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A chat with Big Mountain

A chat with Big Mountain

We had the pleasure of sitting with members of Big Mountain, an American reggae band best known for their remake of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way”.

Big Mountain is led by rhythm guitarist and lead singer, Joaquin “Quino” McWhinney and supported by his brother, James on percussions and vocals, Paul Kastick on drums, Chizzy Chisholm on guitar, Mikey Ortiz on bass, David Gorospe on keyboards and Goofy Campbell who was unfortunately absent.

Over the years, Big Mountain has toured hundreds of cities in more than 30 countries, selling more than 2 million albums and 6 million singles before taking a break from the touring life in 2005, occasionally reuniting for live performances and various benefit causes. In 2013, Quino and Kastick reformed the band with an extended lineup and started releasing new music, including the new album, ‘Perfect Summer’. 

A chat with Big Mountain
~ (from left) Mikey Ortiz, Chizzy Chisholm, David (Kavika) Gorospe, Paul Kastick, Joaquin Quino McWhinney and James McWhinney.

How did the name Big Mountain come about?

We first started out in 1986 as Shiloh, and we released one album under that name. However, we later discovered that the name was already owned and we couldn’t continue making records under that name. At the time, we were very involved in activism, fighting the encroachment of the traditional lands of the Navajo people in northern Arizona. The Peabody Mining Company from England was mining coal, uranium and other minerals, using the local groundwater to transport coals and affecting the health of the local tribe. We were inspired by the struggles faced by the Native Americans and we eventually settled on the name ‘Big Mountain’, which was the nickname of the region the Navajo called home. 

What makes Big Mountain different than other reggae bands?

As kids from the 70s, we were inspired by reggae music of our times. However, at the time, the challenge is getting reggae music on the radio. Many people don’t realise that Bob Marley never made the Top 40 in his lifetime. When he passed, major labels started signing reggae bands, which started a big push. Everyone wanted to get on radio but at the time, radio wasn’t interested in reggae. We had to sort of disguise our reggae by adding a lot of pop, rock and RnB influences in order for it to become mainstream. Combine that with our love for politically binding messages, we were breaking barriers!

What do you try to echo through your music?

Growing up in the 70s, we saw a post-colonial era filled with indigenous struggles. Reggae music is embraced and used as a revolutionary tool despite traditional differences. Looking at it now, half a decade later, we see humanity move forward, and it’s only a matter of time a radical idea and a reform become a norm. Today, we have reggae music in almost every language you can imagine and it’s phenomenal! Reggae music represents the word of the people. Within that consciousness is the idea to always try to better ourselves and our lives, by always standing up for who we are. Along with that comes the respect of taking care of our environment and ourselves, by holding true to our culture and trying our best to preserve our traditions. Sure, it’s nice to be on radio, but the message of it all is the most important part of why we do what we do. We live and breathe it, and we’re always searching for a way to get to the people and hopefully break one’s negative thoughts into conscious understanding. 

The RWMF is all about promoting the importance of environmental consciousness. How does that align with your own values?

The thing is, we’re up against a really hard struggle, and every little bit counts. Reggae music is all about bettering not just ourselves, but also the environment and the community. It’s about upholding the standards and trying to get other people to recognise the awareness of how important it is to preserve those things. For us, it’s a beautiful gift, to be able to travel the world as a reggae musician and hopefully influence and create a bigger unification. At the end of the day, we’re humble people, we’re simple people, but within that, we’re also warriors and soldiers looking out for everything that is suffering in this world. 

What words do you have for anyone looking to get their start in reggae music?

I think the important thing to start collaborating. Reggae music won’t be the worldwide music it is today without people who are into reggae moving somewhere, meeting new people and starting their own band. The next thing you know, a few years later, that band has been around for ten whole years, performing in another language, surrounded by a different culture. That is what creates a new progression for reggae music, so that it can continue to live on. No matter the way the music is expressed, or the kind of instruments used, the message is still the same.

When it comes to the fusion of reggae music and other cultures, can we expect any future collaboration with local Sarawakian artists?

Well, we happen to have a pseudo-Malaysian local in the band, Paul Kastick! Paul has some important roots here and he absolutely loves this place, so bring them on! We’re all about the youth and we’re all about promoting local talents and finding new ways to collaborate and make music with traditional instruments! What we saw last night on the local stage was really exciting, and it was great to see these young people using those instruments in that way! There are no limits when it comes to making music, and we were once known as the ones who exploit reggae music. Well, we’re here, we’re alive and we’re the perfect example of a band that took some chances and introduced new forms of ideas into reggae music. In music, it’s important to overreach a bit and then pull back a little. But never, ever hold back!


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