Words and Direction by Jesse Serwer, Photos and Video by Georgia Blake
We were fascinated to learn the story of Jamaica’s Jolly Boys after hearing of them through their cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” last year and ecstatic to witness their Buena Vista Social Club-like emergence as wise re-interpreters of punk, new wave and other modern pop. Here was quite possibly Jamaica’s longest-running band, its members now well into their 70s, not only bringing mento music—a virtual relic confined to resort areas since the emergence of reggae four decades ago—back onto the world stage, and actually steering it in a new direction (with the help and supervision of Geejam owner/ music industry vet Jon Baker).
When the current touring incarnation of the Boys—frontman Albert Minott, a former hotel firedancer and longtime Jolly Boys affiliate who has only recently stepped into the role as the group’s frontman; founding member Derrick “Johnny” Henry; and Joseph “Powder” Bennett— came to New York City this past winter to promote their album Great Expectation, we jumped at the opportunity to spend some time with them. We watched as Albert, Johnny and Powder rehearsed for their show at Manhattan’s Hiro Ballroom (including a rousing rendition of Steely Dan’s “Do it Again,” then headed upstairs to a suite at the Maritime Hotel, where they performed acoustic versions of “Rehab” and “Iron Bar” for us, and answered our questions about mento, the rhumba box, their hometown of Port Antonio and their old friend and patron, Errol Flynn.