Nicky Bomba talks Bustamento and Cairns Ukulele Festival world record
Get on board: learn the song for this Saturday's Cairns Ukulele Festival world record attempt at Fogarty Park.
Take an intrepid musical adventure into island sounds at The Jack, writes Jesse Kuch
Nicky Bomba has always been a man of many musical coats.
The popular singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and all-round nice guy is best known for his veteran live outfit Bomba, and playing drums in John Butler Trio’s most recent incarnation.
However, for his latest musical adventure, Nicky said he looked to the traditional music of the Caribbean islands for inspiration – with his six-piece swingin’ outfit Bustamento the end result.
Speaking to timeOUT this week ahead of heading north to take part in Cairns Ukulele Festival, the Malta-born, Melbourne-based musical innovator says Bustamento looked to the roots of reggae, ska, calypso and island music in the often unheard of, but no less influential, Jamaican folk style of mento.
“Mento, you could say, is traditional Jamaican folk music,” Nicky says.
“It’s specifically from Jamaica, with calypso, which most people know, it’s more commercial cousin.
“A lot of people know Harry Belafonte for his classic album Calypso. That album, half the songs were mento songs, dressed up a bit. The melodies and songs were in tradition and folk lore for some time.”
Nicky says mento was always an acoustic affair, usually sung on beaches or fishing boats and played with instruments that were as portable as they were playable.
“You’ve got a rumba box, banjo, fiddle, flutes, guitar, ukulele – all instruments that come from seafaring nations and are easy to carry,” he says.
“The classic rhythm has an emphasis on the four (fourth beat), you could say that the back beat of mento had a influence on what we now know as ska.
“Mento music also has a lot of vocal content, it was the voice of the people. The singers would often speak out against the authorities of the day or a particular person, or relay a story that had happened on the islands. I guess you could say it was the newspaper of the time. A lot of the songs have fun and take a bit of a stab at big businessmen coming to Jamaica on holiday, or big bankers, things like that. You can see the influence it had on a lot of the ’70s Jamaican music’s lyrics, songs like Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff.”
Nicky says Bustamento’s first album Intrepid Adventures to the Lost Riddim Islands doesn’t totally stick to traditions – but thinks the band has hit a good balance between classic and modern.
“It’s like a school project, where you go and explore a subject then do what you want,” he says.
“I’m not doing a purist album, even though it’s called Bustamento, it’s not all mento tunes.
“Deep Sleeper Man using classic mento lyrics and it’s got that feel based on other mento tunes, but I really wanted to offer something new as well. We throw in some ska and reggae stuff in there and try to mash up mento a bit. But everything on there, the underlying soul is mento and calypso, from the particular grooves and rhythms through to the attitude.”
Before Bustamento takes to the stage this Saturday night at The Jack, Nicky has one other big project to look after – leading the big attempt to break the Guinness World Record for Largest Ukulele Ensemble at Fogarty Park.
Playing ukulele classic Travellin’, Cairns will attempt to break the record set in London in 2009 of 851 people playing simultaneously for half-an-hour.
Nicky has been kind enough to put together an instructional video for the track to help people get ready for the attempt (see above) and says everyone who comes along will be part of history, even if we don’t break the record.
“I’ve been filming a clip for Travellin’, playing the uke around the world,” Nicky says.
“I’ve been in Malta, Paris, Times Square, Hawaii, in the snow... and the last part of the clip will be shot in Cairns at the world record attempt.
“I hope everyone comes out to support and brings a friend, so we can break it.”
>> Bustamento present Intrepid Adventures to the Lost Riddim Islands at the Ukulele Party Night at The Jack on Saturday, from 7.30pm (also featuring Craig Chee and a Uke Open Mic night). Tickets are $18 presale, $20 on the door, on sale from cairnsukulelefestival.net
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Lost in rhythm: Nicky Bomba and his new band Bustamento.