The demand for mento bands skyrocketed during the Christmas season, leaving the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) to conclude that there is still life in this style of Jamaican folk music that influenced ska and reggae.
“Mento was a dying art form, so what we do, through our workshops, is build new bands with the help of the schools. So you will find music teachers and bandleaders pulling resources, finding instruments and encouraging students to practise the art,” Karla Mullings, manager of JCDC’s Business and Product Development Unit told The Gleaner.
The unit is actively using two bands, the Rumbakkah and Energy Plus Mento, to meet the growing demand. Rumbakkah is a group comprising students from Charlemont High School, while Energy Plus, which is based in Kingston, is an adult group.
“Many of the requests come from Kingston and St Andrew, so it was decided that it would be easier to focus on the two bands within the parish, as all the other bands are from out of town and getting them into town is usually a challenge,” Mullings said.
Rumbakkah’s band director and manager Nigel Powell said: “We just started September, and from October through to December, a lot of persons showed interest in booking the band, so much that we had to be turning down a lot of events.”
ON A MISSION
The booking of bands such as Rumbakkah has been made possible through a programme spearheaded by the Business and Product Development Unit, which is on a mission to expose that talent. The unit is not new. as there are artistes who have been with the commission for a while. However, according to Mullings, “The team has ramped up in terms of from a business aspect” and is doing more so that the portfolio of talent is “advertised in a more strategic way”.
There are more than 2,000 persons registered with a JCDC talent-for-hire programme. “A lot of the performers come out of yearly national competitions. the JCDC has the cream of the crop on board, so we try to hone their talent and give them revenue for their craft,” Mullings said.