Jan 24, 2011
In this article, the comrades of the Nigerian Marxist journal, Workers' Alternative, examine the revolutionary essence of the music and songs of the late Afro-beat master, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who died on August 2, 1997. The article was originally written on the first anniversary of his death. This artist was and still is extremely popular among African workers and youth for the radical and revolutionary content of his lyrics.
Fela's musical life spanned through a period of almost four decades, from the 1960s through to the 1990s. When he first started in the 1960s, his brand of music was the 'Highlife', which he performed with other artists in many night-clubs in Lagos.
However, in the late 1960s to early 1970s, he went to the United States where he came in contact with the Black Panthers and the ideas of Malcolm X and co. By the time he came back his musical orientation had started to have a Pan-Africanist content.
In the same vein, the previous political activities of his parents had definitely had an effect in shaping his political outlook later in life. His father, the late Rev. Ransome-Kuti, was the acknowledged first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, while his mother was a renowned women's rights activist, who once led the protest of Egba women against excessive taxation by the British Colonialists.
In line with his Pan-Africanist identity, he later changed his surname, Ransome-Kuti, a hybrid of a slave name and an African name to Anikulapo-Kuti, which is completely African. "Anikulapo" literally means "he that has pocketed death".
His political outlook soon developed a plebeian audience for his music. He later adopted broken English (pidgin) as the language of his lyrics. Pidgin is the lingua franca of most of the working masses and plebeian youth in Nigeria. Hence, the pidgin lyrics made his communication and criticism of the "powers-that-be" very clear to his plebeian audience.
Initially he sang songs that were generally not political, in his native Yoruba tongue and in English (albums like "water e no get enemy" and "A Lu Jon Jon ki Jon". But he soon started to sing anti-establishment songs, which very quickly brought him in collision with both imperialism and their local agents in power at home.
He soon became an avowed enemy of the ruling military Junta of General Obasanjo [over 20 years ago when he was military dictator] and their collaborators like MKO Abiola. Notwithstanding threats and intimidation, he continued his criticisms of the military dictatorship and its imperialist friends - such as the owners of multinationals companies like Shell, ITT, Mobil, etc.
The ruthless invasion, in 1977, of his 'plebeian-cultured' "Kalakuta republic" in Ojuelegba, Lagos, by 'unknown soldiers', who maimed and raped its inhabitants, and looted and burnt the place down is an indication of how much hatred the Junta had for Fela, and how much they saw him as a threat.
The album "Unknown Soldier" released later, enunciated in a clearly emotional-laden narration what took place during that brutal invasion of his estate by obvious agents of the Obasanjo led Junta. A government 'Judicial' panel of enquiry later declared the invaders as "unknown soldiers", confiscated his estate (Kalakuta), arrested the occupants (including Fela) and drove away over 2000 citizens living in the vicinity of Kalakuta.
To think that the bitter experience of the Kalakuta republic would cow Fela into submission was a big mistake. He soon continued his criticism of the military order. The album "Zombie" was an attempt to explain the 'command nature' of the military. It was a message to the low-ranking military men to think about the dogmatic Zombie-like order of "obeying before complaining". But more importantly it was to emphasise the fact that such a philosophy was being introduced into civil society by the then ruling Junta. And he wanted to stress that unlike the military low ranking soldiers, the civil society, including himself, would definitely complain without obeying.
Similarly, he did not stop his exposure of the looting that was going on between the military 'rulers' and their collaborators in the civilian wing of the Nigerian ruling class. An example of such is the narration in the album 'ITT' (translated as International Thief Thief) an otherwise acronym for the multinational International Telegraph and Telecommunications. In this particular masterpiece of an album, Fela was able to bring out clearly, how millions of dollars (in the form of exaggerated contract fees) were being siphoned out of Nigeria by the ITT. Under the local chairmanship of MKO Abiola, with the active connivance of the Obasanjo and Yar'aduas of this world. The album ITT remains a song that will continue to have a clear revolutionary class approach to the past and present day Nigerian political and economic crisis.
Furthermore, the album "Army Arrangement" released in 1985 revealed the mismanagement of the economy by the past regimes in Nigeria, both military and civilian governments alike. It exposed their methods of thievery, among others. It similarly showed that nothing good could come out of the then civilian rule, which he claimed correctly was to come about with the participation of the "same old politicians (in the UPN, NPN, PRP&GNPP) who ruled (ruined) and spoiled Nigeria before." The album was a revelation of the inherent class links between the military Generals and the civilian wing (so called 'political class') of the ruling capitalist class.
"Suffer Head" must go
"Suffer Head" is another masterpiece of the 1980s. Released at a time when the living conditions of the poor masses were getting worse. He was able to put across graphically, the terrible living conditions of the working masses. Describing, among others, how "ten people sleep inside one small room" in the slums; how the transportation system was so bad that "my people are packed inside buses like sardines"; how water, food and light (electricity) were both lacking or grossly inadequate. He then linked these to the cynical nomenclature of underdeveloped nations.
He furthered criticised the essence of the United Nations' cynical programmes of "food-house-health etc., for all by the year 2000". He tagged them programme of deceit. In conclusion, Fela made a revolutionary appeal that "suffer head must go! And J'eba head must come" (eba is a popular meal in Nigeria).
Albums like "Overtake Don Overtake Overtake" (ODOO) and "Big Blind Country" (BBC) were attempts to expose how the various military take-overs in Africa were fundamentally the same in their methods of dictatorship. However, in ODOO he was able to expose the international collaboration and treachery involved in the killings of the young radical military leader of Burkina Faso, Captain Thomas Sankara. Fela's conclusions were, however, not clear on what should have been the true revolutionary alternative to the existing military dictatorships in Africa.
In "Perambulator", also of the early 1980s, he explained among others, how the situation never changes - "we go dey perambulate am for the same place, same, same place", he said. But more importantly, he was able to see through the life of a typical worker, for example the civil service worker. Where he said, "after acquiring his 'colonial form' of education, he started work, was in service for 35 years. After which he remain without property (at best he owns one old bicycle) and "if he no tire, dem go tire am, dem go dash am one gold wrist watch, 35 years of service all im property one old bicycle".
Among other revolutionarily intoxicating masterpieces of Fela is his "Authority Stealing" where he elaborated the methodology of stealing among the ruling elite. Equally worth mentioning is the grand success of the album "Beast of No Nation". He made a masterpiece of this work, by revealing clearly the hypocritical nature of the United Nations and "how disunited is the United Nation" and attacked the silly talk about 'dashing' the poor masses abstract 'Human Rights'. He concluded correctly, that "human rights na my property-animal cannot dash me human rights".
"Lady" is a controversial album released in the mid 1970s. Here Fela criticised the orientation and appellation "Lady" of a new generation of women. He campaigned for the retaining of the past 'virtues' of African women, including the complete subordination to the male-folk, among others, and against the bleaching of the dark skin by Africa ladies.
Fela maintained that bleaching reflects a colonial mentality, however he reveals his inadequacies in not understanding the double exploitation of female members of the working populace, that is both gender discrimination (complete subordination to the male-folk) and class exploitation. It is not progressive on Fela's part, to say that the female folk should not rival their male counterparts.
Furthermore, despite his general views on society, some of which showed a deep understanding, he couldn't proffer a solution to the crisis facing society in general, nor could he see the need to organise the working masses in struggle, nor how to end oppression. This was why he took refuge in mysticism, as he believed that only the intervention of the gods could bring about change.
Generally speaking, Fela is a legend in his own right, his sometimes-extreme pan-Africanism notwithstanding. For example, his correct criticism of the deceit embodied in the foreign religions like Christianity and Islam, in some of his albums, does not automatically make him a scientific Materialist-Atheist. But on the contrary he shed the "White deceits" for another confusion - African religion, where he proclaimed himself the Chief Priest at his African Shrine and he normally worshipped past Pan-Africanists like Kwame Nkrumah and his late mother.
Another confusion in Fela's thinking were his extreme Pan-Africanist views on Orthodox medicine. For example, in 'Perambulator' he was very critical of taking Orthodox (white men's) medicine, e.g. in the cure of Jedi-Jedi (piles); he instead advocated traditional (herbal) options.
While he was right to have made a case for Traditional Medicine, it was unscientific of him to have called for the complete abandonment of Orthodox Medicine, simply because, according to him, it was not African. Right up to his death he never believed that AIDS was real, he always said that it was the disease of the "White man".
But the Struggle continues
However, in spite of Fela's limitations in not seeing beyond the continental barriers [of Africa] in the struggle for a better society, he made his mark. It is the task of the conscious workers and youth to understand both the progressive aspects of Fela's works and his limitations. The aim of the present day struggle is that of overthrowing capitalism throughout Africa and internationally, and to replace it with Socialism, where the resources of humanity will be equitably managed and distributed.
The multitude of the working masses, particularly the youth, that turned up at the burial ceremony of Fela is a clear expression of his wide appeal. Fela was not seen as the champion of one ethnic section of the country against the other, but rather as the mouthpiece of all the oppressed masses. Adieu Fela, the Struggle continues!
Source, written by Oke Ogunde
Jan 21, 2011
When record collectors talk shop, conversation can often lead to someone saying “damn, someone must be sitting on a pile of those records”. This is a photo of Frank Gossner, an avid collector of Afrobeat music from West Africa who has turned his love of African music into a career that has lead to doing DJ sets and compiling reissues for record labels.
This photo is a document of a recent journey to Ghana and Nigeria, but you’ll have to read his journey towards the records. The actual color photos of what he found are amazing, one of the photos is captioned “My head was about to explode”. Any of us who have done any level of digging and collecting will know what it means to find something decent, but this is, in the words of the Geto Boys, the other level of the game.
Frank Gossner - the King of Voodoo Funk
There are some of us who love music, and then there is Frank Gossner. He can't really be described as a music lover - that is just not strong enough. A disciple, per haps... At one point, Frank literally packed his bags and moved to West Africa, where he lived for years collecting vinyl. Not only is Frank one of the most respected record collectors in the world, as founder of the Voodoo Funk parties, he has helped the world realize what Mama Africa has known for centures - that African music is no joke! As he prepares for upcoming shows in Brooklyn, NY and Washington D.C., Frank took some time to discuss his passion for African vinyl and life as an itinerant collector.
How long have you been dj’ing and collecting records; and how did you first start digging for African records?
I've been buying records since I was a kid. Mostly Rock and I was really into Punk and so called Alternative Rock when I was a teenager. When CDs came up, I stopped buying new releases, partly because I didn't feel like spending money on such a crappy format, but also because I was getting more and more into Funky European Movie Soundtracks, French Pop from the 60’s and other stuff I could find in flea markets and second hand stores.
I began dj’ing this type of music in illegal nightclubs in Berlin around 1994 and moved to NYC two years later where I began buying loads of Funk 45s and Latin Soul records. I went back to Berlin in 2000 to establish a successful Funk party. On one of my digging trips to Philadelphia, I discovered a stack of Nigerian records on the Tabansi label that somehow had ended up in the back room of a store named Smith's Records. Among them was the “Pax Nicholas” LP, which I eventually re-issued on Daptone Records. This find, along with those great compilations on Soundway Records led me to believe that there must be so much more out there.
Yeah, that “Pax Nicholas” LP is HOT!!!! I didn’t realize you were involved in that project. Thanks for breaking that one! (Editor’s note: The expression “breaking a record” means to be the first to introduce it to major audiences.) So what is it about African records that has inspired such passion and dedication from you to become one of the most respected collectors of African music in the world?
Unlike with US Funk 45s, there still are a lot of African records out there, which to this day, are unknown outside of Africa. It is the most exciting feeling to be in a dusty warehouse someplace in the middle of nowhere and put a record on the portable turntable that you've never seen before. I can hardly think of anything more rewarding and then when I get the chance to play these records for other people... life doesn't get much better than this! (Editor's note: for those of you who have never had the pleasure of playing a record, a "45" is a small 7 inch record with a single song on each side...called "45s" because they have to be played at a speed of 45 rpm on a turntable.)
That is an amazing feeling…it’s like re-discovering a piece of artistic genius that the world has forgotten. O.k., so while most collectors are satisfied buying from other collectors, what inspired you to actually pick up and move to Africa? Where exactly were you in Africa, and for how long?
I wanted to have unfiltered access to the music. I lived in Conakry, Guinea for three years and from there made uncountable trips to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin and Nigeria.
Do you have a favorite destination in Africa?
I think I enjoyed my stays in Benin the most but also had incredible experiences in the forest region of Guinea and on the beaches of the Freetown peninsula.
What's the craziest adventure you've had while digging for vinyl? I always find the bargaining aspect kind of intriguing.
I always get asked about this and can never find an answer. I never had anything really crazy happen to me while digging for records. The digging itself was probably one of the more relaxing and soothing experiences I had while living in Africa.
Craziness would strike at other times. For example when a Guinean friend and I had to bring life saving medication to his wife who was in critical condition in a hospital in Conakry and the security guard would demand a bribe in order to let us through and we actually had to get physical with this guy, which almost led to a riot amongst other waiting relatives in front of the gate who were cheering us on and hospital staff who was shocked at our refusal to obey the guard.
Or when we couldn't leave the house for weeks due to heavy shooting and an army curfew and eventually had to flee through the jungle into Sierra Leone, and I was wearing a made up fantasy uniform with photoshopped ID plaque identifying myself as "General Gossner" in order to impress the armed drunkards that were manning the uncountable military checkpoints.
After a while a lot of the daily experiences when on the road, looking for records seemed perfectly normal although someone else might consider them a "crazy adventure.” Like for example when we barely avoided a head-on collision with a truck due to a blown tire and my driver insisted on seeing a witch doctor and handing out chunks of raw meat to the poor in an effort to get the spiritual support of the gods for the remainder of our travel.
That’s hilarious! But it reminds me of an anecdote in “Shadow of the Sun” by Ryszard Kapuscinski. During his sojourn in Africa, he marveled at the unshakeable belief in fate and the power of the spirits. Rather than attributing a mechanical failure to poor maintenance, many people will believe that they’ve been cursed. Very different from the Western way of thinking… Alright…sorry…one of my famous digressions. Let’s get back to you…
So I know you've met a number of the original artists. What do they think when you express interest in their music? Are they surprised that this dude from Europe is so interested in their music?
They usually are mildly surprised and of course they are pleased. But in general, these artists are very well aware of the significance of their music. Maybe it's just my personal viewpoint but I think for any outsider, even for the more obsessed European or American collector, this music still doesn't have the same importance and relevance it had for its original African audience.
I don't like this certain Western attitude towards African artists as in "Now that we have discovered your incredible music, it finally matters and now you might get the attention you deserve, isn't this great? Aren't you overcome with happiness about this?"
Being able to listen to this music should count as a blessing and as an honor to outsiders like us and we should be humbled by the experience and surprised at how long we have been ignorant.
Amen to that! It's kind of hard to ask people their favorite artists...so instead, what do you think has been your greatest find to date?
Maybe this unknown LP by Orlando Julius that I'm in the process of getting re-issued right now...or those two 45s by the Psychedelic Aliens, which also will be out later this year. Not that I'm just trying to plug these releases here but I feel a strong obligation to have finds of really great importance be re-issued right away.
So what in store for the future? What projects are you working on? Any trips planned back to Africa?
I'm working on a string of re-issues and compilations. The Psychedelic Aliens and the Marijata records will hit the market within the next few months and I'm going back to Africa once or twice every year. I might even move back there sometime not too far in the future. To be honest, NYC can seem as a relatively dull and boring place in comparison.
Where are your upcoming parties, for those who want to experience exactly what makes a Voodoo Funk party the best?
My next parties are this coming Sunday August 15th at Brooklyn's Fire Proof And I'm spinning in Washington DC on Saturday August 21st at the Dahlak Restaurant.
Are you available for bookings?
Always! E-mail me anytime at email@example.com for bookings.
Jan 19, 2011
Yeni Kuti , the first child and daughter of late Afro beat maestro , Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is a reporter’s delight .
What are you doing right now?
I’m running the African Shrine and planning Felabration.
If I do any other business right now, it would distract me. I don’t need any other thing to distract me. It’s our main source of income. We built it to succeed. When we built it, we planned to make it work. So that is where all my whole attention is.
Do you still dance?
Not like before. I don’t dance for shows. I just do rehearsals with our dancers. Just choreography. Sometimes, when I feel I have added weight, I do continuous rehearsals with our dancers. Like now, I’m too fat. I do rehearsals. I know that dancing keeps me fit and in shape. I have a big tummy, but I dance at home just to lose the extra pounds.
Would you consider dancing in home videos?
Yes, if I like the role and have the time.
You wear your natural hair. How do you maintain it?
I “texturise” it once a year. Every night before I sleep, I use different creams and I plait it Calabar style . That keeps it soft and from breaking. I wash it maybe every two weeks. My daughter said I should wash it more.
Her hair is much longer than mine but not as thick. She introduced me to different new creams good for African hair. Before she uses any cream or shampoo, she explores the Internet for hair-care products that are suitable for different hair textures . I even told her she should incorporate a business here, that she will get a lot of patronage. She would teach a lot of women how to maintain their hair. She uses a lot of natural products on her hair too.
Is your long hair due to heredity?
Yes, my mum had long hair. My mum had Red Indian blood so I think we got it from her. I think o, I’m not sure. My mum’s father was Nigerian but her mother was half English, quarter black American, quarter Red Indian. My mum’s sister too had long hair and her daughters have long hair too.
What’s your daughter doing now?
She is going back to England in search of a job. Since she graduated, she doesn’t want to stay here. She’s going back in a couple of weeks.
She finished at the University of Leeds.
So, from Vivian Fowler Memorial School, she went straight to Leeds?
No. From Vivian Fowler , she went to Oxbridge and did a one-year foundation course, and she was admitted after successfully completing the programme.
How old is she now?
Is she arts inclined? Your family and her father’s family are creative people. Does she take after you people?
Yes, she draws very well. She did a beautiful painting of me two years ago.
Does she like music?
What of dancing?
Not at all. At all. I have never even seen her dance.
So, how are you sustaining Fela’s legacy?
I’m sure you know about Felabration. Through it, we try to keep Fela’s legacy alive. The shrine was built as a memorial to Fela and it keeps his legacy alive. His records have been released again in America and will be released world wide very soon. The Fela on Broadway show is coming to Nigeria in March, so there are so many ways we are keeping his legacy alive.
This present shrine, is it different from the shrine we used to know?
Different in what sense? The building itself, we fashioned it upon the design of the old shrine, though it’s much bigger . Here we keep the toilets clean. It depends on what you mean.
Some have said The Shrine is a den of thieves and doppers.Is that correct?
Yes , that’s true about the old shrine, but Fela stopped that long before he died. It doesn’t happen in the new shrine . A lot of expatriates believe this is the safest place in Lagos. Thieves don’t disturb. It’s quiet and peaceful.
Do you sell Indian hemp in the new shrine?
We try as much as possible to stop people selling it. We don’t allow anybody to sell it inside The Shrine. The land outside The Shrine doesn’t belong to us. Inside, we do not welcome dope pushers and If by some means they smuggle it in ,we hand them over immediately to the police. So they steer clear of The shrine. I will be lying, if I say they don’t smoke hemp in the shrine. That was one of my father’s legacies. We all know that he smoked hemp. Femi has tried to stop people from smoking hemp inside The Shrine, but it’s been very difficult. We just try to curb it.
Do you smoke hemp?
No, I don’t. I don’t smoke anything.
I used to smoke cigarettes but I stopped 5 years ago.
What’s it like managing the shrine, with all these guys around?
Remember, the shrine is 10 years old. I have been running it since 10 years ago . To begin with, it was a battle. I asserted myself and they knew I meant business. It’s not a problem anymore. When they knew I’m there to stay, I’m not going anywhere , I was given different names.I don’t find it stressful at all. The stress comes more with the running of the shrine i.e buying diesel, water, and light. When PHCN withholds power, they damage our equipment in the process.
Tell us about your childhood
At school, being Fela’s daughter made me very popular among my peers and younger girls. I had over 30 school daughters. Everybody wanted to be my friend, because I am Fela’s daughter. Outside school, some people didn’t want to associate with me because I’m Fela’s daughter. The “uppercrust” children a.k.a Aje butter, as they called them. I met one particular girl whose name I don’t remember now.
When my cousin introduced me to her, she said “don’t you ever introduce me to such people”. Then, my father was in jail, I was so hurt. I said to myself how can people be so wicked. My brother Femi, had girlfriends but when their fathers found out that he was Fela son, they screamed at their daughters to discontinue the friendship. We had some pleasant experiences and bad ones while we were growing up as Fela’s son.
I believe everything in life is an experience and it’s how you deal with that experience which determines who you are in future. I don’t look at any childhood experience negatively, I look at everything positively, because it has determined who I am today. Today, I am very proud of who I am.I’m very proud to be Fela’s daughter.
I feel very blessed to have been born into that family. When people made negative comments about me as Fela’s daughter, I felt bad. But now, I couldn’t careless what they think. Everybody is entitled to its opinion. When you are younger things affect you totally than when you are older. I will give you an example. My daughter has been going to motherless babies homes like Mother Theresa.
When she’s going, I give her things for children at the home. Recently, she donated two bags of rice to them. She started visiting the home through some oyinbo friends of hers. When they saw her as a black lady they told her to go downstairs. They didn’t tell her oyinbo friends to go down o but my daughter the black person. She told them she came to visit and play with the children and they said no way.
Her oyinbo friends then said, oh “she is with us, she is black American, she can stay. Can you imagine that? When she came home, she told me about her experience and before now, I planned to buy them a generator but after her experience, she said she would never go back there again. It’s not the children’s fault .
Why are we being discriminated against in our country? I can imagine, if I was her age and something like that happened to me, I would feel so bad, but I will wash them down from head to toe. I would have confronted them. You can imagine that happening to me at 22. I would react the same way she did. I won’t go there again, but at 49, if I go there and they said rubbish, I will give them what they are looking for.
The full length of my tongue and more. I’m just trying to explain life at different stages. If someone told me don’t go there because I’m Fela’s daughter, I would keep quiet but now, if someone says that I would call her a fool. She is the loser.
What’s your relationship like with your siblings; especially Femi and Seun?
I’m very close to all of them. Of course, Femi and I are in the same age bracket, so we are close. I’m friendly with every one of them.
When your daughter was growing, what’s your experience of motherhood?
Luckily for me, when she was growing up, my mother was still alive. She grew up very close to my mum. When I was performing, she stayed with my mum. If you listen to her, she speaks with an accent which sounds very English because she grew up with my mum and grandmother. She decided not to talk like us very early in her life. I sacrificed a lot for her. I remember paying her fees when she was in the university.
I could have used the money to buy a new car just to make myself feel good, but to me, her education was more important . If I bought a new car , it would be old and worthless ultimately, but if I train my daughter, it’s my legacy. Even if she wants to do her Masters, I will pay for it. I stopped smoking, principally because of my daughter and my chest was hurting. I said to myself, my daughter is at the university, if I die before she graduates who will pay her school fees?
That was why I stopped smoking. I stopped smoking the year she was entering the university. I said to myself when she graduates and she’s settled-up for life on her own, then I would start smoking again. But now, I’m not thinking about smoking again.
Do you work everyday?
Yes, but I haven’t gone to work this week, I’m off duty. I’ve not rested after Felabration. It was one week of working morning, afternoon and night. I just decided to rest. Also, I was trying to lose weight. I put one thing around my stomach and now I have serious blisters on my stomach. I didn’t celebrate New Year’s Day satisfactorily . The thing was too tight and it was really paining me , but I thought it’s reducing my stomach with the pains.
What’s your impression about marriage?
I don’t have anything against marriage, but it’s not proper when you’re married to cheat on your husband. Married women should be advised that if they’re not interested anymore they should leave and not just cheat on their husbands. An American guy told my brother that married women are chasing him.
Coming from his own part of the world, he couldn’t understand that logic. Here it’s so rampant. To me, marriage is sacred and you have to respect those vows. If I won’t respect conjugal vows , I won’t bother about marriage at all. But at my age, I don’t think about marriage.
What if your partner decides to marry you?
We are going to decide. I have my house, he has his house. This is my house, I love it. I don’t know. We have to sort out somethings.
You prefer to be single?
No, I’m not single. We see each other everyday. I spend time at his place, he spends time with me too. Right now, we have a perfect relationship. If we were going to take it to another level, that would be another level. But we haven’t taken it to that level yet.
What’s your impression of a typical Nigerian man?
Nigerian men, I don’t know. I don’t want them to abuse me. But they like women. They are ambitious goal getters and can be very successful when they face their work. They can be promiscuous , but each human being is unique and I don’t want to generalize .
How do you spend your Sundays?
Right now, we are on holidays . Normally , Femi plays on Sundays, so I’m at The Shrine, I don’t get home until about 4.am in the morning.
So you don’t go to church on Sundays?
No. I’m a free thinker. I have been a free thinker since I was 24 years. My partner sometimes takes me to church. I believe in prayers and in church they pray too.
What do you mean by that?
I believe in God , but I don’t discuss religion. I believe religion is the private domain of the individual . If it’s church that is your own way, go to church, if it’s the mosque go to the mosque. Religion is such a touchy subject. Some people can get emotional about it. During a program at TBS tagged Experience or something, my ex-husband took my daughter and asked if I won’t be coming along. I told him I’m already experienced. He took offence at my comment, but I was just joking.
What do you miss about your mum?
I really miss my mum. Her death was a rude shock. She died 8 years ago. We were supposed to move into this house together. It didn’t happen. I miss her wisdom. She was just for us and would sacrifice anything for her children. Her whole life was her children. She was always in the house. She supported us 110 percent. She helped us build the shrine at that time.
How do you maintain so many dogs?
Since childhood, we’ve always had pets. We moved into this place with three dogs which gave birth to many. If not dogs, we probably would have monkeys here as well. When we were growing up, we had monkeys too. My father too liked animals and before government burnt his house he had 8 dogs. They killed the dogs in that raid. He had 2 monkeys, a donkey and lots of other pets as well.
We grew up loving monkeys as well. When we were kids, we had a dog in the house that was for my sister and the monkeys were Femi’s. The cat was mine. I was the laziest among the three of us. You know you don’t have to train cats. Dogs and monkeys you have to train, so I stuck to the cat. Femi and Sola were always cleaning their defecation and my cat would just go outside and do her own.
Your father was fashionable. How come he ended up wearing pants?
He never wore pants alone. It’s a misconception. In his house he wore pants. You came to visit him in his house. He was an African. He didn’t want to wear anything but pants. Anytime he stepped-out of his house, he wore clothes. Sometimes, he wore trousers alone. I don’t know why people say this. A lot of pictures were taken of him in pants. He never wore pants outside his house or on stage. Never. For his shows, he normally removed his shirt and painted his body but he was always in trousers .
What do you miss most about your father?
I think it’s the gisting mostly. We shared ideas, giving him gist about what was happening in Nigeria. His own interpretation of things. Like he would call CNN “See No News”. I liked watching him play and enjoyed his music. He did that every Friday. I just danced by the side of the stage and enjoyed myself. I never danced for him.
I danced for my brother. My brother formed his Positive Force band in 1986 and we were the foundation members. I danced for the band from 1986 to 2003.
sunnewsonline.com, by Christy Anyanwu, January 2011
Jan 18, 2011
El Rego et Ses Commandos were from Dahomey, now know as Benin.
On the African Scream Contest compilation, released by on Analog Africa, Samy Ben Redjeb interviewed Theophile Do Rego, which most people know as El Rego:
I was born on May 3, 1938, in Porto Novo. My family is originally from Ouidah. After childhood in Benin I was taken to Dakar in 1945 by a wealthy friend of my father; a usual practice at that time. It was at the school Medina de Dakar in 1952 that me and some other foreigners from Togo and Benin started a school band, which we named La Jazz De Dakar. I was the harmonica player I was back in Benin in early 1953 At that time Abela music from Ghana and Asiko from Nigeria – both kinds of Highlife – had taken over our radio waves. I started looking for musicians to form a new band, which I called La Jazz Hot. G.G. Vickey, a student at that time, became my guitar player.
At the end of 19531 left for Niamey in Niger. where I encountered a band called Los Cabanos. The lead singer was excellent, especially when performing rumba classics; and as is so often the case in Africa, he was soon pinched by a producer from Ivory Coast. I was a big fan of Franco; my favorite song was “Ele Wa Bolingo”. When the Cubanos guys heard me singing that tune they realized that they had found the perfect replacement. We had gigs in Ouagadougou all the time, so we were constantly shuttling between that town and Niamey. It didn’t take too much time before the government of Burkina Faso (haute Volta in those days) asked us to join forces with L’Orchestre Voltaique, which was the national orchestra. We used to jet-set between the countries of La Conseil de l’Entente, which was a kind of United States of Africa, comprising the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin. I stayed with that formation for quite some time, eventually deciding to return to Cotonou in 1960.
At that time the talk of the town fr, Dahomey (Republic of Benin today) was Los Panchos of Gnonnas Pedro and La Sondas of the Belair Hotel. I decided toy and soon bought some musical equipment, including an amazing Contra-Bass, an instrument I had learned to play in Niger. I formed Daho Jazz in 1962. We used to play at the Black & White Club, if I remember correctly. The owner wouldn’t let us tour; which was so important to promote the music, so I left the group and joined Gnonnas Pedro’s Los Panchos. Later in 1963, I formed another band, which I called the Jets. The Jets became Los Paras, in ‘64, then Los Commandos in ‘65, and finally El Rago at Sas Commandos in ‘66. That’s when things got really serious for us, and we decided to start touring all the neighbouring countries, inciuding Ghana. It was in Ghana that I made my first appearance on TV and more importantly, where I hired Eddy Black Power, a soul singer whom I saw performing some James Brown stuff in Accra. He would later sing on a track called – “Feeling You Got” – Albarika’s first major hit.
Also, according to Frank Gossner of amazing Voodoo Funk blog, El Rego is still alive and well in Benin.
Theophile Do Rego, known as "El Rego" was born May 3, 1936 in Porto-Novo, Dahomey. He grew up in Senegal and started his musical career in Burkina Faso with the orchestra "L'Harmonie Voltaïque". He returned to Benin (Dahomey) in 1961 and founded his first band, "La Filda", then his "Commandos". El Rego is a dandy who loves beautiful women. He had even once owned a "girls club". Passionate of boxing, he has organized numerous battles in Benin. He is now president of a regional boxing league. In July 2010, Theophile Do Rego has announced the end of his musical career.
This record, produced by the label "Radio Dahomey", is offered by the great Jam Magica's blog. It has been composed (except the title "Kpon Fila", composed by El Rego) by a little known artist: Vincent Olla. The title "Vive Le Renouveau" ("Long Life Revival") is an original and hybrid blues.
01. Vive Le Renouveau
02. E Hou Lan
03. Kpon Fi La
Labels: El Rego Et Ses Commandos
Jan 14, 2011
Thanx to frieze magazine for this interesting article! Written by Jace Clayton.
The hunt for rare African funk records raises questions about how the digitized music of the 21st century will be archived.
The current craze for African funk and soul reissues began with the death in 1997 of the Afrobeat pioneer and legendary Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Dedicated to the pursuit of undiscovered new highs, after pressing a tune to vinyl Kuti’s band would never again perform it – and he had dozens of hits. Tribute reissues began after his death, and the tide hasn’t been stemmed. If anything, it’s increased: Kuti’s success opened doors for lesser-known artists. The past six months have seen no fewer than four reissue compilations released on as many different labels. The identically marketed CDs are variously subtitled: Raw and Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s, Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970s Nigeria, Original Heavy-weight Afro Beat and Funk and so on. Kuti – who was hostile to Western interests and imbued with a visionary’s antipathy for nostalgia – would have marvelled.
The best of this season’s reissue crop is African Scream Contest: Raw and Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s. Fourteen obscure groups blaze through ingenious arrangements. Liquid guitars and funky horns take surprising turns of melody atop upbeat percussion. Psychedelic? Not really, although the word helps with marketing. Raw? Yes, and joyfully raucous, especially the vocals. The 44-page booklet accompanying Contest is a treat, commanding at least as much attention as the music itself. In it Samy Ben Redjeb, the German owner of the Analog Africa label, meticulously narrates his adventures finding musicians with rich anecdotes (taking out radio advertisements to find one singer and discovering another in the local police force’s music department, staffed by boisterous James Brown fans). Interviews and photographs reminiscent of Malick Sidibé contextualize the music’s era – even after the countries’ post-independence bubble of optimism had popped, a party was still a party. Like any proud record-digger, Redjeb also chronicles the hunt for rare LPs: ‘After about a week’s worth of searching, we cleaned the place out of the most desirable music. Although our search was highly fruitful, we were glad to finally escape that warehouse. There were scorpions in there, some of which we didn’t notice until they were crawling all over our hands! We carefully packed all the records, and a few days later I was on my way back to Frankfurt, my precious cargo stored away in the belly of an Air France plane – approximately 3,800 African vinyl records.’
The liner notes include Redjeb’s phone number, ‘To Purchase Original African Records’. What Analog Africa’s excellent compilation gives us are copies. The originals, recently pried out of a warehouse in Benin, patiently await buyers in Frankfurt. Analogue scarcity – whether signed artist prints or stamps – lends itself to a cult of the collector. Aura spikes value.
In a world of rock songs sold as ringtones and YouTube-launched singles, there’s something heroic about Redjeb’s travails. Reissues aside, there are no more treasured ‘master tapes’ to be repackaged and sold years later. The music of the early 21st century exists in a digital ecosystem. Songs now travel from a recording studio’s hard drive to CD and beyond in the form of zeros and ones. The implications reach even further than Andy Warhol’s consummately American take on Pop: ‘A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.’ Not only are all digital copies the same, but downloading 3,800 albums leaves the digital warehouse fuller than when you began. We’re living in a post-scarcity mediascape. As Mercedes Bunz explains: ‘the digital copy subtracts its secondary status. It doesn’t copy a previous original, it duplicates it. Thus, the copy’s traditional dependence on its original no longer exists, since the second version doesn’t differentiate itself from the first.’1
You can’t help but wonder how a man like Redjeb will dig for off-the-beaten-path music 40 years from now. For future hunter–gatherers of musical greatness, those dusty Benin warehouses filled with scorpions and records whose local relevance has long since evaporated will have been replaced by … what, exactly? Cluttered hard drives? Obsolete iPhones? Some people hoard MP3s, but nobody collects them in the traditional sense. Digital Africa is exemplified by the trio of expat Africans who run New York City’s bootleg CD-r mixtape industry. Contemporary vinyl production continues, but it caters to specialist markets: DJs, audiophiles, collectors. Nowadays the most obscure group (or an unaffiliated fan) maintains a page on Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace site. If a band is unGoogleable, then it effectively doesn’t exist. If it is Googleable, then it’s only a click away, whether you’re on Azerbaijani dial-up or squinting at a Blackberry in east London.
Redjeb’s narrative of discovery (‘Sean Uppal … was one of the first person [sic] to set foot in Benin in search of vinyl records. I arrived two weeks later’) gets shadowed by its doppelgänger: the journey into dissolution. Things fall apart. Of the men he seeks for interviews (and licensing discussions), several are dead, a few raise chickens, one has recovered from heroin addiction to find religion and a managerial position at the local brothel, and so on. The lasting power of these rare LPs belies the precariousness of the musicians’ lives. Yet music has always been fleeting, and musicians do nothing if not travel. The sounds on Contest were disposable pop that had the luxury of being captured on durable recorded media and the luck of being in a genre – Afrobeat – capable of sparking Western interest 40 years later.
Historical memory, in music, brings with it innate conservatism. Popular songs exist where recognizability crosses novelty. Music doesn’t get better or worse; it simply moves on. To stay fresh, genres require formal innovations that break – or simply disregard – what was previously perceived as their rules. Plus, all manner of surprises happen when the sounds bend to keep bodies giddy on the dance-floor. Don’t pay attention to the penultimate track, a ten-minute vamp by Vincent Ahehehinnou – you’ll find yourself nodding along anyhow. Critical apparatus centred on quality misses the sensual immanence of a form that propagates through constant reconfiguration.
Take hip-hop, for example. Many long-time fans heap scorn on viral phenomenon Soulja Boy, a black teenager who used audio software presets and a simple jingle-dance to secure the Number One single spot in America for seven weeks, landing a major label deal along the way. ‘A bunch of wannabe keep-it-real rappers that ain’t even relevant, recycling samples trying to act like it’s ’96 again and all they do is hate on new shit?’ blogged Kayne West in breathless defence of Soulja Boy. ‘Niggas always talk about the golden age, but for a 13-year-old kid this is the golden age!!’
Fela’s axiom – the notion that the golden age in music is always now – may trouble collectors. But those who locate their golden years in 1970s’ West Africa are in luck: 2008 is a great year for it. No doubt more reissues are on the way.
Thanx again to frieze magazine for this interesting article!
Jace Clayton. is a writer and musician based in Brooklyn. His blog can be found at http://www.negrophonic.com/.
Jan 13, 2011
An amazing interview published by dustandgrooves.com!!!
I have the great pleasure to feature Frank Gossner, who some of you might also known from his amazing African Funk parties in Brooklyn. yes, I'm talking about Voodoo Funk!
Frank was one of the first guys in NY to help me start this ongoing photo project. He introduced me to the right people and motivated me to do this documentary project about record collectors. It's been 2 years now since our first meeting, and this time I'm honored and excited to give you a small glimpse into this man's incredible collection which literally took a lot of blood, sweat & tears to accomplish.
Frank has been digging for dusty and forgotten records throughout West Africa armed with endless dedication and desire to find that special sound and beat. His stories could fill a whole blog for themselves, and there is no way I could even touch the tip of his wild adventures on this magical continent. Ohh wait, why won't you just tune into his blog and read for yourself?? bookmark it, because Frank is not done with vinyl and Africa. on December he's embarking onto a new adventure. Make sure you keep track at www.voodoofunk.com
We decided to make the photo session for Dust & Grooves on a significant day for Frank. It was just when he received 3 heavy boxes densely packed with records from his record agents in Nigeria. Throughout his long stay in Africa, he managed to build strong relationships with local people, who in the present, serve as "vinyl agents" and look for records for him. After developing the right ear that suit Frank's unique taste, they now supply frank with these heavy boxes of fine vinyl straight from Africa. keep reading to learn more about this operation.
Our first stop was at the German House in the United Nations Plaza. The packages were waiting for him there to be picked up. A very quick loading to the car, and we are already heading back to Park Slope in Brooklyn to open those fresh boxes. I could feel Frank's excitement just as a little kid before opening his birthday presents.
We arrived home, but first, before we even touched the new delivery, we went through some of Frank's collection from his previous African hunts.
What was your first album? How did you get it? What age? Can you describe that feeling? Do you still have it?
My first record was a Beach Boys "best off" album I got from my father for a good grade in my German class when I was around 7 years old. I don't have it anymore. It wasn't a particularly great record so I don't really miss it.
What prompted you to start collecting? What age did you start? Was there a specific event in your life, an era, which signify your transition from music lover to a collector?
Interesting that you are making a distinction between a music lover and a record collector. If there's a transition between the two then I never reached that stage. I'm a passionate lover of good music. Collecting stuff is for nerds who need to boost their personality with a collection of stamps, coins, records, comic books or whatever.
I'm also a DJ so I use records to play them in clubs. I'm no mp3-jockey so I don't use Serato. Before I started DJing, I had maybe a little more than 1000 records, mostly punk and so called "alternative" but wouldn't really have called that a collection either. If you love music, you buy records. Just because you like reading books and have a few shelves of them doesn't make you a book collector.
what was your Initial interest in music? Did you have any influence from your family? Perhaps your best friend?
My father was listening to a lot of Rock, mostly what you would call classic Rock, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, The Who, stuff like that. I think Woodstock and Easy Rider were the first two movies I ever saw in a theater when I was about 5 or 6 years old. When I was around 15, I started going to punk shows and wear my hair in multicolored spikes, I hooked up with some older friends who had cars and really cool taste in music. This was an incredible time... I lived in the Black Forest and it would have been a boring life if it wouldn't have been for Thomas, Martin and Wolfgang who would take me to places like Frankfurt, Munich or Zurich to see incredible bands like the Gun Club (Miami period), X, Suicide, the Cramps and pretty much everything that was hot in the early 80s.
What else? Vinyl is the most civilized way to listen to recorded music.
For my personal taste, the best music ever recorded was all released on vinyl. Why would I want to listen to it on any other format? If you're into art, would you want the original painting or a digital print?
The CD always was a shity format. I mean sometimes I would buy some, like for example when my wife and I recently went on a long road trip. The CD to me was a substitute for the music cassette but no replacement for the record. The music industry thought, "Oh, these crappy things are real cheap to manufacture and they're good enough for the idiot consumer out there" and for the most part they were right. I remember those technology embracing fools who in the mid- to late 80s sold off their record collection for cheap and "switched" to CDs. It's funny how most people are willing to sacrifice quality and content for what they see as technological progress. Today they have to realize that they're sitting on a pile of worthless plastic.
Now we have MP3s and a lot of people say it's a great thing how music is now not anymore seen in connection with a physical format but only as the sound itself. Great, you've made it from a 12" album with room for cover art, lyric sheet etc to a ringtone for your cell phone. Some people call this advancement. I call it pitiful. People are sticking cheap plastic plugs into their ears and inject badly compressed audio files into they hearing cavity. This doesn't have anything to do with enjoying music. It's consumption on the most primitive level. This whole mp3 culture really pisses me off. And you can take those ugly "docking stations" and disgusting miniature speakers and shove them. Maybe that's why they're shaped so ergonomically.
I'm not an audiophile. I'm not the kind of guy who spends thousands of dollars on a hi-fi system but you need some real speakers and you want your music to sound like it has some balls.
I grew up listening to Punk Rock and I still believe that the best way to listen to music is really loud, drunk and with a bunch of friends. Fuck an iPod.
It's a shame that besides a few specialized boutique stores, there are almost no record stores around anymore. Record stores were great places to hang out, meet people, talk about music, browse through records and check out new stuff. Sure you can argue how nowadays all of this can be done in cyber space but is this a good thing? Call me an old fuck but I still believe in leaving the house every once in a while and in socializing with real people in the real world. I'm glad if I don't have to stare into an LCD display every waking minute of the day. I don't have a desk job but if I imagine having to sit at a desk all day and stare into a computer screen and then go home and do the same thing in order to talk to friends, shop for music etc. this just seems so incredibly sad and boring.
People have this weird trust that every new piece of technology has to be embraced, that technological progress always is a great thing, especially if it makes certain aspects of your life more easy and less time consuming. Now what do they do with all that extra time? Let me tell you, they don't do fuck all. They throw out another hour or two updating their Facebook accounts. You walk into a bar or a club these days and you see people staring into their "smart" phones instead of concentrating on getting shitfaced and chasing real life tail. That's some embarrassing and shameful shit.
I know... I'm writing a blog myself (although that's more or less just an archive of reports stemming from my 3 year stay in Africa) and it's ironic how I'm writing all this shit for another blog and probably some people will read this after having had a link sent to them via Facebook or Twitter or some other shit but I hope you understand what I'm talking about. I think it's just getting too much. Sometimes when I grab a book, I have to force myself to really read as in really consciously read and digest each word in every sentence instead of just briefly scanning page after page for the most basic content? Sometimes I catch myself having read a few pages when I have to realize that I've not caught anything but the most rudimentary shit and have to go back several pages and start over. And I think it's the same thing with music. If almost all you could be interested in is available instantly, you consume with haste. You can really immerse yourself into a book or into a record and I think this doesn't really work to this extend with an e-book or with sound files.
Imagine to switch on your stereo, flip through stacks and stack of records to find something that fits your mood, pull the record out of the sleeve, put it on the turntable, sit your ass down in a nice and comfy chair, hold the cover, look at it and listen to the music. Now imagine scrolling through your iTunes library, hit play and sit there in the bluish glare of the screen which makes your face look like the undead... you think you're enjoying music? You think you're having a good time? Think again.
Wow, I actually read every word that you wrote here, and for a while I was thinking, “damn, that’s a long and pissed off detour from what I’m trying to convey here, first and foremost, a love for music and then to vinyl records”, but man!! You are so right! Thanks for this rough observation. I agree with you, vinyl, if not for the “warmer” sound of it, does amplify our experience of music, just by demanding our attention when handling it, and it pays back with information and art that is just unreachable in other fast food media forms. (E.P.)
Amen to that!
Rare records from West Africa dominate your collection. What made you start looking for African music? Could you describe the circumstances that led you into this music?
Music is a journey. You start at some point and you shouldn't be afraid to end up somewhere entirely different and unexpected.
I was into punk as a teenager and up until my early twenties I would spend a large part of my disposable income at the record store. Sometime in the early 90s I got bored with contemporary music and at the same time the stores stopped selling records and instead attempted to force-sell me CDs. I was like “fuck this shit” and instead turned to buying all sorts of weird or interesting looking records on flea markets. I also was heavy into exploitation movies in those days. I would go on digging trips where I would look through every single video store, city after city to try and find obscure movies, especially horror and sexploitaion. A lot of the more interesting stuff was banned in Germany and some of the original rental tapes were highly collectible. I sold spares at movie fares and made quite some dough with these sick little flicks.
I really got into the Hammond heavy funk tunes they sometimes would use for these movies, especially when there were strip club scenes. I got obsessed with trying to recreate the vibe of 1970s crime movie strip bars and began DJing my own parties. I hired dancers and projected movie scenes, lobby cards and movies posters onto the walls. I even went as far as to buy a custom made chrome plated go go cage. Hahaha... those were the days. People thought I was crazy but everybody had to come and check out those parties. There was this illegal warehouse club in Berlin called The Hohe Tatra which gave me a residency. Those nights were off the hook. I couldn't believe the fun I was having and goddamn, I got paid money on top of it!
A friend of mine had a record label called Crippled Dick Hot Wax and in 1995, I helped him re-release the soundtrack to Jess Franco's movie Vampyros Lesbos. I saw this record in another post on your blog not too long ago. It's really strange when a record that you helped put out becomes a "digging object". Well, it's over 15 years old so I guess that makes it an old record. This record was a huge success and so were the parties I threw under the same name. I toured all over Germany with a van full of dancers, the gogo cage and two crates full of records. In 1996 I moved to NYC. My friend's label had sub-licensed the Vampyros Lesbos record to a record to a US label called Motel. They were a bunch of psycho crooks and I think my friend lost quite some money with that shady outfit but the record still sold like hotcakes and my parties were going strong. I had a great run for 4 straight years. This was a weekly night and it was always packed. It was a wild scene back then, I could tell you stories... but afterwards I'd have to kill you.
By the late 90s I started really getting into funk 45s and also began throwing funk parties. Nobody in NYC was interested in funk back in those days but at the same time I was getting tired of playing sleazy Euro grooves and French 60s pop. Another problem was that Giuliani's nightlife Gestapo was getting more and more out of control. Our club got raided repeatedly for "illegal dancing" because they didn't own the proper cabaret license to legally have a dance floor. In the summer of 2000 I packed up and moved back to Berlin where I started a new funk party called the Soul Explosion.
On one of my funk 45 digging trips to the US I found a stack of Nigerian records at the legendary store Smith's Records. Amongst others I got the Pax Nicholas LP there which I later re-issued on Daptone Records. I was blown away by this music and began buying whatever was out there at the time in terms of re-issues and compilations. I got married sometime along the way and my wife got into a career as a diplomat. She was about to be sent on a long term assignment to a foreign country and we decided West Africa might be a rewarding destination, at least I'd have something to do down there and go hunt for records. There was a position opening up for her in Guinea and that was it. This was in 2005 and we stayed for 3 years. It was crazy. I felt like having my mind blown to bits every single day. A life altering experience.
Before I moved to Africa, I put all my American funk records into storage and when I moved from Africa to NYC in 2008, I started selling all of this stuff. A lot of my old DJ friends and funk collectors found this to be weird but to me it felt only natural. I spent an even longer time playing these records as was the time frame they were created in. Typical, rough deep funk 45s all were recorded from 1968 to 1972 or '73. That's about 4-5 years. I played these records out for 6-7 years and while I have great respect for people who dedicate a long period of their lives to exploring this sound, I felt the urge to move on. The great thing about recorded music is that you can move freely within time and space and somehow it just felt right to move from US funk on to its African pendant.
West African Funk and Afrobeat with all the hybrid styles of more traditional but still funky and club friendly tunes is a huge field. I get to discover new records every month. Stuff that nobody outside of Africa has ever heard and this is what really excites me. With US funk 45s it's a rarity to come across something new and even much rarer to discover something that's not only new but also really good. I think African music could keep me busy for many years to come.
I already have plans for this winter to go on several long digging trips through various West African countries. How one of my favorite singers puts it: "People often talk about being scared of change. But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same. Cause the game is never won by standing in one place for too long."
Ohh yeah!??! Will you take me with you?
I can't take you with me to everywhere I go but maybe we can meet up somewhere for a few days...
Were there any western digging rivals back then?
Sure. There were and there still are a bunch of other guys who are going to Africa for records. I never met any of them in the field though. I'm always busy doing two things: searching for records and avoiding other white people. Africa is a big place, you know.
How did you start digging? I’m guessing it’s nothing close to what we are used to in the Western world. I would guess there are no record dealers, nor record shops or even record collectors? What was your process?
I can't get into the details as this is an ongoing process and I can't disclose any of my secret digging methods but I can tell you that finding records in Africa involves a lot of foot work. A lot of work in general. Now that I live in NYC, I only get to go for one or two trips a year and only for about a month at a time. When I still lived in West Africa, things were much more relaxed since I had all the time in the world.
That sounds like a dream of a life. I bet you had such an inspiring journey. Having all the time in your life, minimum obligations, keeping a low profile. Sounds like an incredible journey.
Yeah, it was fun. Being able to move at a very slow pace enables you to take it all in very consciously. If you're in a hurry you might miss some things and not get the fullest possible experience. The West African infrastructure in general is extremely time consuming and having a tight schedule would invite stress and frustration.
What was the first reaction of the local record owners when you approached them to buy their records? Was there suspicion? If so, how did you manage to gain their trust?
People were always happy to sell me their records. In most cases they didn't have a functioning record player and haven't been able to listen to their records for decades. We often sat together and played them on my portable record player. Of course this brought up old memories and it was great to hear stories about how these very same records used to be played at local dances or how their owner had seen the bands live back in the day. Sometimes people were even able to give me the phone number of a musician or hook me up with a radio DJ or fellow record collector. I had a big newspaper advert in Ghana's Daily Graphic one day and through this got in touch with Freddy Quarcoe, one of Ghana's biggest radio DJs from the 1970s. I spent a full day going through his collection and in the evening just when I was about to leave, I got another call from Mr. Asamoah, an old DJ friend of Freddy's who had left Ghana for the US in the late 70s and who had recently returned to the country. They both hadn't talked for some 30 years and when Freddy heard me talk to Asamoah on the phone, he figured out right away who it was. It's incredible how records often bring people together, old friends and new ones alike. Just a few days ago, I had Albert Jones, the former bandleader of the Freedom Family as a guest at my house and when we were putting together the liner notes to the forthcoming re-issue of his record, it turned out he too knew Asamoah and also Charlie Sam, another big Ghanaian radio legend. We quickly called both on the phone and of course this was a big surprise for everybody.
Now when you mention African record collectors, it makes me think. “Are there any record collectors in Africa? I mean, regular people, with a typical low salary, who have the luxury to spend money on records?” I don’t know, perhaps I’m just an ignorant fuck, but really, is it common to see people in Africa who spend any money on records?”
These former DJs all still had a significant part of their former collection and in Freddy's case even all of it but none of them were still playing them. Assamouah still works as a radio DJ but the station doesn't even have record players. Which is sad. Only very little of the music that was released in Africa before the introduction of the CD ever was re-issued on the new format. I always bring back CDs and CDRs when I travel to Africa but the public interest for this old music in most cases is too low to even bootleg the CDs. I'm very proud to say though that my compilation "Lagos Disco Inferno" was bootlegged and is being sold on the Nigerian market.
Buying old records is something most Africans consider to be another crazyness pursued by decadent and foolish white people and maybe they are right.
After a while you started to employ several “Vinyl agents” who would search for records and send them to you. How did you manage to describe your exact taste and sound that you are looking for? How good does it work for you?
I owe a lot of my records to my agents Damian and Kenneth in Nigeria, Landry in Benin and Ken in Ghana. These guys have been doing amazing work and are still tirelessly traveling their countries in the search of vinyl. It's important for many reasons to have someone trustworthy on the ground to help locate collections and also to provide company and local experience on my own travels. I provided all my agents with portable record players and some developed a strong personal interest in this music. Ken for example began buying some records just to keep them for himself. He developed a strong sense of pride for his country's cultural heritage. We've had amazing times traveling together and became really close friends.
All my agents send me large packages with records while I'm gone and they make a really good living with their work. I buy a few of these records that I want to keep for myself at a fair price and then I forward the bulk of records to a friend's record store here in NYC (www.goodrecordsnyc.com) and to another friend in Paris who runs a very reputable mail-order business and also has an incredible record store (superflyrecords.com). I don't make any money from these transaction for myself and 50% of the final sales price gets sent to the agents. If records end up on eBay, I even send my agents the links to these auctions so they see their finds generate money for them. To me personally, this isn't a business but a hobby. I don't need to generate money for myself with these records. All I want is more records. I have a few high profile collector friends with whom I trade records. If I ever sell some records like at last weeks WFMU record fair, this money always goes towards the next plane ticket to West Africa.
While looking for records, you must have come across different stuff other than records. Photos, personal belongings, lost articles and such. Any interesting stories around it?
These are photographs by Albarika Store label owner Seidou Adisa which show him with various of his artists in this picture it is Nahounou Singer.
So what kind of style and sound do you keep for yourself?
On one side, I keep what I think has club appeal but I also keep records which I just generally like. I'm a big fan of what they labeled as "native blues" back when these records were pressed and I also really love some of the deeper, heavier Highlife stuff from Ghana and the local style from Benin City in Nigeria (no relations to Benin the country). I also enjoy a lot of the more traditional music from Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Benin.
Here in Brooklyn, we just unpacked a whole bunch of crates that arrived from Lagos. Are you happy with the fresh crop? Can you describe what’s in it? Which records are you going to keep for yourself?
It's the usual mix of Nigerian Disco, Highlife, Juju, Afrobeat and Funk. It seems like I already have most of these records so most of this stuff is going to go to my friend's store but look at this LP by Mary Afi Usuah...
She recorded this with Dan Satch & The Atomic 8 right after returning from Italy after having studied classical singing. This is one of the deepest and most unique records I've ever heard. A captivating hybrid of Spiritual Jazz and Afrobeat. I've only had a rough copy of this until now. This one is clean... YES!!!!
Tell me about those big posters that I saw at some of your parties? What's the story behind them?
These aren't posters but paintings done by Guinean store sign artists. The store sign painter is a dying profession in West Africa. More and more businesses offer modern inkjet printing on vinyl banners and less and less new stores are ordering hand painted signs.
Before my departure from Africa, I visited several store sign painters in their workshops and gave them some images from old record covers to paint them onto plywood sheets. I had these done mainly for my personal enjoyment but I also had some spare copies made to use them as decoration for my parties. Of course it turned out to be too much of a pain in the neck to get them to the club and back so now they're just sitting in our hallway...
You were once accused by people who read your blog, of exploiting Africa’s intellectual properties, by taking those records away from the mother land and selling them in Europe and America. How do you handle these accusations?
I laugh about those fools real loud and hard. None of them even know what they're talking about so even if I'd want to try and take them serious, I just couldn't do it. One of the most important lessons I have learned a long time ago is that it never pays trying to explain yourself to the jealous or the ignorant. It's much better to ridicule them and maybe provoke them a bit for personal entertainment.
The real problem isn't too many westerners going to Africa to buy up old records. The problem is that most records got disposed off by their owners before anybody showed any interest in this stuff. I'm dead certain that a whole bunch of releases will be forever lost because nobody thought of conserving these things. The news that now there are a whole bunch of people flying to Africa to look for records spread fast and these days a lot more Africans are aware that these things have some serious monetary value. While trying to understand the foreigner's fascination with these relics, they often also understand the cultural importance of this stuff and I can't see how any of this could be a bad thing.
There is a lot of exploitation going on in Africa, often to staggering degrees and the continent's vast riches always end up some other place on this globe. I've seen the most repulsive acts of corruption, both, corporate and private. Most African countries there are run by thugs. Criminals who hold their own people hostage. They let international corporations plunder their countries while privately making millions under the table, moving their families abroad and building mansions around the world. If they want to fight third world exploitation in Africa, I could tell those internet activists where to go and who to speak out against. But they won't do go. They're busy sitting in their cubicles, updating their status on Facebook.
What was the general condition of the records you found? Were they most often badly treated? Were did you find the cleanest most preserved records? And what about the most neglected mistreated bunch of records?
Sometimes I would find records that were completely hammered in the same stack with a few really nice copies. Most often everything was just so horribly scratched, I couldn't do anything with them. Finding records is really hard in Africa. Finding clean records is much harder.
I probably found the cleanest records ever at the houses of several Ghanaian radio DJs.
The craziest thing I've ever seen was when I was supposed to meet with someone who said he had a lot of 45s. After waiting several hours, the young man finally arrived. He was a worker from an auto garage and wore nothing but a pair of raggedy pants which were saturated with black engine oil. His entire body looked like he had spent the day submerged in a barrel of well used motor oil. Around his shoulder he wore a thick rope which he had threaded through the center holes of several hundred 45s. The sight was just unbelievable and of course none of the records were usable. I paid him some money to get transportation back to his job and also to make up for lost wages. I still regret not having asked him to let me take his picture but I felt bad for not having bought any records and didn't want to embarrass him.
Tell me a wild digging story from your adventures. I’m sure there are too many, but one should be enough.
I've lived through my scariest moments when my friend Landry and I were driving from Parakou back to Cotonou and found us in a head-on collision course with a convoy of thousands of cars, including some of them wrecks that barely looked drivable, all operated by drugged up kamikaze car pilots. It's impossible to get an accurate picture of the situation without actually having been there but I'll be damned if I didn't get dangerously close to shitting my pants out of sheer fear for my life.
Nigeria is known to be a violent and corrupted country. Any insight on that? How did it affect your record digging? Where you ever in danger?
You know, when we complain about corruption in Africa, we shouldn't forget that if you follow the line of corruption, you always find Western (or Eastern) multinational corporations. We want these countries to bee corrupt. Otherwise we couldn't buy their resources for a fraction of their real value. And then look at our own governments. There are more than a few that are just as corrupt, only in a much more sophisticated way. I prefer open and outright African corruption any day to the cowardly ways of some of our faux democracies which in essence are nothing else but cleverly camouflaged friendly dictatorships. Violence is a part of human nature, in our "western" societies which some would say are more advanced, violence is channeled and for the most part kept out of human interactions. Safety is being provided by authorities. On the surface, this might make for a more secure life experience but this doesn't make us better people. There are still dangers lurking everywhere. The bank that lured you into a loan, fully knowing that it'll break your neck might come and take your house away. A cop might shoot you or shove a plunger or a baton up your ass just because he's had a bad day and no witnesses are around. What about the Guinean immigrant who some years back had escaped his third world dictatorship to NYC just to get blasted with 41 bullets for standing in his own doorway and reaching for his wallet. I feel perfectly fine whenever I'm in West Africa, including Nigeria. It's a great place to be. People are less paranoid and more relaxed.
But back to the topic: I've usually just touched down in Lagos, gone through a couple of collections to take off again after a day or two. I've only been on one lengthy visit to Nigeria and traveled around, including some of the no-go zones in the South East. It was pretty crazy. I took rides on small overland buses the size of a mini van. Larger air conditioned buses are much more comfortable but they also are prime targets for armed robbers and would-be kidnappers. What looks like a police road-block can just as well be a hold up and coaches are regularly pulled over, people with automatic weapons go on board and collect valuables. If you look like someone might be willing to pay money for you, you might be asked to get off the bus. I had heard a lot of crazy stories and that's why I stuck to the smaller buses. For the first few miles still inside of Lagos we were joined by a priest who didn't pay for a seat but stood in the side door, which remained open for ventilation purposes. He blessed us passengers and loudly prayed for us. In a high pitched voice and getting more and more excited with every sentence he went on: "The front tire, it will not bust! Dear lord thank you for promising us that the front tire it will not bust! And the back tire, dear lord, the back tire, it will refuse to bust! It will not bust and the driver, god in heaven, the driver he will not fall asleep and he will bring you to your destination so you will be re-united with your loved ones and the lord will protect us against the wickedness of armed robbers for that they will not stop us and we will all reach where we are going safely..." This went on for the better part of an hour and after everybody had given him some change, the priest left us and hopped onto another bus that needed blessing.
We passed through a town and there was a big commotion in front of a gas station and right when we were in the middle of the mob, the traffic stopped completely. There was a hearse parked at the side of the road, directly next to our bus that had been pulled over by a heavily armed army police patrol. There was a lot of yelling and several large women in festive robes were screaming at the armed men while getting more and more upset and aggravated. The whole situation threatened to completely get out of hand when one of the soldiers forced the back door open and began dragging out the coffin. It became apparent that they suspected something else to be in there but a corpse. Our fellow passengers started screaming at the driver to get the fuck out of there while the yelling outside intensified and the soldiers began to wildly point their AK 47s at the exceedingly agitated crowd all around them. Two uniforms pried the casket open, the screaming intensified even more and out of a sudden we were moving again. I didn't want to look back.
Do you have an all favorite African artist or band?
What makes African music so incredible is the mind-boggling variety of styles and the unimaginably long list of artists who contributed to the (recorded) output of African pop music from these times. It is impossible to single out one single or even a dozen of artists because there would also be some really essential ones missing from the list. It also was a mistake for me to focus too much on Afrobeat and Funk at first and I eventually grew to enjoy a lot of the more traditional styles which would make the list even longer.
The Orchestre Poly Rythmo would definitely have to be mentioned. Their output is ridiculously enormous and diverse. But there are also more obscure artists like the often overlooked Anos Band de Parakou. They released a series of, for the most part, extremely rare 45s and a killer LP. I got to meet their band leader Nonsou Alidou but when I returned the next year he had died.
The Anos Band had a very distinctive style and I think I will have to put out a compilation with a selection of their finest tunes sometime in the future.
I'm also a huge fan of the Ghanaian band Marijata. I have licensed the band's catalogue for Academy LPs and can't wait to put these records out. I'm currently working on the liner notes with their drummer Kofi Elektrik who is one of the most incredible personalities I have ever met.
Is there a specific musical instrument that attracts you when listening to music?
I've always been a fan of wild and distorted organs. There's plenty of that in West African Funk. Hammond organs were too heavy and expensive to import so it was the smaller electronic organs like the Vox Continental, a Farfisa or inexpensive and easily portable keyboards like the Eko Tiger or the Elka Panther that made there way into African recording studios. Later on, the Moog synthesizer became hugely popular, especially of course in Nigerian Disco.
Tell me about the most unlikely place/occasion where/when you found records?
There is no unlikely place when it comes to finding records. I haven't bought a record in a store for many years. real digging is all about finding records where others haven't looked. I always think of records. Whoever I talk to in the course of the day, I steer the conversation so I can find out if he has any records or if he knows anybody who might have records. Sometimes I drive down a random street and catch myself trying to figure out behind which walls there could be records. I might stop random strangers and ask if they know about somebody in the area who might have some old records. Once I find some records, I focus on them and it doesn't matter if I'm in an open air kitchen, in an old radio store, an insect infested warehouse, somebody's basement, the flooded basement of the old, Guinean government palace that was abandoned after troups had shot a missile into its facade during some coup attempt some 25 years ago or if someone just brought a bag of records to me while I was sitting inside an air conditioned hotel bar.
You are highly unlikely to find rare records at the most likely places. There's a reason these things are rare and they wouldn't be rare if you could just walk into a record store and buy them.
When you get a new shipment, what is your sorting method?
I sort out all the records that I don't know and play them on a portable record player. I don't want the dust and grime to get onto my MK2 so I use the portable for this. Needless to say, this is more exciting than being a kid and opening up Christmas presents. It almost drives me mad with anticipation and enjoyment.
What's your partners' reaction to this obsession?
My wife enjoys music as much as I do. I don't think she would call me obsessed. We've been together for around 20 years and she hasn't complained about anything so far...
Bad album cover that undermines great music inside the album?
I don't have a single record that I would say has a bad album cover. Quite some show relatively crude artwork but in their boldness also lays beauty and unpretentious directness. Every time I hear some fool say "oh look at this cover, it's so bad that it's cool" I feel like punching them in the face. I don't even feel like commenting on any of these covers. If you can't see the beauty in them and feel the promise they hold (and rarely disappoint) I feel sorry for you. (I'm not talking to you directly here, this is purely rhetorical). These things come from another world and from another time, these are artifacts that demand respect. Admire them, yes. But analyze, rate or even judge -hell no!
Tell me a particularly sad record story!
When I visited Freetown in Sierra Leone for he first time, I took a taxi to the headquarters of SLBS (Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services) and I asked if they would have any records. I was lead to an overgrown foundation and I was told that this once was the location of West Africa's largest record library featuring complete discographies of all English speaking West African countries. Until the so called "rebels" from the RUF burned down the entire building when they overran the city in January of 1999 during operation "no living thing". Of course the human loss and suffering they inflicted makes a burned house full of records seem like not worth mentioning but it was just crazy looking at those ruins.
It is generally sad having to realize that what I do is merely scratching the bottom of the barrel. It would be more of a guess than an estimate but I would say that probably at least a third of the African pop music of the 1970s that ever got recorded will most likely never be found again.
Earlier this year in Lagos, I found an album by Orlando Julius, one of Nigeria's best known musicians. This record was released in 1973 on Philips and for some reason, nobody I spoke to, -and I asked pretty much all the big collectors of African records I know of, -had ever seen or heard of it.
One day I went through a collection of Ghana 45s one day that was just enormous. I would say this must have been most Ghanaian 45s that ever were pressed all in one place. After a few hours I pulled out a white label test pressing that had "Marijata -make it funky" written on it. While every other record in this collection was in EX condition, this one record had a large piece missing, it was completely unplayable and I was just devastated. In light of all the other great finds that day I had still made the most incredible single haul of my entire digging career but to find a completely unknown test pressing 45 by one of your most favorite bands and having to realize that it was unplayable was a real stab to the heart. When asking their drummer, he said they never recorded a song under this title. The handwriting on this 45 however also mentioned the name of their label. Who knows what this was... after discovering this record, I put it on a window sill on the terrace outside the house, apart from the other stacks of records and when I went back to get it after I had dug through the entire collection, it was gone. I searched the entire compound like a madman but couldn't find it. I even returned to this house the next two days to go through all the remaining records again and again but it was just like this record had evaporated or never been there in the first place. Sure, it was unplayable but maybe I could have just dropped the needle on it outside the missing area to get a rough idea of what the song would have sounded like and to have proof that this track really existed. Maybe it was all in my mind...
Tell me about a record you still regret not picking up?
This almost happened to me only once with an incredibly rare Stan Tohon LP which I didn't pick up because the owner was being a dick. I went back a few months later after first making sure he's not there and bought the record from his wife who was a total sweetheart.
Let’s seal this interview with a few words from you to fellow diggers, young collectors who just started to collect or to the veterans, who forgot about vinyl.
To the young collectors I would say "follow your heart and not what others play, say, do or listen to!". I don't understand who you mean with "veterans who forgot about vinyl" how could anybody forget about records. This would be like forgetting about books or forgetting about wine. The vinyl record is one of the most important cultural-technological achievements of mankind.
The most rewarding moments are always when you get to meet some of these old musicians. It was such a pleasure to work with Malek Crayem and Ricky Telfer on the re-issue of the Psychedelic Aliens catalog. Getting to meet Pax Nicholas and putting out his record that never has been distribution, not even back in Nigeria after he had recorded back in the 70s. Last month I had Albert Jones, the band leader of the Freedom Family over at my place here in Brooklyn for a week. We went to one of my dj gigs together and he was just blown away that people would still dance to his music 35 years after it had been recorded. He hadn't even kept his record and didn't have any recordings of it so it also had been decades that he had last heard these tunes. A few days ago, I finished working with Orlando Julius on re-issuing a completely forgotten LP by him that was recorded at Ginger Baker's studio in Lagos back in 1973. This one will blow some minds when it gets out early next year, I can promise you that. Just last night I had dinner together with Kofi Elektrik, the drummer of Marijata. Kofi brought over some absolutely incredible old photographs and also had some amazing stories to tell. We were even talking about possibly getting his band back together for some recordings and perhaps even a tour... we will see what happens.
THANX TO dustandgrooves.com!!!