Without a doubt you can call mento music a precursor of ska and reggae. Its roots go as far as the end of XIXth century and the peak of popularity came during the 1940s. My first encounter with this genre was probably caused by one of Trojan 3-CD box sets, where it was for sure dominated by calypso. I also recall listening to some Stanley Beckford’s tunes. But I have never stumpled upon any band serving live mento as the main course. Only few years ago I’ve managed to catch the legendary Jolly Boys in Warsaw. Fantastic show, lots of great memories. And on those memories I had to focus, as I still look in vain for any bands cultivating those forgotten Jamaican sounds.
When two years ago I’ve seen a name of a local Cologne band Los Apartamentos in Freedoms Sounds Festival’s line-up it didn’t ring any bells at all. But it was clearly stated there that they play mento music. That’s interesting… I should definitely check it out, even if only as some oddity. Silly thing but circumstances allowed me to see not much more than motley flowery shirts which were the band’s dresscode. I also remember a characteristic rumba-box which is often used as a bass in this kind of music. I had to wait another year for something more. Same place, same festival – this time I’ve seen the whole set. The gig took place on a small stage and it gathered quite an audience. People had perfect fun, they were dancing and singing along with the band. They were even doing a funny choreography illustrating one of the songs. It was really great. It was so great that after the festival I decided to listen to all kinds of old mento hits on YouTube for a few days. I got to know Count Lasher and Lord Flea a little closer and I had a really good time.
Around September first informations started emerging about Los Apartamentos recording an album – photos from recording sessions, short clips. Very soon it was revealed that known all around the ska world Chicago based label Jump Up Records will be taking care of this release. Perfect, Chuck Wren responsible for this brand has a very good hand for this kind of projects. I couldn’t wait. Mixing fell on the shoulders of Hanno Shattow, known to you as a leader of Masons Arms. Boss van Trigt a.k.aa Boss Capone himself was handling the production. Come on, release it already, take my money and let me listen! Finally I had to calm down and wait till April or to be more specific till another edition of Freedom Sounds. There, for the first time, gentlemen from the apartments had a chance to play on the main stage. You can read more about it in our small festival summary. Although I am not completely sure if this was a good switch, the show was still great and after it, with a lot of pleasure, I’ve bought myself a very nice vinyl.
I think that I’ve already listened to it a dozen or so times and I am still not bored at all. This of course might be a very personal feeling but I can’t remember any other album lately that would instantly put me in such a good mood. Almost 40 minutes of magnificent sounds, which make you feel like you’re on vacation. A drink in your hand, beach, palms, sun and it doesn’t really matter that I am actually at work behind a desk and it’s raining outside. I honestly have to say – it is not a very original album. It’s composed entirely of covers, there are no innovative arrangements here. Only classic compositions of the genre’s titans, no surprises. It’s all played to make it sound like it’s actually from the 1950s. Germans approached this matter quite seriously. They recorded everything with one microphone, which only amplifies the perfect mood of a street party somewhere in Kingston.
I can’t quite put it, what exactly makes me laugh to myself while listening to this record during a short trip between work and home. Every time I catch myself singing aloud all those silly lyrics about Joe running from the police, too high rent for a place with a leaky roof or finally about a “ripe tomato” and eponymous “watering di garden”. For sure a very important ingridient here is Peter’s beautifully fitting voice. Wide spectrum of instruments with all types of noise makers is not without a meaning too. But I think that the final effect is yet something more than only a sum of all those parts. There’s something difficult to catch that makes me sumberge myself in the sounds of “Hill And Gully Rider” once again right now. I wonder how connoisseurs of mento genre would address this album. For a laic as myself it is absolutely satisfactory.