Hugh Mundell: A promising career cut short
October 14th 2023, marked 40 years since Hugh Mundell was murdered by 25-year-old Ricardo Codrington. The latter was arrested and charged with Mundell’s murder. Two years after the shooting incident he was given a 10-year prison sentence.
The reggae music scene of the late 1970s was brimming with talent and potential. One artist who stood out during this time was Hugh Mundell aka Jah Levi. With his soulful voice, thought-provoking lyrics, and mesmerizing stage presence, Mundell was poised to become a true legend in the genre. Tragically, his promising career was cut short, leaving fans and fellow musicians devastated.
Together with Winston McAnuff, Mundell visited several Kingston studios, among them Studio One, Aquarius and Joe Gibbs, hoping to sign a contract. At the tender age of 16, he recorded a song, Where Is Natty Dread, for Joe Gibbs which was never released. During a subsequent visit at Joe Gibbs studio he first ran into musician and producer Augustus Pablo who defended him from the rudeness of a fellow musician. Mundell was also a frequent visitor to Herman Chin-Loy’s Aquarius Studios, where his talent did not go unnoticed when he crossed paths with Pablo again. Pablo invited him to audition and impressed by Mundell’s raw talent and passion, he immediately signed him to his record label, Rockers International. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of Mundell’s musical journey on a grand scale.
Between 1976 and 1978, Mundell and Pablo laid the tracks for the young artist’s debut LP, Africa Must Be Free By 1983. Produced by Augustus Pablo, Mundell wrote every song on the record. The 1978 released album showcased Mundell’s unique blend of poignant lyrics and melodic reggae rhythms. Songs like Let’s All Unite and the title track Africa Must Be Free By 1983 became instant classics, resonating with listeners around the world.
As Mundell’s career progressed, so did his musical maturity. However, in 1980 Mundell and Pablo got involved in a business conflict, which primarily had to do with the fact that the young artist felt he wasn’t being promoted properly. Mundell then made the choice to become a self-sufficient artist. Consequently, he embarked on a journey as an independent musician, putting out fresh content through his own Muni Music/Mun Rock label. Released in 1980, his sophomore album, Time And Place, further solidified his position as a rising star in the reggae scene. The album, co-produced by Pablo, featured tracks like Book Of Life and Blessed Be Thyself, displaying Mundell’s introspective songwriting and spiritual depth. In 1982, Greensleeves released the Henry “Junjo” Lawes produced Mundell LP, which was followed by the album Blackman’s Foundation. This posthumous Shanachie release included five tracks from the Time And Place LP along with four new cuts from the same period.
Just as Hugh Mundell’s career was reaching new heights, tragedy struck on October 14, 1983. At the young age of 21, Mundell’s life was cut short in a fatal shooting incident while sitting in his vehicle on Grant’s Pen Avenue in Kingston. Also in the car were Mundell’s wife in the passenger seat and his good friend Junior Reid, who was sitting in the back seat. Reid survived the assault and spoke in great detail about it in a 1985 interview with Roger Steffens. The reggae world was left reeling from the loss of this young talent who had so much more to offer.
Despite his short-lived career, Hugh Mundell’s impact on reggae music is timeless. His lyrics, often tackling themes of social injustice and spirituality, continue to resonate with audiences worldwide. Artists such as Jah Mason and Luciano have cited Mundell as a major influence on their own musical journeys.
Hugh Mundell’s untimely death robbed the reggae world of a true musical genius. In his short career, he left behind a legacy of soul-stirring music and thought-provoking lyrics that continue to captivate listeners to this day. Although we can only imagine what great heights Mundell may have reached had he been given more time, his impact on the reggae genre remains profound and everlasting.
Africa Must Be Free By 1983
Book Of Life
Run Revolution A Come
Time And Place
Rasta Have The Handle
Red Gold And Green
Don’t Stay Away
One Jah, One Aim, One Destiny
Stop ‘Em Jah
David Rodigan – Interview with Hugh Mundell (1980