With the Mui Ne Music & Arts Festival just round the corner, Kieran Crowe catches up with Morgan Mugnier, one of the leaders of the burgeoning reggae scene in Saigon, and the co-organiser of the Reggae Stage at December’s inaugural festival.
Morgan Mugnier is a 27-year-old Frenchman originally from Paris. When he was 16 he moved to the South of France, where he discovered reggae music, which remains his passion to this day. As co-founder of the short-lived but influential reggae bar Saigon Vibration, he is partly responsible for the current reggae obsession in Saigon. When I bring up Saigon Vibration, Morgan grins.
“It was open for just five months, and after that we were kicked out by the neighbours. We were in the same building as the Observatory, and we were both kicked out together! The Obs eventually relocated to District 4, but we were satisfied with our five-month run… plus, nobody was too motivated to work 16-hour days again!”
He adds: “I then decided to create Saigon Dub Station in order to promote reggae music in the city. We started a reggae night in Saigon Ranger, which morphed into a weekly dance battle party. The next step was the reggae festival in Cargo, which allowed me to realise my dream of creating a showcase for reggae music. Next we want to create our own Sound System.”
So what exactly is a reggae sound system? According to Morgan, it’s a crew of people that build their own stack of speakers in order to have the best possible reggae sound, with strong bass and clean vocals. It comes originally from Jamaica.
“Sound System culture is nonexistent in Vietnam,” he explains. “So we want to be the first ones, and we hope that other DJs will start their sound systems so we can battle.”
Morgan is planning to have it ready in time for the third edition of the Saigon Reggae Festival on Jan. 23.
The Reggae Stage
However, prior to that is the Mui Ne Music and Arts Festival on Dec. 4, 5 and 6 on a hillside just north of Phan Thiet. Morgan and his colleagues are responsible for one of three stages — the Reggae Stage — with a lineup of 20+ “selectas”, MCs and DJs from different crews.
“It’s a collaboration between Saigon Dub Station, Saigon Rockers, Base of the Bass, Wat A Gwaan crew from Cambodia, and other reggae DJs in Saigon,” he says. “We also have a guest from Mui Ne, including a great jungle MC called 8U8A.”
In addition they will be flying in international artists including the likes of Janaka Selekta and Masia One.
The aim is to ensure the vibe of the stage is constantly changing: this will be done by showcasing “the entire spectrum of reggae, from chilled roots music to crazy jungle.” This will be followed by after parties at Pogo bar, Lineup and Dragon Beach.
“We’re going to keep the stage decorations to a minimum,” says Morgan, “so people can appreciate the beautiful view of the landscape and sunset. At night there will be no moon so it’s gonna be dark and we’ll play around a lot with light, creating a sort of magical fantasy atmosphere… with lasers!”
The Future of Reggae
With over a thousand people turning up for their last festival at Cargo Bar, one thing Morgan is assured is a strong following. People in Saigon like reggae music.
“We’re planning six more editions of the reggae festival for 2016: one every two months,” he says. “We’re gonna stick to our roots and promote local artists as well as inviting artists from all over South East Asia. The third edition of Saigon Reggae festival will feature Macky Banton. Macky is a legend: he is a big name on the reggae circuit, having worked with some of the most popular sound systems around the world.”
For more on Saigon Dub Station, click on facebook.com/saigondubstationofficial. Information on the Mui Ne Music & Arts Festival can be found by clicking on facebook.com/events/899954503391384 or by going directly to muinefest.com