PART TWO: “GOING PLACES”
Upon its release in 1978, 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
Hugh Mundell “Jah Fire Will Be Burning”/Don Carlos “Late Night Blues” slate dubplate special
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 unparalleled 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 disappointing for me when they didn’t credit me for that song because it was a world wide record, 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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 decade. The 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. Max Edwards worked closely with Mundell in writing songs for the album.
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.
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.
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.
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.”