Reggae Legend Living In Our Midst: Meet Mikey “Mao” Chung


A few weeks ago, at Jammin’ Jon’s Rock Out for Autism at the Rockaway Brewing Co., you may have heard a rootsy reggae ensemble featuring various musicians and vocalists, including saxophonist Douglas Guthrie and dub poet Ras Atiba. However, a reserved Asian gentleman masterfully playing the guitar with the band may have wooed you, not just with his artistry, but his reserved, yet self-assured air of mystery. Well folks, this man is reggae legend, Mikey “Mao” Chung, who since January has been living in Rockaway, and is gearing up to spread his passion for the Jamaican music genre here in the community, that he and others, revolutionized and built all over the planet.

Chung and his late brother, Geoffrey Chung, are two of Jamaica’s undisputed musical champions, driving reggae’s worldwide music invasion. They were part of internationally-known bands such as The Minstrels, The Virtues, The Mighty Mystics and famously, the Now Generation. Chung was a top session player for artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Issacs, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Marcia Griffiths, Inner Circle, Black Uhuru, Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point All Starts, The Skatalites, and even crossed music genres by playing with The Rolling Stones, Grace Jones, Serge Gainsbourg, and James Brown. He’s even played for contemporary reggae artists such as Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Garnet Silk, Shaggy, Morgan Heritage—and this is just to name a few.

Chung was born in 1950, in Manchester parish on the island of Jamaica to Chinese parents. His father was a shopkeeper and his mother was a seamstress. When he was nine years old, his father became ill, and the family traveled to their ancestral roots in China, so his father could get treatment in Hong Kong. After a year and a half, the family returned to Jamaica, where they moved to the capital, Kingston.

Chung said, “Returning to Jamaica and settling in Kingston was a blessing. My father bought a bakery, opposite a street called Tewari Crescent. This was a big music hub, and Geoffrey and I just became enraptured with the whole scene. I guess, you could say that’s where our love for reggae was born.”

However, according to Chung, his parents were not too fond of he and his brother’s love for the exploding reggae scene, especially his father. “I attended St. Georges College, a prestigious all-male, Roman Catholic high school in Kingston. However, by this time, I was already playing in a band that my friends and I formed called, The Minstrels. I played drums, but when my grandmother went to the U.S., and bought me an acoustic guitar, I immediately started playing, and you could say the guitar took over my life. However, my dad did not want his sons to be in music. He had what he considered bigger aspirations for us. After gigs, we used to get locked out of the house, however, thankfully my mom used to sneak us in,” Chung said.

Though self-taught, mid-career, Chung decided to formalize his music training at the Jamaica College of Music. Then in the late 70s, thirsty for more experience in the international reggae music scene, Chung migrated to New York, and even used to visit Rockaway Beach. “I lived and played music for many bands in NY for over 15 years. My first wife and I used to come to Rockaway all the time. We loved the ocean. Back then, Rockaway was so different, not as built up, but still nice to visit. So, it’s ironic to think that here I am back in Rockaway, of course much older, but still vibing to the community and its music scene,” Chung said.

Last year, Chung was in cancer treatment and suffered a heart attack, so he returned to his old stomping grounds, NYC, for health reasons. However, how he ended up living in Rockaway, a place he used to visit decades ago, is a true testament of how life really turns full circle.

Giorgio Zanardi, founder of RCK 97, dubbed as the first reggae movement of Rockaway, said his bandmate, saxophonist Douglas Guthrie, contacted him inquiring if he knew of an apartment for an old friend. “Doug asked me if I knew of any rentals because his friend was in NY and needed a place to stay, while he was recuperating from his health treatment. I didn’t know who he was, but of course, immediately began asking around. Finally, when I met Mikey, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I was meeting, ‘The Mikey Chung!’” Fortunately not just for Chung, but the Rockaway community, Zanardi was able to find a welcoming dwelling for the music legend.

How veteran Jamaican-born musician, also a Rockaway resident, Guthrie, and Chung reunited is another riveting narrative. “One day, I’m on 42nd Street, and I see Mikey. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a great friend, whom I knew since childhood, playing in various music circles in Jamaica,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie studied music at the famous Alpha Boys School in Jamaica, and performed with with Alpha Boys Band, which produced many of Jamaica’s legendary musicians. He said that he and Mikey became friends, as two young lads going to school in the same area, and of course their even more significant bond—the love for reggae music.

“One day, I was walking down the street, and I heard this band playing. I saw Mikey Chung, and I asked him if I could join, and that’s where our history as friends and fellow artists began, right in Vineyard Town in Kingston. Mikey and I banded again when we played with The Virtues, Inner Circle, New Generation and others.  We were so tight as friends that when I started working, I used to stop at his house every day for lunch or dinner.

“So you could imagine the feelings of love and excitement that poured when I saw Mikey. This was not just my childhood friend, but a man I immensely respect as a musician. He was not one of those reggae artists that sought fame for the money or celebrity. Though well respected, he never comprised his integrity or authenticity. This is why he is so respected worldwide,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie and Zanardi with their band, RCK97, are beyond excited to present Mikey “Mao” Chung to the Rockaway community. Save the date! On Sunday, June 30, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., RCK97, featuring Zanardi, Guthrie and dub poet Ras Atiba, Ital Corner and Mikey “Mao” Chung will be performing at Caracas.

“I said to Mikey, 'This is our chance to present to Rockaway what our reggae culture is really all about.' For us music is life, and we want to share the love right here in Rockaway.” For more info, check out RCK97 on Facebook.