Mystic Bowie – Xperience Monthly Interview, by Niki Kaos
Written by Staff on April 6, 2023
Mystic Bowie and I connected and found a kindred spirit. We became fast friends while trading stories about our passion for music and community work. I also learned more about what to expect at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, Saturday, April 22nd.
RRX: How are you?
MB: I’m good. Who am I speaking with?
RRX: This is Niki. Just to give you a heads up, my “reporter” name is Kaos.
MB: (laughs) I love it!
RRX: When people read it, they ask me… do you?? Do you say that “chaos”? And I say, yeah, I do. So, when you see the article don’t be shocked. It’s controlled Kaos.
MB: Niki Kaos. I love it.
RRX: Let’s talk about your career. You worked with the Tom Tom Club. You’ve spent time in Jamacia recording music. Explain how you evolved with music.
MB: I was discovered when I was nine years old because I would go to church with my grandmother, who was blind. So I would hold her hand, walk her to church, and sing in the church choir. That’s where I was discovered. When I was 14 years old, they started to take me out of Jamaica to Peru, Bahamas, and places like that.
I am Jamaican, but also, I was born and raised into a tribe called the Maroons. Because of growing up in the Maroon tribes as a child I was not a Reggae singer. We would do traditional music. Jamaican traditional folk music called “mento”. And I would do Calypso and stuff like that. I would get jobs to leave the island and perform on other islands for festivals.
During that period, the area I was staying at was right next door to Compass Point Studios, which was owned by Chris Blackwell, the owner of Island Records. So I was staying at the Compass Point condominium complex.
That’s where I met everybody! Grace Jones. Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Fred Schneider from the B-52s. Ringo Starr. Members of the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. It was the same period where Tom Tom Club was forming and developing off of the Talking Heads.
RRX: And you met them at a good time. The scene was exploding.
MB: Yes. They were building an era. And here I am, a 14-year-old child who was placed in the middle of all this… controlled chaos. (laughs)
MB: It was amazing. I remember there was a thing that happened to me on one of those trips to Compass Point. In the studio, there is a bunch of musicians from all over the world, and they are doing stuff they don’t want children to see. So when my caretaker would go to sleep, I would literally climb out the window.
I would go hang out by the studio. And some of the guys was like, you need to get back, or whatever. While others were nice to me.
RRX: You just wanted to see what they were up to?
MB: All I heard was a ton of equipment in the studio and a ton of musicians.
RRX: And you wanted to see the music? And what they were doing to create music?
So that was the only interest that I had. But there was this one guy who brought a motorcycle from England. And had it down there, and each night he’d ride in.
The cool thing about this dude. He would always give me a ride on the back of his motorcycle. And then say, okay. Now time for you to go to bed. And I would go to bed. Because he gave me a ride on the back of his motorcycle. It was a huge deal for a teenager back then.
RRX: He was probably looking out for you in a way?
MB: He was. Exactly.
RRX: How did you get from Compass Point Studios to what happened next?
MB: I’m going to go from The Tom Tom Club. I met Chris and Tina from Talking Heads, and it was the same period where the Talking Heads was having issues and they were forming the Tom Tom Club. So they were working on “Genius of Love”, “Wordy Rappinghood” and all those songs, right there, at the studio at the same time.
Time went by, and in 1991 I moved up to NYC. I hated it. I hated living in the city. So, the company I worked with moved me to Western Connecticut.
A friend of my contacted me in 1992 to let me know he was doing a Mardi Gras show in NYC. He told me he would like me to be THE Reggae act on that show.
I explained to him that I just moved up to NYC, and I’m living in CT because I did not like living in the city. I explained to him that I did not have a band. He basically told me, don’t worry about it, there’s a house band. And the house band agrees to back me up at the show because they like my music.
He gave me the phone number. Turns out they were living in Fairfield, which was literally 10 minutes from me.
RRX: That’s funny.
MB: And they gave me the address, and I’m like, you know, I’m only 10 minutes away in Westin. And they’re like, oh my God! That’s really cool! Come on over.
When I walked into the house, it was Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth!
RRX: No kidding!
MB: Yes! It was the Tom Tom Club.
RRX: They didn’t like living in the city either, apparently. Where are you living now?
MB: I live both in CT and Jamaica.
RRX: So, it depends on where you’re working?
MB: Exactly! In Jamaica I founded the Mystic Bowie Cultural Center not for profit. I founded a summer camp, which I fund every single year in the mountains where my tribal kids attend camp for free. They could never afford to go to camp if they had to pay.
I also work with the school. I built a library in my community, and no child is allowed to pay for anything. 100% free.
As a tribal community there was a generation gap where the elders were carrying on the drum making, the drumming and the dancing. But there was a gap where they weren’t teaching the young people.
So I went back to Jamaica and started a culture based summer camp. I hired the elders to teach at the summer camp. Teach the kids how to make their own drums. So, now, in the past 15 years, every single child in that community is a drummer and a dancer. 100%.
RRX: It sounds like you are a busy guy!
MB: I am very busy. This morning I have a bunch of photos from that same school, Accompong Primary School. The pictures were sent to me from the principal. Yesterday, they had the national drum talent festival for the entire island of Jamaica, and my students brought home the gold medal!
But you know what’s even better? This is the third year that we got the gold medal. So they are making me proud.
RRX: That’s amazing! Congratulations!
Looking forward to your April show in Saratoga, what are we going to see at UPH?
MB: Basically, if you like Reggae music… which I’m sorry, something is wrong with you if you don’t like Reggae.
RRX: So do you think people need to find a way to get out of their heads or need to relax a little bit? Because, personally, I love Reggae.
MB: Reggae music is supposed to take you down from that speed that you live in. That high horse you live on. Reggae music is supposed to take you down. Let you kick your shoes off and dance. Enjoy the moment to the fullest. That’s what I do with my Reggae music. At the same time, if you love Reggae music and you love Talking Heads music, what’s a better combination? If you’re ready to dance, have fun and let your hair down, you don’t want to miss this show.
RRX: I couldn’t agree more! People can visit the Universal Preservation Hall website to purchase tickets for the show! We can’t wait to welcome you to the Capital District.