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Hugo Moolenaar – Mocko Jumbie

Our friends at Frederiksberg Records continue to bring us unique and rare albums – this time it’s the funky Virgin Island Groove’s of  Hugo Moolenaar’s Mocko Jumbie, an EP containing the best tracks from each of Moolenaar’s two, ultra-rare records. 

A “Mocko Jumbie” is the performer of the carnival stilt- dancing tradition which has had a presence in the Virgin Islands for several hundred years, and which historians consider to have been brought to the Caribbean by enslaved West Africans. In 1964, at age 14, Alvin “Allie” Paul entered the St. Thomas carnival as a stilt-dancer, and revolutionized the Mocko Jumbie style, with notable African influence, wearing what some say is a Ghanaian-style hat and striped pants to cover his stilts. Paul founded his own troupe in the late 1960s and one of his best students was Hugo Moolenaar, who quickly became known as one of the fastest dancers on the 6’ stilts, and was renowned for adding kung-fu-style moves to his performances.

In the fall of 1982, Hugo was asked to become a resident performer at the Hotel Shibui in Contant Hill, St. Thomas after a convincing audition for the manager. Hugo brought in his girlfriend Juanita, a singer since high school, and a duo was born. Together, they performed Hugo’s nascent compositions. Eventually, Juanita started to learn Mocko Jumbie as well. The couple, who were married in 1983, later founded a Mocko Jumbie school, that at its peak had 75 students.

The steady income from the hotel residency provided financial opportunity that the entrepreneurial Hugo seized. Travelling with their band to Puerto Rico, Hugo and Juanita hired a local horn section and created Hugo’s first album, entitled High, High, High, a reference to the Mocko Jumbie tradition. Hugo’s second release, Mocko Jumbie Jamboree, came out not long after and also featured original compositions. It was recorded at the local Virgin Island studio Turtle Point. Both albums were self-distributed and feature a heady cocktail of island and popular sounds – from jump-up calypsos and kaisos to drum- machine modern soul and upful disco.

This is the first reissue of the late Moolenaar’s music – a 1989 hurricane — ironically named Hugo —destroyed many of Moolenaar’s belongings, including master tapes and photos, leaving he and Juanita with very little to show for their long careers. But, to his very last day in 2012, Hugo lived by his motto: “Peace, Love and Happiness Always,” and this exuberant music is still buoyed by his spirit today.