP) and has worked with Louise on other project as well. He was kind enough to supply this description of this LP's dance band sound and where it came from:
In 2009, I heard an obscure blank-label Louise Bennett single called "Immunization". There are two renditions at different tempos on either side of the single. The song is to the "Sweetie Charlie" melody, but with new lyrics. It's a notable find, because it marks the first time Miss Lou is singing to a rural mento backing, complete with banjo, shakers, etc.
Colin Smith, banjo player of The Jamaican Folk Singers, currently resides in Florida, and is the director of a very popular Mento band in South Florida, The Tallawah Mento Band. For more, see www.tallawahmentoband.com and also on this site, here.
Harder to find are a number of singles that The Jamaican Folk Singers collaborated on that were produced by Clyde Hoyte, probably released in the mid-1970s. Here is an example:
Probably in 2012 (a date does not appear), The JFS made their CD début with "Tribute To Mother Earth". They are in fine form 35 years after their first release, but the CD is not well promoted and difficult to find.
Video of The Jamaican Folk Singers performing "Solas Market" on Canadian TV in 1978 can be seen on the "Mento Video" page.
Formed in 1951, The Frats Quintet recorded three LPs in a similar vein to The Jamaican Folk Singers. The Frats releases preceded those of the The JFS. At the end of 2006, I heard from Merelene Warner, daughter of Frats Quintet bass, Wilfred Warner, who, she informed me, is the last surviving member. With her brother Patrick, Merelene collected the following recollections from Wilfred:
The first of these was "Authentic Jamaican Folk Songs" in 1958. The original (?) jacket as released on the Ritmo label is above. The back of the jacket is blank. Also pictured is the retitled re-release on the NYC-based Request label.
In June of 2009, I heard from Kelly Grotke of Evanston, Illinois, USA, who has a different edition of this LP:
Courtesy of Kelly, the back jacket with interesting liner notes about Jamaican folk music and label scans can be seen below.
Frats released another
LP with the same name, but different recordings. Above, courtesy
of Olivier, is "Authentic Jamaican Folk Songs" on the Kentone label.
Seen above is the third Frats release was "West Indian Sing-Song", released in 1966 on Columbia, complete with biographical liner notes.
Like The Jamaican Folk Singers, Frats vocals were smooth and lush. Unlike the female dominant JFS, Frats was an all male group. Another difference is that Frats was strictly choral, without the accompaniment of acoustic guitar and drum heard on the JFS LPs.
"Teacher Lick De Gal" by traditional, as performed by The Cudjoe Minstrels
One shift me have ratta cut i'
['ratta' means 'rat', so she has cut out the ratty portion]
One fine gal over Linstead
Hold 'im round 'im waist Moder Tracy
Tan, tan, tan, tan, Make me tell you
[the sheet music notes that 'tan' means 'stand', specifically
Released in the late 1960s on Dynamic and in and out of print since (though never on CD), "From The Grass Roots Of Jamaica" is a well named LP. It's a folk music collection in the most literal sense of the term. Rather than a collection of well known folk songs performed by professionals, it's a collection of field recordings that shows the diversity and ubiquity of music in day-to-day Jamaican life. The recordings were selected and made by Olive Lewin, the leader of The Jamaican Folk Singers with liner notes by Edward Seaga, then the Minister of Finance and Planning, and later the Prime Minister of Jamaica. The jacket lists 12 types of Jamaican music, but the notes are very general and do not help the listener match the genre to the 18 tracks.
1. You Tell Lie Accounting for the Mento listed on the jacket, this track consists of vocals that end half way though the song, a harmonica and an acoustic guitar player, plus two others knocking something wooden and something metallic. The feeling is of coming across the corner mento band in a small rural town.
2. Ziambey An a cappella call and response song between an adult male and youths. Perhaps it was recorded in a school.
3. Done Baby, Done Cry This is the lullaby mentioned on the jacket. An a cappella solo vocal, accompanied by hand claps, explaining, "Don't baby, don't you cry, for your mother went to the fountain. Drinking water never dry, Drink it out of fountain." Louise Bennett briefly visits this song on her CD, "Yes M' Dear".
4. Dig Under Mine Another a cappella song between two men. This may be the work song mentioned on the jacket.
5. Mary Gone A Rose Hall A chant backed by drums. I believe this is from a church movement, but unfortunately I am unsure as to which one.
6. Fife And Drum Band A fine Jon Kunnu track, as promised on the jacket, with instrumentation as described by the song title.
7. Cuban Lady A chorus of what could be school girls sing this a cappella song.
8. Jubilee A drum and youth vocals
9. Jo Jo A single male voice sings this chant.
10. Ku Kah Yan Yah Similar to the above track, with hand claps.
The old Anancy folk song "Matilda", not
the popular Harry Belafonte song of the same name. An excellent example of
Rastafarian music, all chant and drums. The uncredited vocalist sounds a
great deal like the groundbreaking Rastafarian recording artist, Count Ossie.
Compare this performance to Ossie's well known track, "So Long
Rastafari" and draw your own conclusion.
1. What A Wonderful Thing Multipart choral music with tambourine and hand claps. A joyous church sound.
2. Keyman A multipart chant backed by drums. I believe this is from a church movement, but I am unsure as to which one. A Rastafarian version of this song can be heard on the self-titled 1997 LP by Wingless Angles as produced by Rolling Stone Keith Richards.
3. Bethlehem Schoolroom An endearing solo vocal of what sounds like a school theme song.
4. Malid A Leddi A chant backed by drums and shakers. Probably from a church movement, but again I am unsure as to which one.
5. Moore Town A Fe Me A solo vocal so heavily accented, that the lyrics are very difficult for my ears to understand.
6. Bam O Say/
In 1961, Keith Stewart, along with Enid
Cumberland) recorded a number of tracks for Chris Blackwell's new
label, Island Records. (Ernest
Ranglin acted as musical director and played guitar.) These
contributed to the Keith and Enid LP seen to the left. With the
inclusion of "Yellow Bird" and "Come Back Liza", Keith Stewart would
begin the practice of including folk/mento songs on his LPs. This LP had a
relaxed, easy listening dance band mento vibe. Keith and Enid would
soon move into ska, after which, Keith released a series of solo LPs in the
Jamaican folk songs and songs from other
sources are featured, often performed folk style. "Yellow Bird" (1965)
and "Jamaica Farewell and Other Caribbean Songs" (1967). These LPs feature little more than Stewart's smoothly
polished vocals and acoustic guitar. "Take Me Back To Jamaica" and
"Jamaica Calling" features a bigger band. On the former, the
inclusion of banjo and flute on some tracks further blurs the lines
between mento and folk recordings. On the latter, are few familiar
Jamaican folk songs, though there is a Clyde Hoyte song and a self
Recorded in Sweden where it was released on the Polydor label is a 7" EP from 1957: "Calypso Medley" by Sandra Ward. A Jamaican, Ward was first discovered in JA by a visiting Swedish music enthusiast ten years earlier and brought to Sweden a decade later to record. The songs are familiar from the Jamaican folk music with the expected Harry Belafonte influence of the day. The arrangement by the Swedish Karl-Olof Finnberg Calypso Band is better than one would expect with prominent hand drum and flute over rhythm guitar.
The cassette is rounded out with instrumental versions of 10 of the tracks. If you are interested in buying a copy of this cassette, contact Sam West at email@example.com.
Ten years later, in 2006, this collection was released on CD with an additional track, "Water Come A Me Eye". The CD is rounded out with 8 instrumental versions and 4 a cappella versions. The lyrics and notes that enriched the cassette are also included here.
It can be purchased at
"Jimmy Tucker Sings of Jamaica", an LP on the Reliance label, from 1982. This isn't really exactly an album of Jamaican folk songs, but it is a collection of Jamaican songs about Jamaica, sung by Jamaican tenor, Jimmy Tucker. Many of these songs were written by mento artists.
On the first side are patriotic songs, with Tucker backed by The Jamaican Military Band, conducted by Captain Joe Williams. One of the selections was written by Clyde Hoyte and two more were co-written by Mapletoft Poulle, including the national anthem. The second side has more songs in praise of Jamaica, including three more written by Clyde Hoyte and two by Baba Motta. The songs on this side are often reggae, featuring the playing of Cedric Brooks, members of Third World and Count Ozzie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari.
This LP is autographed and reads, "Anne, In 1938 Jamaicans called from[?] an equal gate. Do come again. Jimmy Tucker".
Though I have not heard this 1968 LP, here are some images of "From Jamaica With Love (Calypso & Folk Music)" from Harry Sweeting on the Studio One label.
Me Donkey waan wata/Hold ‘im Joe
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