RJ Melbin caught up with Joaquin ‘Quino’ McWhinney, the lead singer from Big Mountain, an American band best known for their cover of Peter Frampton’s ‘Baby, I Love Your Way,’ which hit No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100, No. 1 on the Mainstream Top 40, and No. 2 in the UK in early 1994. It was featured on the soundtrack for Ben Stiller’s film, ‘Reality Bites’ starring Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke.
Big Mountain’s name itself is a symbolic gesture of social consciousness. Quino’s band, originally known as Shiloh, did a benefit concert in the 1980s to gather funds to combat a British mining company’s relocation operations in Arizona, which included 12,000 native Hopi and Navajo tribes, in order to strip-mine coal in a sacred mountain known as Big Mountain. Quino used the pseudonym for his band as a show of solidarity to bring attention to the injustice at Big Mountain.
Quino is of Mexican/Irish heritage, and various members of his family have performed as mariachi musicians. A documentary about Bob Marley and Rastafari, piqued his interest in reggae. Quino is an evolving artist who is pushing his talent to reach a broader audience while also adding depth and range to his message of peace, love, and global justice.
Quino hails from a culturally diverse family steeped in music, activism, and tragedy, which has shaped his conscience and intellect. Little Joaquin, named after a Mexican ‘Robin Hood’ rebel Joaquin Murrieta, was born in 1966 in San Diego, California, to a Scot-Irish father and a Mexican mother. He relocated to Honduras at the age of five while his father, an educated agriculturalist, worked for Dole Bananas. Quino’s brother, James McWhinney, was born in Central America in 1973 and also sings with Big Mountain. Unfortunately, Quino’s mother returned to San Diego with the boys shortly after his birth, embroiled in a whispered scandal over their father’s savage stabbing death, leaving Quino aged seven and his family with a strange loss that never received an investigation or trial, let alone closure.
Quino’s mother remarried four years later to an African American photographer, college lecturer, and businessman whom Quino adores. He recalls watching “60 Minutes” with his stepfather about a profile on Bob Marley on American television news. Quino’s father bought and played Bob Marley’s Kaya record the next day, instilling in him a passion for reggae as a teen. To add to it, Quino’s politically active Mexican aunt lived with a Rastafarian and introduced him to writers such as Howard Zinn and his book ‘The People’s History of the United States,’ which shaped Quino’s understanding of oppression and injustice over time.
Quino’s Mexican grandfather and two uncles performed Mexican songs professionally, adding more music to his rich life, supporting a Latin mix of world music in their multicultural household. Quino glided into Latin reggae with the same smooth melodic rhythm, cultural spirit, and fascinating versatility in his vocals that was reflected in his 1994 smash, ‘Baby, I Love Your Way.’ Quino’s seductive voice is a wonderful complement for his gorgeous appearance and soulful conscience, which can captivate any female audience.
Quino once turned down an opportunity to headline a concert in Sri Lanka with Maxi Priest, as a protest against the injustices and brutality inflicted upon the indigenous Tamil people in northern Sri Lanka. Quino’s worldwide intellectual perspective and consciousness-raising mentality would keep him from taking part in a venue with a tumultuous history of alleged oppression, violence, and human rights violations.
Quino’s solo, self-produced album La Ofrenda by Quinazo, released in 2010, was a personal bilingual concept album using reggae/rastafarian means to connect to his Aztec mythology and Mexican ancestry.
Quino spent a few years at Olympian High School, east of San Diego, where he taught multi-media and sound engineering classes. This gave him the opportunity to encourage young people to acquire a social conscience and provide them with practical experience for a future in the music, film, and radio industries. Quino ended his teaching career to tour with UB40 and Billy Ocean in Australia and New Zealand in January 2012, after taking the years prior to that, to focus on his family while still performing on his days off.
RJ Melbin struck up a great conversation with Quino. Check it out in the video below!