John Thomas

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This common name shows up in connection with recordings of some of the earliest free black Jamaican settlers done by ethnomusicologist Kenneth Bilby from the late '70s onward; not a great shock since…
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Artist Biography by

This common name shows up in connection with recordings of some of the earliest free black Jamaican settlers done by ethnomusicologist Kenneth Bilby from the late '70s onward; not a great shock since there seems to be a John Thomas just about everywhere else. "Kin an Beri" is the song attributed to this artist on a Smithsonian Folkways set entitled Drums of Defiance: Jamaican Maroon Music. The title means "skin and belly."

Bilby collected more than 300 items in at least a dozen languages, including a variety of Creole dialects and the eerie-sounding "mandinga spirit language." The Thomas ditty comes from a style also known as mandinga, basically a name for a genre of performance both combining and inspiring song and dance. As for Bilby's actual sound recordings, there were nearly 30, about two dozen of which saw the light when this material was first released on LP in the early '80s; the CD version from the '90s fills out the collection.

Thomas would have hailed from one of the original "maroon" communities such as Moore Town or Accompong, the latter sounding like something of a utopia for backup instrumentalists. Actually, the village was named in honor of the former ruler of the town: Accompong and his brother Kojo represented the biggest bottles of soda pop in the region during the 17th and 18th centuries, or were "the big ting" as Jamaicans would put it.