I've been meaning to write about this one for a bit now, but you know, life does get in the way at times. "The Mocko Jumbie EP", the most recent release on New York's Frederiksberg Records, collects up eight tracks from the two albums the late Virgin Islands calypso, soca and disco artist Hugo Moolenaar recorded in the eighties.
Born in St Thomas in 1948 to a Dutch-German father and Puerto Rican mother, Moolenaar grew up with music from the cradle. When he wasn't at work, his father played guitar in a six-piece band at house parties, and his uncle was a skilled ukulele player. Moolenaar watched them closely, before learning guitar and beginning to write songs.
Alongside music, Moolenaar was a skilled carnival stilt-dancer in the Mockie Jumbie mode, a folkloric dance form which has existed in the Virgin Islands for several hundred years and historians consider to have been brought to the Caribbean by enslaved West Africans. You can see him in costume on the cover of "The Mockie Jumbie EP". Moolenaar found his way into the Mockie Jumbie tradition through the Virgin Islands carnival tradition in the sixties, under the mentorship of the stylistically revolutionary dancer Alvin “Allie” Paul, and became renowned for adding kung-fu-style moves to his performances.
In the late sixties, Moolenaar enlisted in the US army and served in Vietnam, where he was severely injured and honorably discharged. After recovering, he recommenced Mockie Jumbie dancing and worked for local government, before meeting his future wife, a singer named Juanita. The two formed a performance duo. By 1983, they were resident performers at the Hotel Shibui in Contant Hill, St. Thomas, and on track to opening a Mockie Jumbie dance school.
Thanks to the income from their residency, Moolenaar, his wife, and their band were able to travel to Puerto Rico, hire a local horn section, and record his exuberant first album "HIGH HIGH HIGH". Not long after, they recorded his second album "Mocko Jumbie Jamboree" at a local Virgin Island studio, Turtle Point.
Across those two albums, Moolenaar took the lessons he had learned from the highs and lows of his life and love, and his new experiences as a husband and father, and set them against an intoxicating blend of folkloric Island sounds and the contemporary popular music of the time. Calypso, kaiso and soca vibing in splendid harmony with disco, boogie, drum machine soul and beyond; all in aid of spreading joyful and optimistic messages.
During his dancing career, Moolenaar brought the Mocko Jumbie to many neighboring Caribbean islands, as well as New York, Portland, Oregon and Miami in the US. Here, it's worth nothing that he danced alongside Dominica's Grammacks band at the 1979 Miami Super Bowl show. He also helped bring the Mocko Jumbie to Japan and Columbia, where he appeared in a bullfighting arena with a group of the finest Mocko Jumbies and a local Virgin Islands band.
Sadly however, by way of a hurricane that passed through the Virgin Islands in 1989 - ironically named Hugo - most of Moolenaar and his wife's belongings, including master tapes and photos, were destroyed, leaving only memories and anecdotes behind.
In 2008, he retired after 32 years of service with the local government. One year later, the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism adapted a new logo, a Mocko Jumbie. Frederiksberg Records believe that Moolenaar's commitment to the form was a big part of the reason, and I like the sound of that as well. Four years later, he sadly died of cancer, which is thought to have been a result of exposure to Agent Orange during his military service in Vietnam. Regardless, until his final day, Moolenaar lived by an elegant and inspirational motto, “Peace, Love and Happiness Always."
Nine years on, his music, previously only self-released and distributed throughout the Virgin Islands, is now available to the wider world through this release. Frederiksberg Records still have vinyl copies of this reissue compilation available on their bandcamp, and if that's not your cup of tea, you can access it digitally as well via streaming.