Originally a small shop on UK record-collecting mecca, London’s Berwick Street, Mr Bongo quickly became an important part of the vinyl loving community by being the first outside the US to stock releases by some of the giants of Hip Hop like Def Jam and Rawkus.
At around the same time they began gathering their famous supply of rare Latin 45s, uniquely focusing on the music of Brazil. This became the bedrock on which everything else that followed was built. Moving around Soho and even expanding to Japan, the record shop took many forms over the years before all physical shops closed in 2003.
Along the way they built a label and recording roster and have since moved into stocking films with the same global, hard-to-find focus as with the records they sell.
Ahead of the set by Mr Bongo Soundsystem at our next party, we caught up with Graham Luckhurst to ask a few questions.
Hi Graham, we’re so glad you agreed to take the time to answer a few questions. Could you begin by telling us who makes up the Mr Bongo Soundsystem and how everyone got involved?
The ‘soundsystem’ is the Mr Bongo family – David Buttle, Graham Luckhurst, Gareth Stephens, Ville Marttila, Ally Smith and Gary Johnson. Depending on the event we split that up and for special occasions go out together and have played up to 12-hours, which is brilliant.
David founded Mr Bongo in 1989 and continues to steer the ship. I have been working with David since 2004. I myself, Ally, Ville, Gary and Gareth met through record shops and club nights, primarily at the Jazz Rooms sessions in Brighton where we all DJ’d together.
Mr Bongo’s been around since 1989. First as a physical shop and since mutating in many ways. How long have you been gigging together and how did it come about?
The ‘soundsystem’ simply means Mr Bongo DJ’s. In the 90’s the chaps who ran the shops and spun records out used to use ‘Allstars’ I believe… We will probably change it again… Or we may well remove it and just use Mr Bongo. It’s people in our ‘crew’ essentially – trusted and experienced DJ’s who really understand the Mr Bongo vibe.
With so many aspects to what you guys do, it’s hard to define Mr Bongo and I mean that in the best sense. Instead of a definition, could you perhaps describe the relationship between the different elements at play?
Mr Bongo is primarily a label. We sell a lot of our own records and select others that we like to sell. The “soundsystem” plays the music that we love, release and sell.
When the shops all closed in 2003 the climate was pretty different with regards to vinyl, it’s changed even since Rounder Records in Brighton closed in 2012. Given the resurgence in recent years is re-opening a physical shop something you could entertain?
Absolutely, yes, we would love to. Depends entirely on property prices and space. We shall see…
I think the series of 7” repressings that you guys sell is amazing. How did they come about? Any in particular you’re really happy you’ve done?
Thank you. Brazil 45’s was an idea floating around for a good few years here before it happened. Eventually we took a punt and saw that it worked very well so we dialled it up and released more. Then we launched Africa 45’s and Latin 45’s. Evinha, Celia, Marcos Valle and Arthur Verocai have been real highlights on the Brazil series for me.
It’s mentioned on the site that Mr Bongo has a considered ethos that guides everything you do. How would you describe this ethos?
Digging up lost and/or hard to find gems from around the world and making them available to a wider audience at a fair price. We tend not to deliberately limit releases or over-inflate prices.
How would you say it’s reflected in the sets you play as Mr Bongo Soundsystem?
We play the records that we release and we are more than happy to tell people what we play if they ask.
You also sell rare and forgotten films. The history of Mr Bongo is it seems to me defined by trying new avenues to accompany what you already do. Any new ventures on the horizon?
Exactly that. We try things – some work, some don’t. If it works then you carry on. If it doesn’t work then you stop, learn and move on. The music and film industry’s are in a constant state of flux and our day-to-day approach reflects that. There are several ideas in the mix… Watch this space.
Obviously we’re really excited to have you down for our party this week. Is there anything in particular that makes a night a really good one for you?
Looking forward to it. People who come with open ears, open minds and want to have a nice time… and maybe go home with a new favourite record or two.
We like to be able to build a vibe. So a good sound system and equipment is a must!
Lastly, of everything you’ve released, what’s the one record/artist that you think’s been the most criminally overlooked.
Hareton Salvanini has been a revelation for us. Reissuing his KM110 EP and album ’S.P 73’ LP has been a real privilege – http://www.mrbongo.com/collections/hareton-salvanini
Mr Bongo Soundsystem play the Mavrik Afro Disco with John Gomez on Friday 12th of August at the Hammerschlagen Cafe in Stoke Newington.
Last few tickets available here