Mr Bongo started life in 1989 as a small record shop underneath Daddy Kool’s Reggae Store on Berwick Street in London.
We were the first shop to sell vinyl releases from independent hip hop labels such as Def Jam, Rawkus, Nervous and Big Beat outside of the USA. We also became an established bearer for hard-to-find, classic Latin music, particularly Brazilian, outside of the Americas.
Over the following years we moved three times within Soho and also opened a Mr Bongo shop in Shibuya, Japan. We moved our office to Brighton in 1999 and closed all the shops in 2003. The physical music business got hit hard by digital at the time and we needed to focus on the label to keep things viable. Fourteen years on and with a reputation as one of the most respected and prolific purveyors of Brazilian, Latin, and African music around, we opened a new shop in Brighton. The time felt right and we were hungry to get back into running our own shop again. The new shop carries much of the ethos of the original stores, but it is different – things move on. Our new shop reflects the location, different styles of music sold, the buyers that visit us regularly and the city itself. It’s been a great success and a privilege to be connecting with our customers once again on a face to face level in the city that’s been our home for 21 years now.
When the situation started to get very serious in respect of minimising the virus spread, we took time to review all our safety precautions. This was to protect our staff, our customers, those who play a vital role in getting records out to people, and of course the wider public. We closed the shop and the online shop whilst we carried out our review. Once we were satisfied with our processes we reopened the online store. There are plenty of challenges in keeping things going in this strange period of time. Like everyone else, we have had to adapt to the new ways of working and the physical shop has had to remain closed for now.
We have lots of regulars who come by the shop to catch-up on what’s new in, but also for a social. Our online store is a very important part of our business and we reach a global customer base through it, but not being able to chat with the customers in the shop environment is something we are missing immensely. We are using social media to stay in touch with customers and that is working well, but as soon as we can safely open up again we are going to be putting on some much-needed in-store parties to celebrate.
The support from our customers throughout has been amazing. They have been understanding of the actions we have taken, and they keep buying music! We know that this music is a vital respite for many people and we feel we have a duty to keep it coming. As long as we can we will keep getting records sent out to people, maintain the flow of our new releases and reissues into shops and on digital services, and provide mixes, blog features, playlists, etc. A hero of ours here at Mr Bongo, Gary Bartz, said it best with his magnum opus “Music Is My Sanctuary” – we are keeping that front of mind and doing all we can.