At the end of a troubled 2020, Bakersfield ska men Mento Buru released an EP full of Christmas cheer. The sunny ska based rhythms were at odds with “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, but that only added to the fun. Not everything on the ‘East Bakersfield Christmas’ EP was of a gold standard, but its best bits – including a terrific ‘Feliz Navidad’ – certainly made it worth checking out and definitely played to the band’s strengths.
Their name might not be familiar, but California’s Mento Buru have shared stages with The Specials, Long Beach Dub All Stars, Desmond Dekker, Fishbone and The Aquabats. They’ve been affiliated with the legendary Moon Ska record label. They’ve worked hard to bring good time ska, reggae and Latin sounds to enthusiastic audiences since the early 90s and, by often sidelining the punkier elements that cut through so many of the third wave acts, as their name suggests, they’ve always sounded so much more authentic than some of their would-be peers.
The band began a hit and miss 2020 by issuing a mini album of archive recordings (‘The Skarage Days Revisited ’92-’96’) which acted as a great collection filler for the fan. In many ways, their second release of the year is of much bigger appeal, even if it has a shorter shelf-life in terms of listening opportunities. As its title suggests ‘East Bakersfield Christmas’ finds Mento Buru bringing the sunny sounds of Kingston to the Californian suburbs, contrasting various winter wonderland scenarios with music that often suggests beaches and warmth.
Although only six tracks in length – five different songs and a bonus Spanish translation – the band’s picks are absolutely classic. Their performances often bring so much life to the very familiar songs, and overall, this EP – although quite far removed from traditional festive fare – is a lot of fun.