Sat | Jun 25, 2022
Celebrating Sound System Fathers

Merritone Disco a father-figure all around

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2022 | 12:11 AMSade Gardner - Staff Reporter

In this 1967 picture, Winston Blake (with mic) of the Merritone Discotheque is caught in a happy mood at Club Sombrero at a Sunday session. Beside him is brother Trevor (having a drink) with fans looking on.
In this 1967 picture, Winston Blake (with mic) of the Merritone Discotheque is caught in a happy mood at Club Sombrero at a Sunday session. Beside him is brother Trevor (having a drink) with fans looking on.

Monte Blake and daughter, Monique.
Monte Blake and daughter, Monique.
From left, Craig ‘Young Lion’ Ross, Winston ‘Merritone’ Blake and Monte Blake, members of the Merritone Disco family.
From left, Craig ‘Young Lion’ Ross, Winston ‘Merritone’ Blake and Monte Blake, members of the Merritone Disco family.
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( It’s Father’s Day in the year of Jamaica 60 and as part of the Jubilee celebrations, The Sunday Gleaner’s Entertainment section is featuring the sound system culture, which was born in Jamaica in the late 40s and 50s through the creativity of the pioneering ‘Fathers’.)

When looking at the history of Merritone, it’s easy to identify the influence and role of father. Indeed, it was Val Blake who started the legendary sound system in 1950, paving the way for sons Winston and Trevor to steer the ship after he passed five years later. But beyond the surface, Monte, who later joined the business with his brother Tyrone, said his father laid the foundation for Merritone’s point of difference: family.

“Merritone, I think, displayed how important it is to be a father,” he told The Sunday Gleaner. “We learned from our dad and even though he was only five years in it, it was enough for us to understand the importance of it and that’s why we, as Merritone, did not exist just because of how many specials or records we have.

“I often say that Merritone wouldn’t be as potent if it didn’t have family and we have people that have been coming to Merritone since they were kids and a lot of them, up to this day, still come back. It may not be as often but sometimes they bring their children to show this is what we were listening to when we were growing up and it’s always something that you can bring your family to.”

Monte wishes Father’s Day would receive equal honour and recognition as Mother’s Day as he deems the role critical.

INDISCIPLINE

“I believe that some of the problems that we’re having today, you can probably say it’s indiscipline, leads to most other things because there are not many fathers in the homes. Sometimes the women try to do a good job but my observation is that sometimes they overcompensate.”

A father himself, he’ll be spending the day with the Diasporic Merritone family at the Caribbean Family Fun Day in Atlanta presented by Mikey Sparkle. Interestingly, Monte said it was his late brother Winston who suggested that Sparkle host the annual event on Father’s Day.

The mighty Merritone Disco

Being the first sound system from St Thomas, Merritone moved to Kingston in 1962 and distinguished itself with a diverse repertoire. Though they existed before the development of the local music recording industry, Merritone was able to receive the latest records because Winston was respected by several artistes. Their catalogue also grew thanks to an aunt who would take the newest merengue and calypso tunes from her travels.

More than 70 years later, the Merritone name is etched in global music history as the oldest active sound system in the world. In 2018, the National Heritage Trust and Kingston and St Andrew Corporation bestowed a plaque on Merritone along Red Hills Road, St Andrew, for their contribution to the music industry and longevity. It was at this location where they held their VIP series in the 1980s which highlighted talents like Beres Hammond, Cynthia Schloss and The Mighty Diamonds.

Merritone is also known for another event which is still active, their annual fun day held in New York which brings families together.

Beyond the music, Merritone has also served as a father to society through various philanthropic initiatives. Late last year, the sound system raised funds for the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates, one of many instances of the Merritone family’s giving spirit.

sade.gardner@gleanerjm.com