The Banjo in Jamaican Mento

The banjo played a central place in the popular music known as Jamaican mento. Ethnomusicologist Dan Neely has written an excellent dissertation about this music, which you can purchase from University Microfilms.


This website offers great information about mento music.


The documentary film “Pimento and Hot Pepper: The Story of Mento Music” does a nice job of exploring the history of this music. You can see the trailer, which includes some nice excerpts of mento banjo, below.



When he was doing fieldwork in Jamaica in the late 1950s, anthropologist Sidney Mintz collected a banjo of unique construction: you can read more about this here.


Though mento is, today, not as popular as it once was, many Jamaican musicians continue to play the banjo in a variety of settings. Ken Bilby, a leading ethnomusicologist of Caribbean music, has also shared the photographs below of contemporary banjo players in Jamaica.



The banjo has also been a part of popular music in many other parts of the Caribbean, for instance in St. Lucia. The photograph below, taken in 1972, is of a St. Lucian group called the “Banjo Man Players,” for instance.




4 Replies to “The Banjo in Jamaican Mento”

  1. Dear Paul: That is a great question, and one I don’t actually know the answer to. I imagine that Dan Neely would probably know, and perhaps others who visit this site… Will see if I can find an answer on my end as well. Thanks!

  2. I’m a banjo player and I play 5 string Banjo. I’ve seen pictures of mento players playing 5 string Banjo. I play in open G tuning so I guess they might too.

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