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IVAN CHIN'S CALYPSO GROUP-The Heart of Early Mento

Ivan Chin
Chinese-Jamaican record producer Ivan Chin

The Wizard Ivan Chin

Somewhere around 1952/53 a group of musicians approached electronics wizard Ivan Chin at his store in Kingston to help them record a song that they had composed. The title of the song was “Night Food,” a song that Chin decided to steer clear of because he doubted whether it would take the market, or realize any success because of its suggestive lyrics. As luck would have it, the recording became the fastest-selling record in the history of Jamaican music at the time and led the way in terms of Jamaican hit recordings. It also spurred Chin into action. He was now convinced that songs like Night Food, which had suggestive and ambiguous lyrics, were the type of songs that Jamaicans loved and promptly sent for Alerth Bedasse - the vocalist and music arranger of Night Food – and the prolific songwriter Everard Williams, who had penned the song, in addition to countless others, contracting them to produce two mento recordings per month at a cost of 18 pounds per month. Thus was born the Chin's Calypso Sextet, a group that would become a major cornerstone of Mento and by extension, Jamaican music.

Ivan Chin the Producer

Ivan Chin was an electronic technician and he recorded, produced, and financed all the recordings done by the group at his store, situated at 48 Church Street, downtown Kingston. It was at his instigation that the group was formed between 1952 and 1953 and duly named after him. According to Bedasse, the other band members were Cheston on banjo, Aaron on guitar, Peck on the rumba box or bass fiddle, Everard Williams on maracas, Will on saxophone and himself on vocals and guitar. Occasionally, they would include a fife player. It was very much a studio band that existed solely for and to record under contract with Chin who did his own recordings, using his own cutting machine at his premises along Church Street in Kingston, by converting a part of his store - Chin's Radio Service - where he sold electrical appliances and records, into a recording studio, specifically to record the quintet, and did so late at night when it was quiet and peaceful. According to Bedasse, "Mr Chin, in the evenings after the store is closed and the street is quiet, would make a kind of studio for himself. He bought a cutting machine and a mike, which he put on a table, and we would all congregate around it and play and sing into it, sometimes do it all three, four times until he was satisfied that he got what he wanted."

Musical Recordings

The first songs recorded by Chin and distributed on 78RPM (revolutions per minute) 10-inch vinyl discs were Honey Moon, Rough Rider, Sampson and Delilah, and Depression - all hits. Some 96 songs were reportedly recorded and produced by Chin, with The Chin's Calypso Sextet accounting for about 35 by Bedasse's count. Chin also recorded songs written by Williams for other artistes. They included the legendary "Ethiopia" by Lord Lebby - one of the first songs about repatriation that was commercially recorded in the Caribbean. It presaged the significant role that the Rastafarian religion would play in the later development of Jamaican music. Other popular recordings recorded and produced by Chin for the sextet included Big Boy And Teacher, Big Sid, Rent Worries, Monkey Opinion, Black Market Meat, and Monkey Opinion, most of which were social commentaries or simply about things that were happening in Jamaica at the time.

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