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 The Mighty Beestons Mento Band—

LOCATED in the hills of Westmoreland, Beeston Spring is a typical rural district where many residents make farming their livelihood.

It is also home to The Mighty Beestons Mento Band, which has been around for over 50 years. Despite their longevity, Astil Gage, the group’s congo player and manager, said they are not known outside of cultural and tourism circles.

“We do our thing in the hotels, likkle functions, wakes…things like dat. Independence coming up now so dat’s when things pick up for us,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

The five-piece band is scheduled to play at Black River Day in St Elizabeth on Friday. On August 5, they perform at an independence event in Santa Cruz, also in that parish.

Gage’s bandmates are founding members: banjo player Calvin Samuels, who is in his late 70s, singer/guitarist Anthony Brown, drummer Clive Jones and Woolery McCreath on the rumba box.

Forty-six-year-old Gage, an electrician and self-described community organiser, has been with The Mighty Beestons for 10 years. While they play mainly traditional mento, he said the quintet try different things to ‘modernise’ their sound.

“Sometimes yuh play at a big function wi amplify the sound. Yuh want everybody to hear the music.”

The Mighty Beestons get most of their gigs at hotels such as Beaches Negril and Sandals Whitehouse. They have a monthly date at the Star Grill hotel in Mandeville.

Some musicologists regard mento as Jamaica’s first popular music. It flourished during the 1940s and 1950s before being superseded by hip beats like ska and rocksteady in the 1960s.

With the emergence of militant roots-reggae in the early 1970s, mento reminded many anti-colonials of minstrels playing on the porches of hotels for white tourists.

The sound made a comeback late that decade through Stanley Beckford, a charismatic performer who thrived in the annual Festival Song Contest, as well as on mainstream radio.

In recent years, the Jolly Boys, a journeyman mento band out of Portland, enjoyed international acclaim through Great Expectation, a 2010 album they recorded for Gee Jam Records.

The Mighty Beestons have yet to release any songs, but Gage and his colleagues are keen to change that.

“We want to move forward in that direction, it’s something we’re definitely looking at,” he said.

–By Howard Campbell

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