By Alex Egerton
The music industry is full of charismatic front men that leave their bands, reinvent themselves and go on to forge successful solo careers – but few wait until they are in their mid-70s to give stardom a shot. Then again, there are few performers quite like Nicaraguan maypole legend Jose Sinclair, popularly known as Mango Ghost.
Life has been quite a whirlwind for the man who introduced the sounds of maypole, a traditional British folk dance, to audiences around Nicaragua with his pioneering ensemble Los Barbaros del Ritmo. After having one of his legs amputated due to illness, Mango was until recently living in poverty in Bluefields. His dilapidated house sprouted dozens of leaks during the city’s regular torrential downpours, and was impossible to navigate in a wheelchair.
This situation was far removed from Mango’s heyday as leader of the region's most influential band, which toured nightclubs and restaurants throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean playing maypole classics. Los Barbaros del Ritmo pioneered a path from the Caribbean to Managua and beyond at a time when few mainstream Nicaraguans knew anything about Creole heritage – a path that would be followed in years to come by other hugely successful Caribbean artists including Dimension Costeña and Soul Vibrations.
Despite their talent, the group came to a premature end. The outbreak of the Nicaraguan Revolution forced many bars, restaurants and music venues to close, and Los Barbaros del Ritmo disbanded and drifted apart.
When pitched battles began breaking out in Managua, Mango fled the city. A friend stole a car and drove Mango and his family to El Rama; from there they put the women and children on boats bound for Bluefields. When Mango was finally able to return to the city, he found that his club had been destroyed and that thieves had made off with all his assets.
What followed was a slide into poverty and serious illness that almost led Mango to give up music altogether. Diabetes claimed his leg, and his house in Bluefields fell into disrepair.
Mango Ghost’s luck finally changed in 2008 when the Bluefields Sound System (BSS), a joint-venture record label run by North-American producers and a local cultural promoter, arrived to construct the first recording studio in the history of the region.
The label quickly identified Mango as a recording priority and organized a campaign to construct a new home for the singer. This culminated in him playing a number of live shows around the country to raise funds for the project – all this within two years of his amputation.
Fueling his passion for music, the BSS secured funding from an international cultural organization to produce an album. Mango jumped at the opportunity to record songs he had written long ago but never had the opportunity to share with his fans.
The result is *i*What a Hard Time*i*: a gritty, playful and energetic collection of songs that allows Mango to expand beyond the Maypole sounds that dominated his previously recorded work to include the Bolero influenced, swinging nightclub sounds of pre-earthquake Managua.
Mango has since been situated in more comfortable living accommodations. His solo record, What a Hard Time, is lined up for release by Bluefields Sound System in the near future. It will be distributed internationally, and available in CD and downloadable .mp3 format. For more information visit www.bluefieldsound.com/mango