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Mento, Calypso, The Beat, Oh My!

This month’s issue of The Beat arrived today. Although it’s special because it’s the “25th Annual Bob Marley and the Wailers Collectors Edition,” it has particular meaning for me because it includes two obituaries I wrote about friends who have recently passed: mento singer Alerth Bedasse (lead singer of the 1950s group, the Chin’s Calypso Sextet) and Stanley Beckford, the reggae-mento singer well known throughout Jamaica both for his bawdy 1970s hits and for his Festival Song Contest successes. (These articles appear on pages 63-4 of The Beat; the article about Alerth was originally published in the Jamaica Observer.)

The Beat included a couple photos in the piece, but here are a couple more that don’t appear there. The first is of Stanley rehearsing with the Blue Glaze Mento Band. Stanley’s the one on the far right in a baseball cap

The next is one of Alerth from when we first met in person. The photo was taken at his house and, as you might have guessed, I took the picture while he was singing.

(I took both of these photos and “borrowed” them from my own rarely updated website.)

Shifting gears from Jamaica to Trinidad (and it is a shift because I’m of the opinion that mento and calypso have little to do with one another, in general), I’ve been listening to an amazing box set of Trinidadian calypsos from the Bear Family company called West Indian Rhythm.


This set is unbelievable. Its 10 beautifully remastered CDs feature almost every single recording Decca Records made in Trinidad between 1938 and 1940 (talk about complete…it’s missing only one record – an acetate – because there is no extant copy). On this set are not just calypsos, no no; it includes recordings of non-calypso topical songs, of dance bands, of Shango and Shouter Baptist hymns, of carnival chants, and of stick-fighter songs. It is really something to hear.

It’s something to read as well. Included in the box is a glossy, meticulously researched hardcover book of liner notes with essays from Don Hill, Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, John Cowley, Lise Winder, Dick Spottswood, Denis Malins-Smith and Richard Noblett (a name that should be familiar to those interested in recordings of Caribbean music). If only every reissue came with a book so well done….

My point is this: were there ever a collection of Trinidadian calypso music to be considered a “must have,” this is it. If you love calypso and can afford to (I have to warn, it’s kind of pricey), there is ABSOLUTELY no way you will be disappointed. Click here for more info.

(An aside: anthropologist Don Hill hipped me to this set, a gesture for which I’ll be eternally grateful. Don is the consummate calypso scholar; his expertise in this area is well documented, and he’s got the seminal book to prove it.)

I should also add that for those interested in calypso, clicking here will take you to a great online exhibit that compliments this set of recordings. Some of the same people responsible for this great set of CDs were involved in that website’s production; on it, there’s lots of goodies to see, so have a look and enjoy.


1 comment

  1. Jane Goody

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