“GREAT TRIBULATION”: The Life and Times of Hugh Mundell

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PART ONE:  “BOOK OF LIFE”

“The day is coming up so soon, When there shall be the falling of all capitalists,  When I and I people shall go home and vanquish Pope Paul down inna Rome, On the Day of Judgment it’s sure gonna be dread!”

Hugh Mundell wrote and sang the opening verses of “Day of Judgment”   when he was just fourteen years of age.  The words hit hard – a one-two punch to capitalism and the vampire of Babylon.  The words are especially relevant to the economic conditions the world’s been experiencing for the past six years – an unprecedented recession with little hope of significant recovery on the horizon.  It’s the same story we’ve been hearing for more than 75 years in the folk songs of Woodie Guthrie, the soul spirituals of Stevie Wonder, the rootical vibrations of Bob Marley, and yes, the post-roots era reggae songs of Hugh Mundell.  The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.  Reggae is at its best when people are suffering the most.

The great Rockers stalwart Junior Delgado describes him most appropriately as “a blessed singer, a blessed child” because his gift was pure and true.  What came to many Jamaican vocalists through years and years of relentless vocal rehearsal came to this“blessed youth” like the sunrise that greets every day, almost as if he was divinely ordained to deliver the message.  Like those who came before him – Marley, Garvey, Malcolm – this prophet and poet of the black struggle was given little time to deliver his message in this realm, however, he used every second, every minute, every hour of that time to speak directly and unapologetically to the injustices of his world.  While he was not the greatest singer or songwriter of his time, he was, without a doubt, the best messenger – capable of delivering Jah message with an ease, efficiency and sincerity that we haven’t seen since.

Hugh Mundell is a classic study in the dichotomy of the individual, the struggle within.  While he sang with the voice of an angel about unity and the universal notion of ‘one love’ among all men, he was by all accounts a rather difficult person to get to know.  Upon meeting Mundell for the first time in 1981 at the Karnac House, a Caribbean Community Centre in Westbourne Park, London, music journalist Roz Reines described the 18-year old artist as a “human iceberg.”  As she reported in the November 1981 issue of New Musical Express:

“We exchange greetings, at least, the road manager and I exchange greetings, while Hugh glares fiercely at a point just behind my head…’Hi’ replied the roadie, smiling equally warmly.  What follows is a scene straight out of a Marx Brothers movie, or a Japanese businessman’s convention.  Every time I try to engage Hugh in conversation, he just glares at me and his roadie is forced to respond.  Meet Hugh Mundell, the human iceberg.”

Hugh Christopher Mundell was born and died in East Kingston, Jamaica.  Born the 14th of June 1962, Mundell is the last of four children and the only son born to Theresa  and Alvin  Mundell.  Unlike many who entered the reggae sound business in the 1970s, Mundell is blessed to be born into a tight-knit middle class family.  His father Alvin Mundell was a successful and well-respected attorney who moved his family often.  It isn’t until the early 1970s that the family settles in the Red Hills area of St. Andrews parish.  Hugh  attends St. Margaret’s Preparatory School,  Kingsway Preparatory School, and enters the Ardenne High School on Hope Road in 1976, the same high school that graduated Shower Posse boss and notorious drug kingpin Michael Christopher Coke AKA “The President” AKA “Dudus.”  It is at the Ardenne High School, at the age of twelve, that Hugh Mundell starts writing his first lyrics and singing. Mundell’s older sister Joanna, a student at  the Excelsior High School along with a host of other youths from the neighborhood, including Wayne Wade, Winston McAnuff, and Earl Daley (Earl Sixteen). Mundell strikes up a friendship with the three youths and they are often seen hanging in and around the Mundell house.

It is at the Ardenne High School, at the age of twelve, that Hugh Mundell starts writing his first lyrics and singing. Mundell’s older sister Joanna, a student at  the Excelsior High School along with a host of other youths from the neighborhood, including Wayne Wade, Winston McAnuff, and Earl Daley (Earl Sixteen). Mundell strikes up a friendship with the three youths and they are often seen hanging in and around the Mundell house.

Mundell at home

Mundell at home

As Winston McAnuff recalls “the Mundell family lived in the house opposite to that of my sister, with whom I lived at the time.  Wayne lived the next house down from Mundell.”

As a youth, Mundell spends much of his time running races with other neighborhood boys of his age.  He is so competitive as a runner that many think he will develop into an athlete.  However, as he enters puberty he discovers his voice and he begins spending countless hours on the street where he lives in the early mornings singing some popular songs.

It isn’t at all strange that the youths show an early interest in music, as the reggae music coming from “down a yaad” was the reigning newspaper of the day to Jamaican youths, who exhibited little interest in the rumours and hearsay published in the politically-influenced Star, Daily News, and Gleaner.  The boys spend their class time writing lyrics and arranging the next hit tunes in their head while the teacher drones on about white English writers and poets with names like Keating and Yeats.

“From when I was about 12 or 13 years of age I started writing lyrics in school and I was also living in an avenue with two artists – Wayne Wade and Winston  – and we used to play and sing together taking turns” explains Mundell in a November 1980 interview with Sounds magazine’s Edwin Pouncey.  “So as from a youth I used to love singing in front of an audience and I would admire the singers around.”

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Mundell delves a bit deeper into his roots as a singer in an interview with Penny Reel, published in Black Echoes, November 8, 1980:

“From I’m a youth,very young, I say I love to sing, do some singing out there.  I used to love singing from a youth and my father love singing.  My mommy sing and wash.  More time me used to pick up the habit, not really the habit, the vibration of singing.  I used to take in some stage shows and say, ‘boy one day I like deh deh so an have the mic in front of an audience and let them know what’s going down.  When I start going to school now, high school, I start write my own lyrics.  I used to sing my own lyrics.  I used to write and I used to sing in what them call a soul way, but when I really check it that wasn’t the right way.  I say boy, me come from Jamaica, me shoulda really make some reggae music, cultural music, my own yard music.  Also among Pablo started jamming little reggae and thing.  I say that is the kind of music I reaaly have to go into.”

“A great, great, great day that would be.
So long you have look in the sky,
Too late shall be your cry, yea-yea.”

                                                                                                      Hugh Mundell, “Jah Fire Will Be Burning”

One of those aspiring singers, Wayne Wade, is the first to gain access to the tightly controlled recording studios, laying down his first track during his senior year at Excelsior titled “Black Is Our Colour” for producer Vivian “Yabby You” Jackson’s Prophets label in 1976.  His debut album, Black Is Our Colour  is released in 1976, and is followed by further hits with cover versions of The Paragons’ “Happy Go Lucky Girl” and “On the Beach.”

Hugh Mundell 1980 (Photo: Adrian Boot)

Hugh Mundell 1980 (Photo: Adrian Boot)

It is actually through Mundell’s friendship with McAnuff and family friend Boris Gardiner that he is able to break into the business in 1975.  In early 1975, record producer Joe Gibbs set up a new studio and record pressing plant at Retirement Crescent and started working with sound engineer Errol Thompson, who used to be at Randy’s Studio.  Together they are known as “The Mighty Two,”  and along with his studio band The Professionals (including bassist Robbie Shakespeare, drummer Sly Dunbar and guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith) they produce hundreds of singles, including the hits “Money In My Pocket” by Dennis Brown, “Ah So We Stay” by Big Youth and “Eviction” by Black Uhuru.

As McAnuff explains in a 2004 interview with Peter-I at Reggae Vibes “[w]e’re talking the 70’s. Yeah. And then I went to Kingston and I was living near to Hugh Mundell, coincidentally. I started checking some producers to see if I could record some songs. I went to Joe Gibbs one day and I was there playing the guitar, waiting for Errol Thompson. And then Flabba Holt heard the song ‘Malcolm X’ and then he ran to call Errol T to tell him ‘this youth have a wicked song’, an’ t’ing. So he came and he listened so he say we should come on Thursday.  I used to work out that time with a keyboard player, from Black Uhuru, called Franklyn Waul (aka ‘Bubbler’ ). We used to go to high school together so we worked out the songs early in the morning before devotion, on the school piano, y’know.  So I decided… I was doing a little recording then with Derrick Harriott too, and then I found out he was playing better than the (other) musicians so I carried him to play on that song ‘Malcolm X’. So I bring about Hugh Mundell as well, y’know. So he did a song about (sings) ‘natty dread is not on First street, natty dread is not on Third street, nowhere is natty dread…’, Hugh Mundell, y’know? I have never heard the song released. After – I tried to sing the song, but it wasn’t up to standard, so I went to Earl Sixteen and he sang the song. Then I was waiting to hear the song released yunno?  And then we saw the song came out with Dennis Brown, they (The Mighty Two) gave the song to Dennis Brown.”

Joe Gibbs takes note of Mundell’s voice during this initial meeting involving McAnuff and the recording of the song ‘Malcolm X.’  Gibbs offers to produce and record the little song that Mundell sang in the studio that day – a song which eventually is titled “Where Is Natty Dread?” (the song was seemingly never pressed to record).

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Mundell at Port Maria (Photo by Jerry Stein)

During one of his first visits to Joe Gibbs’ studio, Mundell has a chance run-in with devout Rastafarian and dub maestro Augustus Pablo.  Pablo steps up to defend Mundell when one of the session musicians commented that Mundell should leave the studio and come back when he hits puberty.  It’s the sort of hazing that occurs regularly in the studio, however, Pablo is unimpressed.  Pablo’s gesture cements a friendship that will alter the course of Mundell’s personal, spiritual, and professional life forever, and place him among the truly elite Jamaican artists of the golden age of reggae.  Mundell runs into Pablo once again several weeks later at Aquarius Studios, where studio owner and producer Herman Lin Choy chastises the young boy for skipping school.

Mundell explains in his November 1980 interview with Sounds magazine’s Edwin Pouncey:

“I did one recording for Joe Gibbs for Errol T Records which was not released called ‘Where Is Natty Dread’ and one day I was at the studio and [Pablo] saw me at the Joe Gibbs session ‘cos he used to run around and check it out y’know.  And he asked me to come and do some recordings for him so I said ‘Yeah!’  So I went by his house and started rehearsing and he create the rhythms.  The following Saturday we went to the studio where we recorded my first two songs for release called ‘Africa Must Be Free’ and ‘My, My.’”

“My, My”

Both singles are released on the Pablo International label in 1976.  “My, My” is also released as “My Mind” on the Rockers International label in 1976.

“Thinking about the rain,
That spilled better on my window pane.
And the sinful people,
Who come a long way in vain”

Hugh Mundell – “My Mind”

One week later, Mundell and Pablo record “Don’t Stay Away,” “Lonely Man,” and “Let’s All Unite.”

Hugh Mundell “Don’t Stay Away” (Yard Music) 12″

Mundell, July 1979

Mundell, July 1979

 

 

In an interview with Lol Bell Brown and the Rootsman (Dub Catcher #8), Pablo talks about meeting Mundell:

“Well, I know Hugh from when he was likkle, y’know, likkle bit ‘im and Earl Sixteen. Through I saw ‘im in the studio [Joe Gibbs] one day an’ some musician was ‘andle ‘im a way, so I kinda defend ‘im an’ tek ‘im away from them, an’, y’know, ‘im say ‘im sing, an’ when he mek me ‘ear ‘im music, I say ‘Wha!’ ‘Im mus’ ‘ave to do some music for Errol T [Gibbs’ resident engineer], ca’ Errol did like ‘im voice, but them wasn’t really showin’ that much interest. So I jus’ tek ‘im on from them, an’ ‘im songs were some dangerous reality. An’ I jus’ came an’ rehearse one time an’ from I rehearse ‘im, he was goin’ school still, y’know, ‘im was 11 plus, an’ he jus’ stop goin’ school an’ start recordin’. I think it Stratch [Lee Perry] studio me carry ‘im record firs’, ca’ them time I still ‘ave a vibes with Scratch an’ ‘im jus’ gi’ me some free studio time [for] ‘Let’s All Unite’, y’know? It was a nice tune to bring ‘im on the scene. Then we recorded ‘Africa Must Be Free’ down at Channel One. I really made that riddim before as an instrumental, an’ I jus’ had it there, I never knew what I was g’wine do with it all time, an’ ‘im hear that riddim an’ say, ‘Yeah’, ‘im can fit in the lyrics ‘pon it. To me that was his hit to the world, although it wasn’t a number one tune in Jamaica, but it was jus’ a number one to the world, the people in the world, the roots people too…………Junior Reid was in the car that day he died, y’know? Junior Reid jus’ sittung inna the back an’ the bullet pass Junior Reid an’ hit Mundell in his head back.”

Under the watchful eye and guiding hand of Pablo, Mundell commits his life to music and Rastafari, spending days and nights in the studio recording and reasoning.It is during this period from 1975 to 1979 that Mundell cuts his teeth at the dance deejaying for Pablo’s Rockers Sound System.  Taking on the pseudonym ‘Jah Levi,’ Mundell toasts over Rockers riddims selected by Pablo’s brother Dougie Swaby.  Pablo protojé and friend of Mundell ‘Jah Bull’ explains in a 2000 interview with Ras Salvador Navarette for Small Axe.

“I met [Mundell] around 1975. He was a very young youth at the time but a very serious youth. When I say serious I mean he was like a likkle man, not a likkle boy. When me remember that youth deh some times it makes me feel like… like pain, yunno? I felt anger and sadness when they killed Hugh Mundell.”

“Hugh Mundell is the one who introduced me to Augustus Pablo. Pablo was living in somewhere Garden Town by Grove during that time, and I was living in Tavern. So that was very close by. We first meet at his house, I didn’t know where he lived so Hugh took me there to meet him. I don’t remember what occured the first meeting but through the powers of Jah we ignite. We became good friends, we get good vibes from each other right from the start. Then he introduced me to the studio just like that. I used to go by Pablo’s house everyday, we used to eat, cook food together, praise Jah together and smoke the hola communion together, which is herb and give praises to the most high Jah Rastafari.

Pablo used to run his sound with him brother Dougie. Dougie was the selector. You see Pablo was the star, he would just come, say about 10:00 and select. Yuh know, like the special selector, but it was Dougie whose job that.  When I get fe know Pablo I would just be like a guest on his sound. Me not really play on Pablo’s sound deh.  Me and Hugh Mundell be deejaying on his sound. Then Pablo would play his melodica live, play it live on stage, live deh! Live in the dancehall!

Hugh Mundell was the resident deejayj. And maybe sometimes Dillenger.  Mundell used to deejay as Jah Levi and sing as Hugh Mundell, just like how George Nooks would sing as himself and dj as Prince Mohammed, seen? At first Hugh would sing on the sound but because he used to play his own records he would sing less because the version would have some of his vocals, so he start to deejay on the sound.   After that Pablo record him as Jah Levi.”

Between 1975 and 1977, Mundell voices several sessions with Pablo at a handful of recording studios including Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark, Channel One, Harry Js, and Joe Gibbs with foundation session players including drummers Ben Bow, Carlton “Santa” Davis, Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, and Jacob “Killer” Miller; bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Leroy Sibbles; and guitarists Clayton Downie, Geoffrey Chung, and Earl “Chinna” Smith.  Carlton “Tetrack” Hines talks about those Pablo sessions during a recent interv iew with Reggae Vibes:

“Budget was always tight. And no matter how tight the budget was, when you go to the studio with Pablo, some of the budget, that studio time (laughs) always go in the way of some herb smokin’, y’know, the chalice haffe bu’n. Going to the studio with Pablo was a whole t’ing in itself. It’s like ‘three or four cars’. Tetrack drive up an’ Pablo come with two taxis. You’d have man like Ricky Grant with a container with some irie Ital stew, you’d ‘ave Jah Bull come out with a chalice, you have Mundell, another man come out with some jelly coconut an’ cane [sugar cane] an’ orange, an’ some other people jus’ there to support the whole thing. And when we got together it was just a irie vibe, idren and idren. We used to use Harry J’s studio a lot. Pablo never had the money to really finance studio sessions the way he would have liked. The good t’ing is that Pablo was a musician, so he was able to get good work done very quickly. And part of the reason is that, when Pablo came to the studio to do a recording, he already had the chords worked out. He also had the bass and drum track set, y’understan’ wha’ I’m sayin’. So the riddims get straightened out real fast. Sometimes we record a song and we would like to make a lickle change here an’ there, but we couldn’t do it because the funds jus’ wasn’t there, so you have to do the bes’ you can. When we did the ‘Let’s Get Started’ album, wow, we voiced like the majority of those songs in one session!  One session, song after song after song. There was no opportunity to do several takes of the song. You have to just rock it, run it, jus’ like that.”

It is during these sessions that Augustus Pablo invites two neighborhood kids, an eleven-year old Wycliffe “Steelie” Johnson and a fourteen-year old Cleveland “Clevie” Browne, to play their first session.  As Clevie explains  in an interview at the Red Bull Music Academy:

“Yeah, our friendship goes back to the early ’70s. He had just started playing keyboards at that time, I was just learning drums. We found out we had similar tastes in music. The songs he liked, I liked. We just started jamming together. Everyday we’d go into this room where I had my old battered drum kit and a little keyboard. We just jammed together but we didn’t know then we would have a production team. We were invited to play on a recording, our first ever, by Augustus Pablo, to play on a Hugh Mundell session and some songs with a singer called Earl Sixteen.”

Steelie also talked about his involvement with the Africa Must Be Free sessions during the same interview:

“I actually have the track here, the Hugh Mundell.  ‘Africa Must Be Free By 1983 Dub.’  This was when I was 11 and [Clevie] was 14, I’m playing keyboards.”

“Africa Dub”

The very first song that Mundell and Pablo collaborated on after the initial two singles is a stunner, and one that would forever have a stake in the social movement to abolish apartheid in South Africa.  “Africa Must Be Free By 1983,” which features a bubbling rhythm so good, so well-produced by Pablo, that he should have kept it for himself.  All of the songs recorded during these sessions were written by Mundell when he was between the age of 14 and 16 years of age.  Each track was arranged by Pablo, with the exception of two songs.  “Let’s All Unite” and “Why Do Black Man Fuss & Fight,” were laid down at the Black Ark and supervised and mixed by Lee Perry.  “Lets All Unite” is initially released on Pablo’s Rockers International label in 1977.  It sees a subsequent release in the UK in 1978 by Greensleeves and another Jamaican 7” pressing on the Rockers label.   The song “Book of Life” is released as a 7” on both the Rockers label and the Rockers International label in 1977.

“Let’s All Unite”, “My Mind,” “Africa Must Be Free By 1983,” “Why Do Black Man Fuss And Fight,” “Book Of Life,” “Run Revolution A Come,” “Day Of Judgement,” ”Jah Will Provide,” “Ital Slip.”

Of course, these nine roots reggae tracks make up the entirety of Mundell’s groundbreaking 1978 album Africa Must Be Free By 1983, the title of which comes from a speech given by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I.

“Africa must be free from colonialism and all kind of various ism and schism.  A lot of changes is taking place now as everyone can see.”

                                                                                                   Hugh Mundell, Black Echoes, November 8, 1980

PART TWO:  “GOING PLACES”

Upon its release in 1975, a reviewer in Sounds called the album “a staggering musical masterpiece which hasn’t left [the] turntable.”  The reviewer goes on to make several surprising proclamations about Mundell’s debut album:

“This most precocious youngster (can’t be over 17 if one is to trust the cover pic) has, with the help and guidance of mentor Augustus Agustus Pablo (yes, Jah’s guidance too, sorry) come up with the most soulful collection of roots tunes I have ever heard.  No jive, my brethren.  It just buries itself at the core of your heart and soul and stays there…Mundell’s vocal chords have a raspy, jazzy quality closer to Nina Simone than to normal reggae crooning.  Sorry, but humility is all this usually adamant unbeliever can muster in this particular case.”

Rick Anderson of All Music captures the essence of what makes Mundell so great on this album:

“Mundell’s artlessly fervent singing is attractive far out of proportion to his technical skill. It’s the sincerity and devotion in his voice that make successes of songs like ‘Let’s All Unite’ and ‘My Mind’ — that and the rock-solid instrumental backing of Pablo’s studio band, which at this time included bassist and trombonist Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace and guitarists Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith and Jeffrey Chung.”

 “Africa is a title given to a certain set of people.  Life first begin from there in the Garden of Eden.  And saying Africa must be free, not only dealing with the Africans that live in Africa, but we’re dealing with each and everyone that accept themselves as African, or an Ethiopian.”

                                                                                                  Hugh Mundell, Black Echoes, November 8, 1980

I’ve often struggled with what it is that makes Mundell’s music so appealing.  What is it that makes his message resonate with fans who seemingly have little at stake in his struggle?  What is it that makes Mundell such an effective messenger?  Of course Mundell has a great voice.  In addition, he sings with a sincerity, authenticity, and weight that is unparalelled for an artist his age.  However, it is the naivité of hope – the fact that such a powerful lyric emerges from the innocence of his youth – that really hammers the message home.  How does a 14-year old boy know about the punishing effect of capitalism on the poor?   Why is he concerning himself with such thoughts?  This is what gives weight to his words.  As a society, we reserve special consideration for the innocence of youth.  We protect our children from the perceived ills and injustices in the world until they are mature enough to observe and comprehend them on their own.  It is therefore striking to hear a 14-year old boy sing with such passion and understanding about the worst things in life.

Notable reggae historian, author and producer of Blood and Fire fame, Steve Barrow, attributes much of Mundell’s success to Pablo’s innovative production.  He discussed his thoughts in an interview conducted for this piece.

“For me, it’s all about the production by Pablo. I don’t think that Mundell’s much of a singer – in the sense that great soulful and expressive vocalists like Delroy Wilson Alton Ellis, John Holt, Ken Boothe and Slim Smith certainly are [or were]. He’s a roots chanter, but a good one, up there with Spear, or Prince Alla, or even Bob Marley.  That’s how I see them – as chanters – limited as vocalists, but great at getting their message across. In fact, with them and others of that type, the message is often more ‘important’ than the execution. In that sense, Mundell – for me – is definitely in that category.  I also think that [Mundell’s] own attempts at production were nowhere near as successful as the Pablo set…and Africa Must Be Free By 1983 remains a great album, one of the 100 best works of Jamaican music.”

“So when really reasoning or singing, is just a universal thing, not really just for one set of people, but for everyone.”

                                                                                                      Hugh Mundell, Black Echoes, November 8, 1980

Riding high on the critical and global success of his debut album, Mundell enters the studio with Pablo again in 1978 to record the singles “Great Tribulation” and “Little Short Man,” the latter a reference to His Imperial Majesty’s short stature.  He also produces and records two singles.  In 1979 “Blackman’s Foundation”/”Push Dawta Push”/“Stop Them Jah” is released in Jamaica as a 12” on the Rockers International label.  “Stop Them Jah” is also released as a 12” in the UK on the Warrior label.

“Push Dawta Push” by Rockers deejay Jah Bull is the A-side deejay cut to “Blackman’s Foundation.”  The tune is also featured on the Black Man Foundation album released in the U.S.  by Shanachie, but Jah Bull is omitted from the album credits.  Jah Bull spoke about this tune in an interview with Ras Salvador Navarette of Small Axe.

‘Push Dawta Push’, yes back then I think that was when them first start to deal with abortion, at the time I wrote the song. Push dawta push means the dawta dem must bring dem baby pon the land and not kill off Jah youth or else brimstone and fire going to burn dem!

It is the greatest gift that Jah give to every man woman and child, and that is LIFE!   So looking forward I’d say the song ‘Push Dawta Push’ is not realy about abortion, but about LIFE.

It was very disapointing for me when they didn’t credit me for that song because it was a world wide recond, man! This record was big in England and America and still people around the world don’t know that it is Jah Bull doing the DJ on ‘Push Dawta Push.’

Yes mon, that youth [Mundell] there him used to love me mon. I was like a mentor to him. He used to come to my house every day we used to sit down and cook and eat.”

“Stop Them Jah”

“Although we have to bear tribulation,
And pass through great frustration;
I and I will never go down in Babylon.
‘Cause it really was written, in the revelation,
And these are they that pass through great tribulation.”

                                                                                Hugh Mundell – “Great Tribulation”

At the same time that Mundell’s career is at it’s peak, Mundell starts his own Mun Rock label and produces a song for his first artist, Little Junior Reid.  The song, titled “Speak the Truth,” is issued in Jamaica as a 7” on the Rockers International label.  Mundell and Reid first meet in 1978 at the legendary King Tubbys studio in the Waterhouse neighborhood when Mundell was sixteen and Reid thirteen.  Mundell is reportedly so impressed by the youth’s voice that he takes Reid to Pablo’s August Town studio to record “Speak the Truth.”  However, once in the studio, both Mundell and Pablo notice that Reid has trouble singing on key, most likely due to the fact that his voice is not fully developed.

Junior Reid “Speak The Truth”

Junior Reid

Junior Reid

Reid spoke about this first recording session in a 1985 interview with Chuck Foster for Reggae Beat:

“I used to dj first and I used to sing, but mostly I used to penetrate the dj.  But Mundell him hear me dj and him hear me singing and tell me that this singer must really sing.”

Reid’s good friend from the Waterhouse ghetto, singer Lacksley Castell, cut his first record titled “Babylon World” for Augustus Pablo.

“When I see my friend coming to the area with a song and a vine him now, it motivate me even more to know that I can do it. Because we all hang out together-you know? So when I sing Lacksley Castell tell me that I’m singin’ in the same air.  Same melody.  So him kinda teach me about air.  Reid sings,

“’Speak the truth and speak it ever cause it what it will,
Bye Saint Peter, bye Saint Paul, Jah is the true and living God.’

“See, is actually the same air. So him let me know what is the difference between air and air.”

Mundell knows Castell from the recording studio so he asks him to bring Reid by the studio.

“Him (Mundell) is asking me about the songs that we was workn’ out in the back a yard.  But I was givin’ him the dj style and him was saying ‘no man, not that one that.’ We sing ‘Speak the Truth’ and him seh, ‘yeah, that one there.’ So we did a rehearsal with Augustus Pablo.”

Pablo bluntly tells Reid he is singing flat.

“At the time I really didn’t understand what is flat. I leave to come back but before I even come back I get a call that Hugh Mundell is working at Harry J Studio and to meet him.  l come round there, they laid a rhythm.  And then I get a next message saying you will be working at King Tubby’s, – which King Tubby’s Studio is just down the road where I live in Kingston II.”

Reid goes to the studio to voice the song.

“I just take one take and that song was voiced. I find myself doing the intro, taking the solo and coming back in, doing everything that was supposed to be done besides never knowing the difference between solo, intro or bridge or nothing was called because I was doing everything.  So it amaze them. To see well naturally he just a do it.”

In later sessions with Mundell, Reid also cuts the flipside of a Mundell’s single titled “Can’t Pop No Style.”

“My song was on the B side titled ‘Know Myself.’   Mundell did a song called ‘Run Come Come lnna the Dance’ (as Jah Levi) and I just did the intro. Like him seh, ‘Whap’n Junior Reid. the man nah go inna the dance,’ and me seh like, ‘the man have some faith and wait man, so whe the man a deal I man can pay my rent.”‘

Reid has stated in various interviews that Mundell is solely responsible for breaking him in the music business and that Mundell’s album Africa Must Be Free By 1983 is the most influential album of his life.  In a 2007 interview Reid speaks about Mundell’s influence in his life.

“Him was mi brethren, mi godfather. Mundell used to encourage I everyday.”

In an interview published in the February 23, 1985 issue of New Musical Express Junior Reid talks about Mundell’s hand in his own career, “it was a bad shock when Hugh died, even in Jamaica where them things gwan all the while.  I did my first song for him called ‘Speak Truth.’  He carried it to England with him and it was released on the Greensleeves label.”

Hugh Mundell

Hugh Mundell

In addition to recording with Augustus Pablo throughout 1978-1979, Mundell also appears with Pablo at several live performances in and around Kingston, JA.

Mundell performs at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) 14th anniversary show on Wednesday, May 25, 1977 at the Queens Theatre in Kingston. Also on the bill are Israel Vibration, the Twelve Tribes of Israel Players comprised of Junior Dan on bass, Sangie Davis on guitar, Albert Malawi on drums, and Pablo Black on keys; and Generation Gap, which includes a very young Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson on keys and Dalton Brownie on guitar.  Interestingly, many of the players at this event are the very same musicians who play on Mundell’s Africa Must Be Free By 1983.  They were also part of the Rockers All-Stars, who play on Augustus Pablo’s productions.

One notable concert takes place at the popular Ward Theatre in Kingston on October 29, 1979. According to a review of the show by Balford Henry in the Jamaica Gleaner, “performers on the show were Hugh Mundell, Junior Delgado, the high-flying Shaolin Kid, a two-year old boy who performs acrobatics in his father’s arms; Dave Robinson;  the Tallawah Dancers;  the Tivoli High School Dancers;  Horace Andy, Little Junior, and Jaba Tate.  The show was backed by the Seventh Extension and the Roots International Band featuring Augustus Pablo, who had the crowd rocking during intermission.”

In 1980, Mundell and Pablo have a business disagreement and Mundell decides to become an independent artist, releasing new material on his own label.  He begins searching for young artists to build a new community around, much like his mentor Pablo did with his Rockers label. According to Mundell, his falling out with Pablo was due primarily to the fact that he felt he wasn’t being promoted properly.  As he explained in his November 1981 interview with Roz Reines:

“It really suited me to become independent.  You see, I didn’t think that I was getting the promotion I deserved, and there were other problems.  So it was kind of like I was getting stifled there…All the while there were things going on and I really couldn’t sit down and talk to him about it.  So I decided just to do my work the way I see it, instead of just talk, talk, talk.  Because I-man was saying certain truths to him, but then just not getting through…I’d just like to get a band of youth together, my own band.  Although in the past, on my studio sessions I try to find the most professional musicians it will take a little time still to find youths with the right potential and then get them together.  But that’s just my aim.”

Mundell also makes a chilling observation in his interview with Reines.  He is explaining to Reins that he was a bit surprised by the reactions he got in public from British white males:

“But like I come to England now and in certain places you find certain white men look upon you and screw up their faces, as if you are nothing,” says Mundell.

“That sort of thing doesn’t happen in Jamaica does it” quips Reines.

“Well, that’s because we have a majority of blacks.  Things are kinda drastic in Jamaica.  Not really for I and I but for the politicians…I don’t check for any of that at all but it affect me still;  because I live in Kingston and every day I have to be in town looking for food, or attending to some business, so I and I could get shot.”

Hugh Mundell

Hugh Mundell

Rastafarians seem to have a special connection with the spiritual world that many lack.  I don’t know if it is a connection as much as it is a vibration.  As spiritual beings, Rastas are definitely more open to receive spiritual vibrations if they do exist.  Bob Marley famously predicted when he was just 21 years old that he would not live past 33 years of age.  Notable Marley historian and international reggae ambassador Roger Steffens attested to it during our recent conversation:

“Ibis Pitts and Dion Wilson both confirmed that Bob told them in the Woodstock summer of 1969, when Bob was 24 years old he spoke of dying at 36.  I know Ibis and I’ve spoken with Dion.  I have a video interview with Mrs. Booker in which she confirms that they told her that story back then too. So I believe it, fe sure.”

Was Hugh feeling a dread vibe regarding his collision course with death?  Or was it just an observation based on the fact that many youths were meeting a murderous fate in the violent streets of Kingston, JA?  Either way, it is noteworthy to find Mundell foreshadowing his own death in an interview two years prior to his murder.

“Humble yourselves my black brothers,
Cuz we know repatriation is a must.”

                                                                                             Hugh Mundell – “Day of Judgement”

In January 1980, Mundell’s new single “One Jah, One Aim, One Destiny” charts at #2 on the UK Reggae Singles charts.  In the summer of 1980 Mundell’s collaboration with UK producer Fatman titled “Jah Fire Will Be Burning” is released on a J&F 12” in the UK.  The single is backed with the Jammy-produced “King of Israel.” 

“Jah Fire Will Be Burning”

In reviewing “Jah Fire Will Be Burning” in the August 16, 1980 issue of New Musical Express, respected music journalist and notable reggae critic Vivien Goldman said “[h]ere Hugh sings with great sadness, painting an expressionistic picture of a post-nuclear planet:  ‘smoke of the furnace, turned the sun into darkness…Jah Jah judgment, opened the bottomless pit…Notable for its use of Rasta drums, but the production could be more dynamic though.”

Regardless of their personal differences, Pablo and Mundell maintain a professional working relationship and in 1980 Pablo co-produces Mundell’s second album titled Time and Place.  Produced by Mundell for his upstart Mun Rock/Muni Music label, and engineered by Sylvan Morris, King Tubby, and Scientist, the album is recorded at Harry J’s and Channel One Studios and features an astonishing cadre of roots musicians.  Junior Dan, Fully Fullwood, Horsemouth, Chinna, Freddie McGregor, Tony Chin, Pablove Black, Deadly Headley, Manalik, Scully, Delroy Williams, Norris Reid – all had a hand in creating a commendable follow-up to one of the great reggae roots albums of the decadeThe album is issued on three different labels in 1980.  It is issued in Jamaica on the Muni-Music label.  It is also issued twice in the UK on the Mun Rock imprint, the only difference between the two pressings being the album cover.

Music journalist Roz Reines says the following in her review of the album in the November 15, 1980 issue of Melody Maker:

“Hugh has cut another album Time and Place and started up his own label MunRock.  Between albums Hugh’s voice has matured and developed a slightly harder edge.  Along with the change has come a different outlook on life.  It’s almost as if Hugh is resigned to an existence filled with great tribulation, because this is what he sings about.  But it is sad to see that he has become so cynical about life – on Africa Must Be Free he was dreaming of the girl who was to become his wife – now he’s telling her to ‘Forward to the gate and cooperate.’  Time and Place takes on a rich, senorous tone with much use of the heavy, swirling horns characteristic of the Far East sound.  Hugh’s mentor Augustus Pablo is co-producer and arranger as well as being featured on melodica, strings, and even xylophone on ‘Hey Mr. Richman.’  Time and Place is nowhere as sweet as Africa Must Be Free, but it is streets ahead of anything else coming from Jamaica right now.”

1980 also sees the pairing of Hugh Mundell with Waterhouse wonder and Prince Jammy golden boy Lacksley Castell for the release of the Jah Fire album. Mundell is performing at his peak for ‘Jah Fire Shall Be Burning,’ ‘Walk With Jah’ and ‘King Of Israel’ and Lacksley Castell delivers in his signature style on tracks like ‘Be My Princess’ and ‘Million Miles.’  The album, produced and arranged by Prince Jammy, is released on Delroy Wright’s Live and Learn label in the UK and on the Arawak label in the U.S..  As with previous Mundell efforts, Jah Fire features a host of legendary Jamaican players, including Sly Dunbar, Carlton “Santa” Davis and Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace (drums); Robbie Shakespeare and Jah Mike (bass); Earl “Chinna” Smith, Bo-Peep Bowen and Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont (guitars); Keith Sterling and Gladdy Anderson (piano); Bobby Ellis, Deadly Headly ad Cedric IM Brooks (horns); and Sticky and Scully Simms (percussion).

In the fall of 1980, Mundell makes his long-awaited European concert debut on October 20 at the Palais Des Arts in Paris, France, backed by UK reggae outfit Brimstone.  He makes his UK debut 12 days later on October 31, 1980, playing a show at Cubies, Dalston, London, again with Brimstone.

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In his review of the show published in the November 8, 1980 issue of Black Echoes, Glen Noble writes:

“‘Time and Place’ and ‘Feelin’ Alright Girl’ were worth the wait after a long succession of mediocre tracks.  But just as the gig breathed into life someone turned off its life support system and everyone was left wondering what happened.  It was obvious everyone was waiting for Mundell but even he turned out to be a disappointment.  Dressed in combat greens and hat, Mundell, who proclaimed that Africa Must Be Free by 1983, turned out to be a youngster who mght have trouble getting a drink at a bar.  ‘Run, Run Revolution’ was another interesting number, and it seemed that Brimstone, who had supported Mundell in Paris just three days before, were finally getting things together. And Mundell was slowly but surely winning the respect of the crowd before the lights were suddenly turned on.”

In December 1980, Mundell is tapped to join UK roots reggae outfit ASWAD on a mini-tour of the UK.  There are two shows scheduled.  The first is slated for December 12, 1980 at the London Theatre with Mundell as the opener.  The second is a massive bill at London’s famed Rainbow Theatre featuring ASWAD and Misty In Roots.  Mundell is a no-show for both gigs.

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Mundell is back in the UK on February 17, 1981 playing live at the Top Rank Suite, Dale End, Birmingham.  He is booked once again to appear alongside Matumbi, Tribesmen, Brimstone, and Bumble & The Bees on St. Patricks Day, March 17, 1981 at London’s Hammersmith Palais.  At the last minute, Mundell informs the show promoter that he cannot make the show.  Realizing that Mundell is the main draw on the bill, the promoter reschedules the show for April 6, 1981.  It is unclear whether or not Mundell makes the April date.  The fact that there is no record or review of the show in the print archives may indicate that this show was canceled.  He does however make his UK live radio debut with a spot on David Rodigan’s Roots Rockers radio program at Capital Radio 95.8.  During the spot, which includes a lengthy interview with Roddy, Mundell promotes his upcoming shows and previews several tracks.  I spoke with Rodigan about Mundell’s radio appearance while researching this piece and he related to me that he did, in fact, interview Mundell on his radio show, however, unfortunately the tape was lost when the radio station moved premises.

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In November 1981, Mundell is back on the singles charts with the Arawak 12” featuring The Fantells’ “Name of the Game” backed with Hugh Mundell’s “Walk With Jah.”

PART THREE:  “RASTA HAVE THE HANDLE”

Film producer and lifelong reggae fan Jerry Stein travels to Jamaica in 1978 with sound engineer Jeff Roth to film what will ultimately become Word, Sound, and Power, an engrossing film about Jamaica’s finest group of reggae instrumentalists, the Soul Syndicate Band.  While he is on the island filming for the documentary, Stein has the unlikely opportunity to interview and film Hugh Mundell and Augustus Pablo together.  The resulting film footage, which features Pablo and Mundell reasoning and performing acoustically, is the only footage in existence featuring Mundell and Pablo together.  The shoot takes place at Pablo’s home in the hills of Port Maria, JA.

Stein spoke with me about the experience in an interview for this piece:

“Pablo actually lived on a Catholic school’s grounds up in the hills at Port Maria.  That’s why we got those shots of the kids staring into the camera.  It was just amazing stuff.  Each kid had a different facial expression…I don’t think they had ever seen a camera before.”

“So the day after we shot up in the hills at Pablo’s in Port Maria I get a call from Hugh Mundell saying that Pablo wants to talk with me.  So I’m like ‘oh shit, what is this about?’  I was staying downtown so I went to the market and bought all this fresh fruit you know, and Pablo was supposed to come down at 6:00 pm.  So Mundell shows up and he says ‘you gotta come up to Pablo’s place in Papin.’  I was like ‘what?  You guys were supposed to meet down here.’  Mundell says ‘no, you gotta come with me.’  It was almost like a strong-arm situation.  He had his posse with him and I don’t know if you know this but Mundell was kind of a wise guy.  I mean he was a kid, like seventeen.  He had this attitude you know.  So we get in the elevator at the Intercontinental hotel and he lights up this big spliff right there in the elevator.  The doors open on the lobby and there’s two security guards there and they are really pissed.  So they start coming down on him like they were gonna rough him up or something and Mundell jumps into this crazy kung-fu stance.  I had to step in and cool everything down and I take Mundell outside and he just starts laughing and the vibes were level.”

“We jump into this car with Mundell and his posse.  It’s dark outside now.  They drive to an area in north Kingston that was really rough…gang kids on the streets and at the corner, and there are no street lights for some reason.  Mundell and his crew get out and walk up the street and they just left me there.  It was not cool.  I was getting really freaked out.  They come back about 15-20 minutes later and we drive to Pablo’s house in Papin.  I walk in and Pablo is there with a straight looking white english man…it was his attorney.”

“So I say ‘what’s up?’  And Pablo is like ‘well I’m not really cool about the footage.  I need you to sign this contract.’  Now, we had already signed contracts to make sure that Pablo would get paid if the footage was used in the final cut of the film.  But now he wants to talk about it and have his guy draw something up.  So I’m sitting there and Pablo is playing these amazing riddim tracks that I had never heard before.  Mundell is sitting beside me on a bar stool and he’s singing along to these tracks and it is just the most amazing, beautiful thing I had ever heard.”

Stein is eventually forced to negotiate new terms to the contract with Pablo’s attorney.  Evidently, the terms drawn up by the attorney were very confusing and involved a sliding scale based on how many minutes Pablo is featured in the final cut.

Stein says to the attorney “give me a blank sheet of paper.”

Stein draws a line and places his signature on the line.  He then tells the attorney to draw up whatever terms Pablo wants and to use his signature to sign the contract.

“Look man, I was not trying to rip off Pablo,” Stein explains.  “The guy is a legend and I was going to give him the terms he wanted.  I wasn’t thinking about money, I was just so glad that I had the footage.  So that was my first experience with Pablo and Mundell.”

It may have been his first, but it surely was not his last.

Jump to several years later.  The year is 1981 and Stein is hired by the family that owns The Stone night club in San Francisco, CA and the Keystone club in Berkeley, CA.  Upon hiring Stein as a booker, the clubs become top spots to see reggae in the Bay area.  After booking sold out shows for the great Joe Higgs at The Stone, Stein has the opportunity to bring Hugh Mundell to northern California to perform in the US for the very first time.

Joe Higgs Live at The Stone (Photo: Jerry Stein)

Joe Higgs Live at The Stone (Photo: Jerry Stein)

Mundell makes his US concert debut at The Stone, San Francisco in July 1981.

“I think I brought Joe Higgs over first.  Joe Higgs sold out so I reached out to Mundell’s father Alvin to see about bringing Hugh to The Stone to perform.  Alvin was an attorney and a real straight shooter.  We became fairly good friends.  In fact, I still have the letter he sent me asking that I look out for his son and take care of him while he’s in the States.  Anyway, Mundell comes out for sound check.  I had set up a three-camera video shoot to capture his first performance.  Took over the executive’s offices and put monitors everywhere so he could have a live mix.  I had an entire film crew in there to get this performance.  Well, he sees the cameras and he freaks out.  He’s like ‘nah mon, I not gonna perform if you are doing video…we gotta work some tings out.’  So I’m like ‘well, what do you want to work out, this is for you, I will turn the tapes over to you tonight after the show.  If you want to release it you can, you know, whatever you want.’”

‘No mon, I’m not doin’ it,’ says Mundell.

“It would have been the most priceless footage you know.  A three-camera shoot, it wasn’t film, it was video.  I had a sound guy from the biggest television station in the Bay area doing a live mix.  But he just wouldn’t do it.  He would not come on stage unless I shut the cameras.  I did get it on audio.  It’s called ‘Hugh Mundell Live at The Stone’ and it’s pretty good.  The only thing was, the local band I hired to back him up just wasn’t up to the level of Mundell’s singing, I don’t think they took enough time to learn his songs. But the show sold out, both shows, the one at The Stone and the one the following year at The Keystone over-sold.  The reggae fans here loved the guy.”

Mundell blazes through a set of seven songs that night “Let’s All Unite,” “Great Tribulation,” “Short Man,” “Run Revolution A Come,” “Jah Fire Will Be Burning,” “Feeling Alright Girl,” “Time and Place,” “Africa Must Be Free By 1983,” and “Africa Dub.”  The backing band (a local Bay area reggae band) struggles at times to keep up with Mundell, but to no avail.  Mundell’s voice is strong, almost flawless throughout.  The audio mix is phenomenal with lots of echo and dub effects, giving the show an otherworldly vibe.

“Jah Fire Will Be Burning”

“Feeling Alright Girl”

It is on this initial trip to northern California that Mundell forms a bond with the San Francisco-area Order of Olufunmi, especially the Reverend Ashiya Odeye and his assistant Sadie McFarlane.  The the Iniversal Order Of Olufunmi is a Rastafarian church and religious order that was established in 1976. The Order, which is still active today, is livicated to the service of the Creator (JAH) through “works for the upliftment and advancement of, and service to, humanity, as shown through the works of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Empress Menen, and the teachings of Patriarch Joseph Hibbert.”

I spoke with the Reverend Ashiya Odeye about his relationship with Hugh.

“Yes we knew Hugh, myself and Sadie.  Sadie was my assistant at the time and heading up the Reggae Calendar, a publication we started together through the Order Of Olufunmi. Our Order housed him while he was in the Bay Area those 7 months, and I spent much time reasoning with him at Reggae Street our headquarters where he stayed most of the time he was here. We were all very close. We did all the hands on stuff with him, like getting him to gigs, supplying equipment, etc. I had just spoken to him about coming back to the States to do a tour we had been planning the day before he was murdered. I can still feel the pain and sense of loss we all felt then.”

On October 24, 1981, Mundell performs at the first annual Reggae Sunblast, which is held at the 8,500-seat Greek Theatre.  Also on the bill are Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, Joe Higgs, The Wailers Band, and Wailing Souls.  This is a notable show for several reasons.  It is the first live performance by The Wailers Band outside of Jamaica since the death of Bob Marley on May 11, 1981 (they played Reggae Sunsplash in August 1981).  Also, it is the U.S. debut of the Wailing Souls, the much heralded vocal group from the Trench Town area of Kingston, JA.

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According to Bay area radio DJ and event organizer Doug Wendt, Mundell’s performance is nearly flawless and captivates the 5,000 event attendees, despite the fact that Hugh is suffering from a severe cold.

In reviewing Mundell’s performance in the local city paper, music journalist Bruce Dancis writes the following:

“Nineteen year old Jamaican singer Hugh Mundell, backed by Ras Kidus Roots Connection, contributed a brief set that was marred by the fact that he was obviously feeling the effects of a cold. This was a disappointment, because the angelically voiced singer possesses one of the purest voices in popular music.  Ironically, in Mundell’s prior Berkeley appearance this past July, his glorious vocals were impeded by poor communication with his support band; this time around,   Mundell   and   the   band were more connected, but the singer’s illness prevented him from launching into the spirited performance of which he is capable.”

It has long been rumored by fans and collectors that an audio recording exists of Mundell’s performance at the Reggae Sunblast.  Unfortunately, the only audio recording of the performance that exists is a short three-minute audio clip in which the MC introduces Mundell to the crowd.  The remainder of the recording is corrupted and unlistenable.

Hugh Mundell Intro, 1st Annual Reggae Sunblast, 1981

Stein brings Mundell back to Berkeley on May 30, 1982 for another performance.  This show is also captured brilliantly with an audio recorder, and Mundell was in top form once again.  Mundell does not disappoint, however, once again he is at the mercy of a mediocre local backing band who has no business sharing the stage with the young prodigy.  The band’s performance is uninspired, but Hugh triumphs despite their seeming lack of skill and interest.

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Mundell performs material from all three of his albums.  “Lets All Unite,” “Walk With Jah,””King of Israel,” “Jah Fire Will Be Burning,” “Jah Will Provide,” “Great Tribulation,” “Are You Feeling Alright Girl?,” “Run, Come, Revolution,” “Africa Must Be Free By 1983,” “Walk With Jah Jah (reprise).”  The highlight of the set is a 20-minute plus version of “Africa Must Be Free by 1983,” complete with nyabinghi drumming and dub effects.  This show is clearly his best when compared with the other shows that are in circulation.

For his next album, Mundell abandons the Rockers sound and vibe altogether, choosing instead to record with producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes and the mighty Roots Radics band at Channel One.  Junjo Lawes rules the sound system circuit in the early ’80s, with a huge militant sound laid down by the Roots Radics. Lawes and the Radics are on a mission:  to take the popular roots reggae sound, speed it up and play it harder.  No apologies.  Harder.  Faster.  Stronger.  Lawes’ incendiary sound launches a new generation of toasters straight to the top of the charts. Unfortunately, this musical shift is accompanied by a thematic change as well, as the lyrics become less serious, less impactful, and at times border on ridiculous.  Many roots artists are not willing, or are not able to adapt to this revolution in sound, however, Mundell is ready, willing, and able.  Over the previous two years, Mundell sharpened his toasting skills recording clever deejay tracks under the pseudonym ‘Jah Levi.’

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As Jah Levi, Mundell records a string of successful singles including “False Rumour,” Zion A Fe Lion,” “Let Jah Be Praised,” “Love and Unity,”and “Selassie I Veranda” (on which he spars with Junior Delgado).  According to many reliable sources, Mundell records with Stranger Cole on a track titled “I’m Living” as Jah Levi.  The single, produced by Oswald Creary for Half Moon productions, is released as a 7” single on the Half Moon label, and also appears on the Half Moon compilation double-LP titled Glory, Dominion, Majesty, Power.  Although this track is co-credited to Stranger Cole and Jah Levi, it is highly unlikely that Mundell laid down vocals for the track as there is no record indicating that he ever recorded with Oswald Creary or Stranger Cole.

1982’s Mundell, which features the superb production of Lawes and solid riddim tracks by the Roots Radics, is a stellar album that still stands the test of time. “Rasta Have the Handle” and “Tell I a Lie” are Lawes at his absolute best, lighting up the backing with soulful brass solos from Felix “Deadly Headly” Bennett’s sax and Nambo Robinson’s trombone.  “24 Hours a Day” features masterful guitar work by Winston “Bo-Pe” Browne. Gladstone Anderson’s masterful piano work highlights “Red Gold & Green.”  This album is a classic in every sense of the word and is eclipsed only by Africa Must Be Free By 1983.  Mundell is released on the Greensleeves label in the UK and on Randall Grass’s Shanachie imprint in the U.S..

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There is no doubt that Mundell is at his best when Pablo is at the helm.  Pablo’s ethereal and majestic instrumentals soar when Mundell blesses them with a vocal.  And while Mundell is today considered a great reggae roots album by many, music critic and writer Vivian Goldman skewers it in the August 21, 1982 issue of New Musical Express, recasting Mundell as “Hugh Mundane.”

Throughout 1982 and 1983 Mundell continues to perform sparingly and lends his talent to several different projects.  He voices the title track and “Rastafari Tradition,” and records background vocals for Augustus Pablo’s forthcoming Earth’s Rightful Ruler album.  Mundell also plays percussion on Augustus Pablo’s Rockers Meets King Tubby In A Fire House (1980), Tetrack’s Let’s Get Started (1980), and the Rockers International album (1980).  He also lends his vocals to Scientist Wins The World Cup (1982).  At the same time, Mundell continues recording his own material with Justin Hinds at Music Mountain in Jamaica, owned by Chris and Steven Stanley and home to Tappa Zukie and The Skatalites among others.  This material will eventually be released as the Arise album on the Mun Rock label.

Henry "Junjo" Lawes (Photo:  Pekka Vuorinen)

Henry “Junjo” Lawes (Photo: Pekka Vuorinen)

In the spring and summer of 1983, Mundell performs on the island sound system circuit with the likes of Barrington Levy, Burro Banton, Ranking Toyan, Junior Reid, and Elfigo Barker (Volcano Hi-Fi).  He also performs for Noel Harper’s Kilimanjaro Sound System with artists like Super Cat, John Wayne, Dirty Harry, Junior Reid, Madoo, Hopeton James, Puddy Roots, and Major Manzie.

Hugh Mundell & Barrington Levy

Barrington Levy

Barrington Levy

In August 1983, Mundell, along with Junior Reid, represents Killamanjaro at Whitehall Avenue, Kingston.  With selector Ainsley on the turntable, Mundell and Reid bless several numbers, Mundell versioning “Reasons” and Reid voicing the “Some Guys” standard.

Hugh Mundell & Junior Reid at Killamanjaro

On September 7, 1983 Mundell and Junior Reid put in an impressive performance at Cassava Piece, Constant Spring, Kingston 8.  With Volcano’s supreme selector Danny Dread at the controls, Mundell and Reid spar over the “Diseases” riddim before they have a go at the “Betcha By Golly Wow” standard.  The highlight of the live session, however, is when Mundell versions his classic “Great Tribulation.”

Hugh Mundell & Junior Reid at Cassava Piece

Junior Reid

Junior Reid

In 1988, the Shanachie record label out of Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey issued the posthumous Blackman’s Foundation album, which includes  five tracks from Time and Place (1981) along with an additional four cuts from the same period. Composed primarily of tracks produced by Augustus Pablo, the riddims are solid and the track list includes a handful of Pablo’s best-loved Rockers-style arrangements.

I spoke with label chief Randall Grass about the album and how it all came together:

“My memory is a bit hazy, but as I remember, Hugh came to us through Augustus Pablo. Pablo might have even brought Hugh to our office around 1982, but I’m not sure about that. I think we were being presented with Hugh’s Time And Place album to license…and we felt it needed a couple more tracks.  We retitled it because it had been out already. Hugh was kind of at his height at that point because of the success of Africa Must Be Free By 1983 a couple years earlier so he was getting bookings for shows in the U.S. and I think was staying on the West Coast for awhile. But by the time we brought out Blackman’s Foundation, the first wave of excitement for roots reggae was waning, dancehall was taking off and it sold only modestly.

Hugh called us about putting out a new album.  The music was strong but we felt the market was too weak and I had to tell him that we weren’t interested. I felt bad about that. Hugh had taken me around when I first came to Kingston the year before, even bringing Yabby You to me when I remarked on how much I wanted to meet him (that resulted in us putting out Yabby’s One Heart One Love collection).  In fact, when Hugh was driving me around, the other people in the car were his girlfriend and Jr. Reid, at that time an unknown. I remember Jr. Reid saying to me ‘I can sing too!’ as we rode in the back of Hugh’s car. Not long after all this we got a call from Pablo….he said ‘dem shot Mundell!’ And that’s when we heard the terrible circumstances of Hugh’s death.”

PART FOUR:  “DAY OF JUDGEMENT”

October 4, 1983.  “I was there you know,” Reid begins telling the story to Roger Steffens during a 1985 interview.  “When Hugh Mundell was murdered.  I was in the car.  Hugh and I went down to Montego Bay to spend some time with his mother.  When we leave and come up back to Kingston he went up to his home upon the hill, and I went to my house in Waterhouse.   And then, he came back down in the night and tell me when he went up to his house he saw his window came out, and his stove disappear and his blender and all those things.   So the next day I and him went up to his home, and some people from next door show us that they saw a guy walkin’ from over Mundell’s premises with a suitcase in his hand.   And to the description that we get, we get to find out which guy it is. Then Mundell go to the guy and try to talk to him peaceful about this thing and the guy pretendin’ like he don’t know about it.

Junior Reid (Photo: Brian Jahn)

Junior Reid (Photo: Brian Jahn)

As Reid explains in painstaking detail, Mundell asks the guy to come into the car so that they can drive around and “ask somebody something.”  The guy gets in the car.  They drive to the police station and Mundell turns the guy in to the police.  He is arrested because, according to Reid, “the police they know him as a housebreaker and t’ing.”

Two days later, Mundell and Reid go to collect some money owed them by a local promoter.  The promoter tells them that he expects the money to come any time.  So the two leave and decide to return later.  Upon returning to the promoter’s house, Mundell is paid the money owed him and he and Reid head back to Waterhouse.  However, while they are leaving the promoter’s house they see a guy “walk out in the street and flag down the car.”  Mundell stops the car only to then realize that this is the brother of the guy they turned in to the police.

Reid continues with his story:

“So this guy came to the car now and him say, ‘Mundell, where is my brother?’

“So Mundell said ‘Well, your brother is in custody and I not gonna let him go until I get my things.’  

“Mundell’s lady was in the front of the car, I was in the back of the car, and Mundell was on the right-hand side.

“So the guy say ‘Well if I can’t get my brother, you ain’t gonna leave here.’

“So Mundell say ‘What you talking about?  I have to get back my things before I let your brother loose.’

“So Mundell was trying to drive up caw the guy was there in a lot of argument and t’ing.  So Mundell was trying to drive off, and the guy just go inna his waist and come up with a gun and just fire the shot.  And when he fired the shot now, the car just drive away, though he was aiming at Mundell like this, he was at the front of the window, over the left-hand side, with Mundell on the right-hand side.  So the gun aiming at Mundell wife face.

“So while he shuffle for his gun, and Mundell step on the gas, the car kind of move off.  But though it was an automatic car and it was straggling, it didn’r pick up the ride at the time.  So while Mundell step on the gas, the car kind of make a jerk, and the guy ease out him gun.  So to move the car, Mundell kind of slide him out of his range from the front of the car, so it reach down to my window at the back on the left-hand side.  So when the guy fire the shot, it lick out the back door glass on the left-hand side, and hit Mundell slant-way so, into his head.  So same time I just get down betwixt inna the back, so the car swing into the banking, run up into the fence.  And I just keep laying down inna the back of the car.  And then I see blood running all about inna de car, just some clot-up blood and all dem t’ings.”

As Reid describes, he lay there for a while and plays dead.  He then takes off running, jumps a truck to the police station, and brings the police back to the scene of the murder.  Reid stays at the hospital at Mundell’s side from 5 p.m. until just after 5 a.m. when Mundell is removed from life support, his brain too badly damaged to continue living this life.  He was 21.

I’m reminded of Mundell’s own words, which make up the verse in his song “24 Hours a Day:”

“The world goes ‘round, 24 hours a day.
And when it comes to night,
I’ll start to pray.
This is what I say when I pray:
I pray that you come by my side,
And close to me, and a never say bye.”

Hugh Mundell - “24 Hours a Day”

letterfan

There are many who made this piece possible, and to them I give thanks.  Many thanks to Roger Steffens for sharing his Hugh Mundell archives with me and for the time he spent reviewing, editing, and vetting the story.  He is truly one of a kind.  Big thanks to my good friend Jerry Stein, the man who brilliantly captured  Pablo and Mundell on film at Pablo’s home in Port Maria, for sharing many of his experiences with me along with several rare Mundell and Pablo photographs.  A true heavyweight in the reggae arena.  Also, big up to Steve Barrow and Sir David Rodigan for stepping forward to comment and lend assistance with the telling of this important story.  Both men have dedicated their lives to this music.  Big up MakaSound Records for their amazing ‘Blessed Youth’ double-LP Mundell compilation and excellent liner notes.  Nuff respect to Jayman and Andrew at www.whocorkthedance.com for the crucial sound system audio.  Thanks to my friends Andrea Mundell, Ton and Peter van Arnhem, Glen Lockley, Doug Wendt, Joe Jurgenson, Fred, Dubwise Garage, Dermot Hussey, Doctor Dread, Randall Grass, and Inyaki at Basque Dub Foundation  for their assistance and continued support.

 

PROLOGUE

HUGH CHRISTOPHER MUNDELL was laid to rest on Sunday, October 30, 1983 at the Dovecot Memorial Park in Montego Bay.  Services were held at the Dovecot Chapel.  Hugh left behind a grieving father, mother, three sisters, a brother, two children, and countless fans around the globe.  Upon his death, Africa was still not free and wouldn’t be free for another eleven years.  On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, South Africa.  In 1992 a whites-only referendum approved F.W. de Clerk’s apartheid reform process. On April 27, 1994 the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, with people of all races being able to vote.  Nelson Mandela won the presidency, garnering 62.5% of the popular vote as the African National Congress candidate.

On Friday, November 22, 1985, Mr. Justice Downer sentenced 25-year old Ricardo Codrington, labourer of Above Rocks, St. Andrew, to ten years imprisonment at hard labour for the murder of Hugh Mundell.  The sentencing occurred after a Home Circuit Court found Codrigan guilty of manslaughter arising out of the fatal shooting of Mundell on October 13, 1983.

Mr. Norman Davis, Counsel for the Crown, alleged that on October 13, 1983, Mundell was driving along Grants Pen Avenue when Codrington beckoned him to stop.  Mundell stopped and Codrington accused him of locking up his brother for stealing things from Mundell’s home.  Codrington told Mundell that he was not going to leave until his brother was set free.  Mundell told Codrington that when he got back his things his brother could go free.  Codrington reached for his waist and then an explosion was heard.  Mundell died on the spot from a gunshot wound to the head.

In his defense, Codrington asserted that he had stolen Mundell’s girlfriend and Mundell and Junior Reid had come to his home to beat him up.  He saw Mundell on the day of the incident and Mundell called him a thief and said he was going to put him in prison just like his brother.  According to Codrington, Mundell turned to Reid, who was sitting in the back seat of his car, and said “Bite him star.”  Codrington said he was afraid when Mundell said those words and he grabbed for his gun but he did not know how it went off.  He said that on that day he was going for a parcel from a friend who had returned from the U.S.  Codrington told the court that he was not the gunman.

Codrington was charged with murder, but the jury convicted him of the lesser offense.  The Judge said Codrington had already served two years and that was taken into account when sentencing him.

20 thoughts on ““GREAT TRIBULATION”: The Life and Times of Hugh Mundell

  1. Good article. Didn’t know he was nicknamed the iceberg! Seemed a bit flaky about touring and showing up. Not a good way to run a career. It’s sad how many talented Jamaican artists have premature and tragic ends. The list is long.

  2. absolutely awesome article.The is the first time in over 30 years i,ve found so much info on hugh mundell,after collecting so much of his music on vinyl, i,m still deeply saddened by his death.I hope that generations to come will listen and be inspired by a truly great artist such as hugh mundell

  3. Greetings Ras….My name is Sal aka Ras Salvador Navarrete, I wrote the Jah Bull piece in 2000 for Small Axe. Jah Bull was my bredren and sadly passed on in 2005..he told me a lot of great storys of Hugh Mundell and their freinship, and I have always love Hugh’s singing voice and great chune’s! I Loved your story on Hugh Mundell ( I believe the most info on Hugh ever) and always good to see Pablo and the Rockers family mentioned also. Thanks for mentioning the Jah Bull artical, your story make a great companion piece to the Jah Bull story. Again great read Jah Live!!
    If anyone would like to read up the Woolton “Jah Bull” Harrison “Press Along Rasta” I have posted it here for you..Jah Bless http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/smallaxe/jahbullx.htm

  4. Pingback: Killah Priest leaks Hugh Mundell tribute track | Midnight Raver

  5. Pingback: GREAT TRIBULATION: The Life and Times of Hugh Mundell | Midnight Raver

  6. has anybody noticed that hugh mundell did not sing in Jamaican patois his English was very good saw him live in Birmingham 1980 glad I did r,i,p rasta yout

      • yes I to the best of my knowledge because it was 34 years ago big rasta turn out man and woman hugh mundell sang time to unite, Africa must be free,can’t pop no style, rastafari’s call and more ..when the show was over I had school the next morning..raspect

  7. Just really coming into the knowledge of Hugh Mundell’s music and legend… And I sincerely appreciate this IN DEPTH article on his life. He definitely had something special about him, kind of had a mystical demeanour/disposition. Gone much too soon. Give thanks, for this info and may his music live on!

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