With his long-running band the Jolly Boys, Joseph Bennett was a giant of mento, the Jamaican dance music created by the descendants of slaves in the late 19th century.
"He will always be lovingly remembered as that cheeky little fellow in the Jolly Boys who danced and shook his maracas," said Jon Baker, co-owner of the Geejam resort and recording studio where the band recorded their breakthrough 2010 album Great Expectation.
Mento features banjo, maracas and the rhumba box, a large-scale mbira, or thumb piano, to pluck bass notes, and with often bawdy lyrics. Bennett had played in various incarnations of the group since the early 1960s. He was lead singer, though in recent years he played maracas and sang backing vocals.
The group, originally called the Navy Island Swamp Boys, got their start performing at Errol Flynn's private island in the Port Antonio area and entertained tourists at beach hotels for decades. With Baker's help, the group fused traditional sounds with rock and pop hits on their 2010 album, including Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and Lou Reed's "Perfect Day." The concept was a hit and the band performed across Europe and the US. "Over the years, we've stayed in the hotels preserving this mento," Bennett said in 2011. It's finally paying off now."
The Jolly Boys' frontman, Albert Minott, described his friend as a "funny fellow who loved to joke, travel and entertain people." He said the Jolly Boys are preparing for a tour of the Caribbean despite the loss of Bennett. "We are really missing him already, but we will keep going," said the 76-year-old lead singer. "It's not over till it's over."
Joseph Bennett, musician: born c. 1938; died 20 August 2014.Reuse content