The UK’s foremost reissue label share five incredible stories behind their biggest releases.
“I used to go to Venezuela and stay in this hotel where you’d check your guns in at the reception.” A bit like processed meat, there’s a pretty hefty disconnect between the slickly packaged, off-the-shelf reissue and the journey that has brought it to your turntable. After two and half decades at the helm of Mr Bongo, Dave Buttle could tell you more stories than most.
In building up what has become one of the UK’s foremost reissue labels, dealing in everything from Brazilian, Latin, afro, psych and even the odd bit of Scadanavian pop, Dave has learnt that the process of releasing a reissue is never the same twice. From the extreme – sourcing vinyl while staying in gun-running Venezuelan hotels and meeting record dealers at the Colombian border, to the mundane – trawling through countless death registers and sending thousands of unreturned emails, every record has a unique trail of bread crumbs that will lead you back to where it came from.
Too prolific to begin to list here, it’s safe to say that Mr Bongo have had a formative influence on the tastes of the tastemakers and DJs that dare to stray beyond Europe and the USA for their inspiration. Sometimes responding to trends in the market, at other times sprinting ahead to pre-empt them entirely, the label has helped revitalise interest in music from across a spectrum that used to be called ‘World Music’.
To put this in some kind of context, Dave picks Ghanain sax man Ebo Taylor as an example – a lynchpin in the country’s highlife scene, so vital he came to work with Fela Kuti at one time, but whose music had never been recognised outside of west Africa. “When I used to listen to this record twenty thirty years ago, most DJs weren’t into afro, there’s no way they’re going to be playing Cumbia. So what’s happened is all those jazzers, they’ve come round and got into the funky side of African and now they’ve gone “what about Cumbia? What about Carimbo from Brazil?” These were all rhythms that no one would touch with a barge pole 25 thirty years ago.” Now, Ebo Taylor has three releases on Strut to his name and a tour schedule to rival the best of them.
With a popular series of Brazilian 45s doing so well this year they’ve spawned a Latin 45s series too, Mr Bongo is taking the difficult twenties in its stride, and yet, despite the flurry of activity, there’s one humble 7″ that has probably caused the biggest stir.
Flagged up by Floating Points, the fluorescent Brazilian psych EP from Hareton + Meta is a perfect example of what the label is all about: super rare Brazilian music, produced with such attention to detail even the mis-spellings are included.
In the first of a brace of features with Mr Bongo, we asked Dave and Matt from the label to talk us through the process behind releasing Hareton + Meta’s KM110, and pick out a few other titles from the back catalogue that reflect just how varied the world of the reissue can be.