Music

Stanley Beckford: the mento man

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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This month the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) will crown the 51st Jamaica Festival Song Competition winner. The Jamaica Observer presents the fifth in a 10-part series on the contest which started in 1966.

 

FANS of the Festival Song contest have their perennial favourites — Toots and The Maytals, Eric Donaldson, Tinga Stewart, Roy Rayon, The Astronauts, and Stanley Beckford. The diminutive Beckford was a four-time winner and popular attraction each time he entered.

The Portland-born singer died in 2007 from throat cancer at age 65. He started his career as a rocksteady/reggae artiste in the late 1960s, but switched to mento in the early 1970s and began playing for tourists in north coast hotels.

Until his death, Beckford kept that sound alive with a series of hit songs.

His 'Festival' winners (twice with The Turbines, once with The Astronauts, and solo) were uptempo mento songs that featured his distinct nasal twang. Those songs were Come Sing With Me (1980), Dem A Fe Squirm (1986), Dem A Pollute (1994) and Fi wi Island A Boom which won in 2000.

Zac Henry, founding member of The Astronauts, describes Beckford as the consummate showman.

“I met Stanley about the late '60s, early '70s. He could take any song and put a mento twist to it... He was the master of ad lib; his style was special. He could dance and he always found some costume you would have to talk about,” Henry told the Jamaica Observer. “Stanley was a jovial and 'vibesy' person.”

Keeping mento in the mainstream was probably Beckford's greatest accomplishment. He had big hits in the 1970s, a fertile period for roots-reggae and Rastafari.

His breakthrough song came in 1975 with the risqué Soldering, which was banned from Jamaican airwaves. Interestingly, that song was covered by an emerging American duo named Hall and Oates for their 1975 album, Daryl Hall & John Oates.

Other Soldering tidbits. It was co-written by Beckford and Alvin Ranglin, who produced several of Gregory Isaacs' hits including Love is Overdue and Border. Beckford was backed on Soldering by Soul Syndicate, one of the top bands in reggae history.

Broom Weed and Leave my Kisiloo were other radio-friendly Stanley Beckford songs that became favourites prior to his Festival success. Along with Soldering they are on the 2002 album, Stanley Beckford Plays Mento.

Though he was best known for mento and his Festival Song contest triumphs, Stanley Beckford recorded a number of reggae songs, mainly for Ranglin's G G Records. Some of his albums were distributed by companies such as Dynamic Records and Tuff Gong.

In April 2007 American author David Katz wrote a comprehensive obituary saluting Beckford's understated legacy for Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

“In 2001, while playing hotel performances with the Fab 5 band, he was asked by French record executives to record an album of old-time mento for the European market. On Stanley Beckford Plays Mento, released by Barclay, Beckford was backed by the Blue Glaze band, one of the island's top mento groups, with additional harmony provided by his wife Thelma and daughter Monique. The album and European tours gave Beckford a new audience; in France he was compared to Compay Segundo of the Buena Vista Social Club and his success there led to the 2004 follow-up, Reggaemento, released by Warners.”

Proof that Stanley Beckford was much more than a Festival and mento singer.

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