Reggae band performs atop Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of elephant poaching (Q & A)


Fred Swegles, Orange County Register

Date Published

See link for photo.

Climbing the tallest mountain in Africa to play music at an elevation of 18,639 feet is not the usual gig for a reggae-ska band made up of surfers from San Clemente.

Four members of the band Tunnel Vision, joined by a sit-in sax player from the San Diego band Slightly Stoopid, did just that in February while on a mission with their record label to raise awareness about the plight of Africa’s elephants, which are being killed off by poachers for their tusks.

San Clemente’s City Council saluted Hayden Hanson, Jacob Hernandez, Matthew Risley and Tanner Payan, together with sax player Daniel De La Cruz, at the April 4 council meeting. They received certificates of recognition proclaiming world records for highest live-stream concert and highest live-stream sax solo in history.

Getting up and down the mountain with battery-powered gear was a massive undertaking. Meanwhile, they won the hearts and minds of porters and tribal groups who embraced their mission and sang with them.

We asked the band members about their trip to Africa. They collaborated on the answers below via email.

Q: How did the band get into a campaign against elephant poaching?

A: The record label for Tunnel Vision is WhiskeyBarrel Records. The owner of WhiskeyBarrel Records, Tom Maxwell, has a non-profit 503(c) WildLife First Foundation. We were also joined by DELA, of Slightly Stoopid, as our saxophonist for the expedition.

Q: Whose idea was it to climb the Mt. Kilimanjaro?

A: Tom Maxwell and Johan Ernst Nilson. Johan was our expedition guide up Mount Kilimanjaro. Johan is an internationally acclaimed expeditioner and wildlife preservation activist.

Q: How many people were in your entourage, and how many porters?

A: Approximately 350 porters to get the band and equipment up to base camp, 12 porters to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. There was a support team of approximately 45 individuals that were not porters.

Q: What does something like that cost, and how did you fund it?

A: Definitely not an inexpensive undertaking both financially and physically. The owner of WhiskeyBarrel Records, Tom Maxwell, personally funded the cost of the expedition.

Q: How long did it take to get to the top, how long were you at the summit and how long to get back down?

A: 7 days, 8 to 9 hours a day climbing to reach the summit, 2.5 hours at Gilman’s Point, one of the summits of Kilimanjaro. Recommended time at the summit was 15 to 30 minutes. We spent 2.5 hours in the limited oxygen. It was extremely hard on the body, mentally and physically. Then two days (roughly 9 hours a day) to descend.

Q: Can you describe the vibe on the trip?

A: It was just a great experience. Once the tribes knew what we were there for, helping to protect the elephants, we were treated with such respect. It was really an experience for us hiking into the different villages during the climb and having the tribes welcome us to the camps singing their tribal songs.

Q: Did anything crazy happen on the way up?

A: We had an amazing experience at base camp before the ascent to the summit. Hundreds of Chagga Tribe porters began chanting their Kilimanjaro songs. The band quickly geared up and played with the tribes. It was amazing being at 15,000 feet, rocking out with hundreds of tribal singers. Biggest surprise was summiting and realizing there is very little oxygen up there. Playing a music set was going to be a tall order. We hit the oxygen tanks that were brought up for us and did our job, accomplishing the highest live streamed terrestrial concert in history.

Q: What’s it like at 18,000 feet elevation?

A: It was very hard performing at that altitude for many reasons – temperature, wind, exhaustion and very little oxygen when you need it. We acclimated gradually during the ascent. What’s amazing is we started the expedition at 90 degrees in the jungles of Tanzania and end up at -2 degrees on the summit seven days later. We went through all four seasons in seven days.

Q: How was your health through these extreme conditions?

A: From a performance standpoint, I don’t know how you could completely acclimate to performing for any period of time at that altitude. We had several members of the band with signs of altitude sickness, but we just kept pushing through to achieve our goal. Everyone made it off the summit and back to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in great health.

Q: How many people have seen your live stream from Gilman’s Point? What has been the reaction?

A: 23,000 people watched the live stream. The reaction was amazing. We were blown away by the attention we received and have been receiving through social media. The whole journey has made us aware of how concerned the entire planet is about the survival of the African elephant. The outreach and response has been amazing.

Q: Is there a special song you performed?

A: “Other Side of The Mountain.” This single will be released in May to raise money, through iTunes, to help with the anti-poaching campaign. The song is a mash between The Gladiators’ “On The Other Side” and UB40’s “Sing Our Own Song.” We rewrote the lyrics to support the elephant anti-poaching campaign.

Q: What else did you play at the summit?

A: A song off our new album coming out in June, “Days Away.” DELA, of Slightly Stoopid, performed a saxophone solo of “Amazing Grace,” also setting a record for the highest live-streamed saxophone solo. We finished with a song off our last album, “Citrus Skies.”

Q: How many people were there for your gig at the summit?

A: Only 12 porters were chosen for the final 4,000 ft. ascent, which started at 4 a.m. the morning of Feb. 11. We summited at Gilman’s Point, 18,639 ft. at approximately 12 p.m. There were approximately 35 of the support group that ascended to the summit, as well.

Q: Why the need for a campaign against elephant poaching?

A: The current efforts are not working, given the poaching rate of 35,000 African elephants killed annually, habitat loss, predators, huge loss of birthing mothers and the addition of the natural mortality rate. The African elephant will be extinct in just under 10 years. That’s just unimaginable that mankind would bring extinction to such an amazing, gentle giant. We saw their amazing nature first hand. They were like these massive puppies, four ton massive puppies.

Q: How has this adventure change you personally?

A: It has made us more aware of the planet. To know that mankind can drive an entire species to extinction simply for their ivory tusks highlights mankind’s greed over the survival of one of our planet’s greatest inhabitants, the African elephant. We all surf, we use and respect the planet and its oceans. I believe the expedition has made us more aware of the damage that mankind is inflicting on our ecosystem. An ecosystem that we need to survive as a species.

Q: Do you have an upcoming local gigs?

A: We will be playing in Capo Beach at Sunsets the 8th,15th, and 30th and May 26th at OC Tavern in San Clemente.