Never heard of Mungo’s HiFi before? That’s ok, most of Nairobi hadn’t until a few weeks ago. However that is all set to change this October 9th, when two representatives of Scotland’s loudest crew of Dub and Reggae heads, hit Nairobi with a thundering performance at the Mall Rooftop in Westlands.
Mungo’s HiFi was created by Tom Tatterhall and Doug Paine back in the year 2000. They were at that time living in Glasgow and had been assiduously collecting dub, reggae and dancehall records, playing out in clubs and bars. At some point they came across some old speakers and fixed them up using some of the money they had made through DJing.
“Our first gig with the soundsystem was on the back of a lorry at an illegal protest,” Doug tells us during a recent online interview. “We had a dream even then to make soundsystem our career and worked hard every day to make it a reality. We felt the message it had was so crucial, and the culture so rich that it had to be kept alive.”
At the time, soundsystems in Scotland focused mainly on playing techno music and Doug and Tom were determined to change that. They were not the first reggae soundsystem in Glasgow, there were many that had been around since the 1980s, however they all had a very small following and not much impact. As Mungo’s HiFi began to expand, they looked to incorporate people who shared their vision into the overall framework of the crew.
“In terms of equipment we initially made do with what we had,” explains Doug. “After some time we began to save up, at which point we could afford better equipment in terms of speakers and amplifiers – we learned as we went along”.
Despite their Caribbean influences, attracting Jamaicans to the sound system proved quite challenging as Scotland was off the beaten track for most West Indian artists. Nevertheless, within the UK there exists a wealth of talented Caribbean MCs who the group felt they had a strong connection with and could easily reach out to. Doug proudly lists their most outstanding collaborations: “starting by MC Ishu and his incredible Belly Ska we then worked with Songs of Zion with Ras Charmer and that was before Ranking Joe sang I love Jah for us. Then there was Daddy Freddy, Omar Perry (Lee Perry’s son), Earl 16, Jennifer Barrett, Black Warrior, I Bogle, Lady Anne, Sugar Minott, Little John, Jah Thomas, Wild Life…I am sure I have forgotten some.”
According to Doug, “Ranking Joe and Little John stand out as unsung heroes of Sound system culture and we were lucky enough to get to spend a lot of time with them both recording and performing live.”
When asked what exciting places Mungo’s HiFi has taken them, Doug is keen to point out that there is a global sound system explosion at the moment and that this momentum has helped bring them all over the planet. “Some of the most unexpected places we have ended up have included Hong Kong, the Philippines, Peru and Dubai,” he tells us. “The best thing about going on tour is meeting people from other places and cultures who share your passion. You realise that you have much more in common with them, than with many of your compatriots.”
As many Kenyans have repeatedly seemed surprised that Mungo’s HiFi are an all-white crew, it was inevitable that we ask Doug whether this was ever an issue elsewhere. He answers with a quote from Haile Selassie: “Until the colour of a man’s (or woman’s) skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes…” and then goes on to underline that: “Many people are still to understand the meaning of Haile Selassie’s words and for them we do not fulfil their expectations for how we appear. We don’t spend any time worrying about this, as there is not much we can do about it.”
We finish the interview enquiring after the fabled Ferrari soundsystem that the crew has currently been test driving. Doug is guarded in his answer, maybe because it is still early days and the cat is not entirely out of the bag on that front. He tells us that, “We feel that technology has driven soundsystems and the music played on them. We love the old, but we embrace the new. We are interested in what sounds good, and this is a constantly evolving quest”.
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