The Scramble for Vinyl
Boima Tucker | September 14th, 2010


Spurred on by the rise of sampling in Hip Hop and electronic music and despite a downturn in vinyl production, in the 80’s and 90’s a rich vinyl collecting culture exploded in places like the U.S., Europe, and Japan. For years young hip DJs from the city, travelled to forgotten about record shops in backwater towns, the dusty basements of aging record collectors, or the back rows of an inner-city record shop looking for rarities that seemed to pop out of thin air. Collectors scoured their neighbors backyards for rare jazz, rock, and funk, motivated by unnamed sample sources, hoping to find that illusive breakbeat. The best DJs were the ones with the deepest crates. Around the early 00’s, Hip Hop stopped using samples and turned back towards synthesizers, the Internet started a deeper collective crate, and a vital source of inspiration dried up. For collectors, all the stones seemed to be overturned, the market had too many buyers, and people, starting to realize the value of what they had, turned to E-bay to make money off of their collections. With much of the rare vinyl being plundered locally, a few intrepid explorers decided to try their luck in uncharted territory. Of course, they made their way to Africa.  This map (that has been circulating on Facebook and other social media) and scenario may both be a little hyperbolic, but it does seem that the current mad-dash for rare African vinyl could be analogous to Europe’s 19th Century Scramble for Africa, a mad-dash for rare African minerals. There is a trend among rare-groove DJs to “find fortune” in the (re)discovery of musical gems in places where the value of vinyl and recorded music from the past has diminished. Just go to your local record shop (if one still exists) and peruse the display shelves to encounter dozens of new releases celebrating the recently uncovered recordings of Africa’s unknown musical heritage. The image of these guys as plundering opportunists isn’t helped by their reception in “The West”. As one music writer puts it,”Frank Gossner’s DJ sets burst with exclusive tracks that are so rare that they can’t be heard anywhere else on this planet” (from Rare music from planet Africa!?! Who wouldn’t want to get a piece of that?

On the other hand, vinyl culture has been long dead in most African countries. Perhaps these diggers are doing a service by restoring historical and cultural memory. Much of the music they are interested in is music from the Independence era, an important and optimistic time period. Many of the artists they are tracking down have been retired for years and some enjoy a revival. T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, Orchestra Baobab, Mulatu Astatke, are all touring and enjoying popularity with a young hip crowd. For various reasons in places like Benin, Senegal, and Ethiopia (and also the U.S.) younger generations don’t know the previous generation’s contribution to the popular musical landscape. The DJs are engaging in a pop culture archeology to teach the masses about their own history, and at the same time are showing Europeans and Americans that our shared tastes and desires prove that we’re not that different after all. The European powers of the 19th century, sought to change the face of the continent through the colonial project. In contrast, the boldest vinyl diggers amongst us are trying to preserve what’s being lost.

Perhaps then, what we have to question is for who’s value is it being preserved? My biggest criticism is not that they are going to Africa to shed light on these “lost” recordings and forgotten about artists. I’m instead worried that they concentrate too much on those forms of music that fit nicely into the story that they, the DJs, want to tell about the music. The cataloging tendency tends to be a colonial one. Also, many of the DJs and label owners, perhaps because of its shared lineage with Hip Hop, have concentrated on Afro-Beat, or have given more weight to genres that are popular in the west like Rock and Funk. For African artists, these are generally styles that artists often used as tools, or influences to fuse with their own popular local styles. The reissue train has been slow to recognize larger genres in Africa like Soukous, Highlife, or Benga, unless they find an artist that has an added funk or rock influence. In the past the tendency was to look for “authentic” music that sounded more “traditional.” Are they now shying away from things that sound too … African?

If you’re interested in discovering more about the history of African pop, now is a better time than ever. While the blogging world may at times suffer from its own imperial tendencies, there have been some great free sources of information on African pop music history like Benn Loxo du Taccu, Likembe, with Comb and Razor, and Africolombia.*

For a nice visual on the typical digging journey, check out the trailer for Frank Gossner’s yet to be released documentary, Take me Away Fast.

*I have to mention that South America is included in this “colonial project” as well, but it is through visits to Colombia that Soundway Records met the rich vinyl collecting culture of Colombia’s northern coast, a community in the midst of its own project to preserve African musical history. It’s an interesting comparison to look at the contrast between a community mediated project motivated by their own cultural heritage, and one that is more motivated by a commercial venture.

* Chief Boima is a DJ and cultural activist based in New York City. He is joining AIAC and this is the first of regular posts on music culture that he will doing for us.

UPDATE: The map was originally posted by Reynaldo on the Soul-Strut forum.

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Boima Tucker

...also known as @ChiefBoima is a Sierra Leonean-American music producer, DJ, writer, and general advocate for music-fueled digital youth cultures from around the world.

119 thoughts on “The Scramble for Vinyl

  1. Great article.

    Really interesting point you make in how the preconceived choices of the diggers results in a particular type of music being found.

    I'm still blown away how much of African music is slept on. While there is focus on particular genres (Afrobeat like you mention, I'd probably add Kuduro, and the broad and hugely undefined 'World Music' scene – mainly dominated by West Africa) so much other music seems to be frequently ignored.

    Kapuka, Genge, Lugaflo, Bongo Flava, Ugandan Dancehall just to name a few from East Africa, leaving alone music from elsewhere. It would be great if the diggers, with the 'service' they provide, could/should also focus on new African music, rather than harking back to the 60's all the time.

    Well in an ideal world this music would get noticed without such interventions at all, but hey, making the best of a bad situation 'n all.

  2. As someone who has been listening to and collecting African music since the early 80s I too look at the Afro-Funk revival as a mixed blessing. I am tired of the decade old emphasis on funk, it seems like every album from West Africa that can remotely support the term funk has been reissued. While I would like something different, whenever I've said enough, no more funk reissues, I end up getting another high quality treasure chest– Afro-Beat Airways is the latest.

    The Western labels, especially Analog Africa, Sound Ways, and Honest Jons make a real effort to pay artists royalties and put out albums loaded with information and photos. Sterns, Crammed World, Buda, Earthworks, Putamayo (?), NonSuch, Out/Here, Cumbacha, and many others put out nice collections and NEW ARTISTS.

    Compare the love put into an Analog Africa release with some of your older Sonodisc reissues of Franco & other Congolese artists. Liner notes, photos, royalties, correct track listings, dates, NADA! They and the companies that put out shoddy reissues are the real exploiters. They treat the culture of Africa with little regard, a product to be marketed for a quick buck. Sonodisc, Glenn, and the label controlled by a certain Senegalese record producer come to mind. The Congolese and Congo-Paris record companies are famous for poor distribution, wrong or no information on the album, reissuing the same songs under different names, and not paying royalties. It is widely agreed on English language chat rooms dedicated to African music that the greed of Congolese concert promoters has virtually killed any interest in bringing Congolese artists to the USA.

    After being a DJ on 3 college stations, spinning at 3 African/Reggae clubs, living in Cameroon for 5 years, and being married to an African woman, I can tell you with authority, there are 2 distinct audiences for African music in the west, largely white (but including a few Africans) educated record nerds, and the African immigrants. Western companies catering to Western desires- liner notes- vinyl archeology, etc. Many African immigrants (at least the people I know) don't venerate African music like music nerds do, its a disposable product or the top 40 background music to their lives. Many of my friends have extensive collections of pirated CD and MP3 collections. (None of them would have bought the vinyl edition of Ouga Affair: The Hard One Sounds of Burkina Fasa 1974-1978 like I did– I am a serious record nerd).

    When gather for my wife's village monthly meeting here in Houston, the old heads like my mix collection of old makossa and Congolese music, but when the party gets going on goes the African wannabe American soul and hip-hop. Look at the demographics of most African countries, the populations are largely under 20. They are not interested in 60s-80s, they want Jay-Z. What westerners look for in African music is often different than what African look for– (I am trying to write a magazine article on this- hence my going on and on).

    In general westerners what the exotic something that smacks of Africa, Africans often want modern dance music. Afro-Funk and the Mali sound are huge on the reissue world because they provide record nerds with their Africa fix. Congloese, highlife, South African, benga, etc. have all gotten their rereleases, but the one style that hasn't been reissued is classic makossa. (TJR put out 4 great CDs in the early 90s, but distribution was spotty- African stores only and of course no info w/ lots of errors on titles). I have finally theorized makossa (w/ the exception of Manu Dibango– you should leave Cameroon blank) because it is to smooth and commercial. Despite makossa's rythmic complexity, it is too western.

  3. lots of interesting ideas here… you're right, re-issues aren't geared toward african / diaspora audiences and they sometimes fail to bring about the type of global community that one might hope. they also often don't put money in artists' or artists' family's pockets. as much as we love the comps and the blogs– there are ethical problems, ones that stretch back to the roots of this "industry" (john storm roberts, folkways, everyone). we're usually not talking about a lot of money (in this, I find your comparison to minerals and colonialism to be a stretch), but a focus of the music industry and a global audience should be to empower and inspire artists to tell their own stories. if 70s re-issues can open a door to this type of movement and to an appreciation of living african musics, then those comps will have served a great purpose. but if we continue to fetishize the psychedelic African past at the expense of a more mature, nuanced relationship with the present (and other eras), we might end up stuck in graceland (or on some blog).

  4. @Wills (G?) I appreciate the nuanced response.

    Just a quick clarification, because I don't want it to be the focus of my criticism, I'm very aware that there isn't a boat load of money being made off of these ventures. What I'm more concerned about is what you actually point to in saying, "but a focus of the music industry and a global audience should be to empower and inspire artists to tell their own stories." What were all doing concerns the power of culture to shape people's opinions and how they engage with the world.

    There's some easy targets out there, and I don't intend to throw stones, but I can think of plenty of examples of artists and writers' engagement with contemporary global music that do not have either a mature or nuanced relationship with the people and places they are interested in. That's why the comparison comes in, because the writers and artists in 19th century Europe, are just as responsible in their promotion of the colonialist project as the capitalists who were directly involved with trade and industry.

    Even though they may not be in the music industry, there are plenty of people in the world making lots of money, so what is the responsibility that contemporary artists have in shaping public perception that may justify exploitation?

  5. The point I was trying to get at (I explicitly stated) was in generally westerners and Africans look at African music differently. Due to my relationship I can see how our upbringings cause us to look at music differently. I thought the new album by Kimi Djabete was overproduced, she said "why do I complain whenever a musician tries to be ivilized, you like primitive music." Hence my asserting Westerners prefer raw (or exotic) to my Cameroonian friends affection synthesizers.

    While I cannot claim to fully represent or understand someone else's mind, my discussing my marraige is to show, I have some familiarity with other peoples mindset.

    If you want to claim anytime a Westerner writes and discusses Africa or releases African music its neo-colonialism (patriarchial authortarianism, etc), the net result will be to stiffle discussion.

  6. Maybe this consideration moves the focus somewhere else, but, personally, I find more interesting where it is possible to see a process of transculturation, something hidden behind the multiple layers of popular styles, western influences and every tranformations which happen during these movements.

    That's why I'm very fascinated by recent operations such as "Shangaan Electro" compilation (released this summer on Honest Jon's), also in visual terms — yesterday night I showed a Tshetsha Boys video at a workshop kick off in Milan, underlining their use of clothes, masks, and how much these elements sound familiar to someone located in the Western world, made out of fiction and media bombings (see here:… and the linked Boon's post).

    So, I think that this tendency of "shying away from things that sound too … African?" has being maybe moved by this approach, which is something that should happen only right now, after the world music 2.0 boom. It's not keeping the distance from the 'authentic' (which is still very active, just think of Frank Rynne's work to preserve real Joujoukas) but more digging into postcolonial products, with their own characteristics and shortcircuits.

    Apart from my personal contribution, I would like to thank you for the great article and map, it's a perfect shoot of the 'contemporary african diggers scene'. I'll post this discussion on my blog Palm Wine >

  7. Thanks for the great article – I look forward to reading more from you. Plunder is an evocative word that can limit and blunt a broader appreciation of subtleties and motivations in the vinyl digging ‘sub-culture’. I do accept that your primary point of reference is mostly U.S. and European DJs; where the “dash for rare minerals” imagery and hype might well resonate in some cases.

    There are still quite a few collectors who are African and still live in Africa, and who do not DJ in conventional ways – they “DJ” via the blogosphere … kind of slow-motion disco if you like.

    My own “finding fortune” in crate digging is not profit-driven, it really is a hobby with an historical, cultural and auditory journey. Sure – I get my kicks finding, researching, writing about and then uploading out-of-print-vinyl onto a music blog. And yes, we seek out and share music that we like – clearly influenced by our own locations, cultural roots and lived experiences.

    I don’t have a problem with whatever it is that drives non-African DJs to choose and play a particular genre of African music anywhere in the world. Africa is blessed with a huge repository of forgotten music and the more it is exposed, the better.

    What I do find less palatable is the apparent tendency of some record labels to lift tracks off music blog-sites and re-publish these in commercial compilations without so much as trying to negotiate the minefield of sharing royalties with the original artists or license holders … now here, the word plunder becomes a whole lot more appropriate.

    As an aside – South Africa ranks 106th on the WEF rating on country-bandwidth, so the dropped uploads and the time-taken do require some perseverance from this DJ too…. kinda like slow-motion disco in-between cuts in power?

    Chris in Durban, South Africa

    Electricjive blogspot

  8. Andy at Eldica showed me a copy of this map a few weeks back. You might want to add a new label (Matsuli Music) and name (Matt Temple) to this list since I've just started a re-issue programme of South African afro-jazz classics from the seminal As-shams (Sun) label.

    The preservation of cultural heritage and wider access to historical recordings are my prime intentions. I've chosen to present original album recordings and to steer away from any compilations or over-contextualisation.

    Music is meant to be heard (even if the idea of another afro-funk compilation with rare tunes is a little difficult to stomach!)

  9. I respect the opinion of all. I do not really love African music with Funk and Afrobeat influence.

    I have not much experience as you and I'm not the most suitable for any opinion. but look more natural as traditional African music that is not influenced by Rock, Funk or Soul.

    Much love the music Benga, Highlife, Makossa, Merengue (Angolan) from the 70s and 80s.

    the vinyl is very predominant here, the Lps for me have better sound quality and long life.

    to be many Local artists of Champeta today Criolla have no support in Colombia (locally) to excecion Lucas Silva – Palenque Records, which is only one that stands up. here a lot of large quantities of pirated CDs in MP.3 and is a shame. I prefer the vinyl

  10. hi there !

    very interesting point, especially the one on how the choices of the diggers might influence and distort the public's perception of popular , non traditional music in africa. ad beyond that, on how the demand may influence the supply.

    something would have been interesting to point out though, and it is the phenonemon of those guys trying to get exclusivity from their sources. that's where the problem is. whether it is through an exclusivity deal or an above-the-market- price offer, thats not cool, everybody should be able to by african records at a fixed rate, the african themselves to start with. If i am a young kenyan and i want that record for which one of those cats have made a 30 dollar offer, and 30 dollars is too big an amount for me, i am f$%#$%ed

    Yet I think it is a bit simplistic to talk about the europeans recolonizing africa, first because many americans also dig there for records, or would like to if only they spoke french, portuguese or arabic its not about evil europeans recolonizing africa, its about people from anywhere digging records, making money out of it and ultimately influencing the supply, always through the mechanism of our beloved friend, the magical "invisible hand" of the laws of market. and tools like exclusivity

  11. great discussion that's being dropped here. lots of views I would agree with and lots that I would not. While I'm been to Africa a bunch of times I've been too busy with work there to dig up records and I continue to support and encourage labels to do the digging for me. You can put out as many west african afro beat afro funk records as you want. I will continue to listen as I like that type of music. I definitely couldn't fault people for digging for that type of music and putting out those records, you got to do what you love and if that's your genre then go for it, there's no reason if I don't like a certain style of music that I should go put out records in that style for some greater good because I truly believe that every label that's unearthing music is already doing a good thing. keep up the good work. The laws of supply and demand always rule but yet despite that there are definitely label heads who I feel are releasing music the believe in when the return is probably not that great.

    not sure which poster talked about this but there is a lot of good music coming out of Africa right now that is not US Hiphop copycats, say what you will about BLK JKS but their music is good, Kenyan band Just a Band are making cutting edge electronic music and there is much more going down. A label not mentioned so far that is definitely worth people looking into for present day music from Africa is Akwaaba Music. These guys are putting out great stuff that goes beyond the typical West African Afro Beat Funk vibe or Eitho-jazz. Strut have also been releasing some great stuff out of South Africa via their Next Stop Soweto series.

    At the end of the day all I know is my own path which is I started listening to Fela and then got into more afro beat artists (through the compilations which back in the 90s were hard to find). From there I've developed a desire to check out other styles of African music past and present. I think my collection of African music has since swelled to dwarf the South American music section I had which had always been the main "world" music I started listening to when younger. I thank all these labels for digging and bringing new and old music so that I can enjoy. I may have too myopic a POV but aside from labels not paying artists I don't see why there is a problem.

  12. Hi Chief Boima

    Interesting, if not a little provocative article.

    If an African group or artist can spend time making wonderful individual, artful music,

    only for it to be labelled 'world music', it is similarly tragic that people like myself and Miles Cleret

    can spend time researching accurate liner notes, actual photography/history and official, well paid &

    fair licenses from the actual musicians, only to be labelled 'new colonialists'. I find the whole notion a little absurd.

    I think you need to distinguish the fact that there are people going out of their way to re-publish and re-promote all kinds of lost or under-appreciated music from all over the globe. Sure, alot of people do it for their own gains, to bolster their DJ career or even end up re-labeling/re-naming the music in the process, but there are also people concerned with preserving the art and music that have alot of respect for the creators and musicians themselves.

    Myself, I personally object to being labelled as a 'New Musical Colonist' or alike. I have as a Musician & Producer, spent alot of time working with fellow musicians in Europe, Africa & Latin America. I try to make music that encourages people to explore music outside of their usual listening circles and check scenes and genres that may

    otherwise not be exposed to. I am very much against the term 'World Music' and believe that the music should never suffer at the expense of commercial gain or be softened up to be more palatable or marketable.

    As a DJ, I collect music from all over the world, I am into Welsh Laments, Panamanian Cumbias, Ethiopian Tezetas… my tastes vary. I believe you can approach collecting music with the aesthetic of a butterfly catcher, searching for specimens to store away in a Victorian-era like fashion or you can recognise music as being living and breathing, I'm from the latter school of thought. Part of what I do as a producer is hear music off record, recorded 40 or 50 years ago and then try to find people who are perhaps still playing that style and then work with them. I believe it is important to employ young musicians, work with people who know the music well and try to keep it alive, vibrant and relevant to today.

    Music travels, records too, RnB records made it to Jamaica, Soukous records made it to Barranquilla, Country & Western made it to Nigeria, Soul made it to Korea. I believe interpreting this with a colonist aesthetic could be a case of simple over-simplification (if I'm not simply mistaken).


    Will Holland

  13. hey man – take responsibility for your words and publish under your real name. especially if you are going to link people, by name, to colonial projects that involved killing people, chopping off their hands if they didn't gather enough rubber. you might as well have compared them to nazis.

    the comparison to colonialism is both obvious (i thought about it many times while collecting records in latin am) and generally totally superficial and you should have said that in your article. many people's comments have pointed out ways you should have qualified your argument.

  14. i see this happen more and more everyday in colombia, now that europeans and others are not scared to come down here(including mr holland known here like quantic, i think he lives in colombia).. there has also been a surge of an underground cumbia scene in mexico and argentina that seeem to be coming down here more and more for samples, to make electronic cumbia ..distorting ours …..hopefully at least they will al give credit and local artists may seem some of good it though i doubt it. a great article! good food for thought

  15. So you're calling me a colonialist and a plundering opportunist? That's funny. Coming from some kid who clearly doesn't know what he's running his mouth about, I don't really feel insulted. Reminds me of those teabaggers screaming "Socialist! Communist!".

    I don't want to waste my time and start plucking apart all of the nonsense you wrote in your original post. But let me ask you and some of those world music veterans who were so quick to applaud your rant some questions:

    If you're so tired by all the Afrobeat and Afro Funk reissiues out there, why don't you just not buy them?

    Are you aware that a statement like "every album from West Africa that can remotely support the term funk has been reissued" only shows how little you guys know?

    I could play a continuous set for two nights in a row with all un-reissued West African Funk.

    If you're all so tired of Funk And Afrobeat reissues, why not hurry up and put out the African music you would consider more worthy of a re-issue? Especially when, like some of you claim, you have been collecting African music for 20-30 years.

    And here are a few questions just for you, dear DJ & self-proclaimed "activist" Chief Boima:

    Are you paying any royalties towards the African artists whose music you used on your "Techno Rumba EP" that is offered on Amazon and various other places?

    I'd be specifically interested in who's getting paid for the Orchestre Poly Rythmo track you used.

    Do you think it's cool to sell other people's music on Amazon without even providing a track list?

    Are you aware that in those rare cases where your "EP" is posted with a track list, Orchestre Poly Rythmo is misspelled "Polythmo"?

    In my eyes, this makes you the plunderer and shows very little respect towards the original artists and their music. But I'm not the one to call people names. I leave this to self-righteous activists.

  16. i think is kinda easy to say some of the things you say …

    all i would say its : africans , hurry up and work for your forgotten music

    and we colombians, we have to do the same — and its urgent

  17. Boima you have got people talking. Are you able to answer Frank's questions on issues of royalties for an EP he claims you have issued? Is what he alleges true?

  18. Someone has send me this article 2 days ago and my first reaction was "what a nonsense" and I didnt even read it in full. These kind of articles have been pooping out here and there from various people who obviously have no idea what they are talking about. This one is unfortunately no different. But after seeing Will and Beto commenting I realized that more people then I though might be reading this which is worrying – it is misleading.

    If "colonialism" it is then it has started more then 3 decades ago and its not a new phenomenon – but well if you dont do your homework how will you know? Digging in Africa has a very long history. My good friend Gunter Gretz from the P.A.M label has been collecting records in Africa for more then 35 years. He has used this collection to releases compilation of mainly "traditional" music. Highlife, Ziglibity, Soukous you name it. His first release came out in the mid 80s…I had pulled out my thumb out of my mouth at that time. After a very successful first decade (his Sweet Talk album sold over 15000 copies) sells have drastically diminished and are now not surpassing 2000 copies .

    Today PAM has more or less stopped working.

    My first two releases were compilation by Zimbabwean combos that had nothing to do with afro-beat or funk. It took me three years to produce them and I ended up selling mere 1000 copies of each. One of them, by the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, was one of the main source of inspiration for Vampire Week-end, maybe someone can tell them that the musicians in Harare badly need some few $…..Peanuts for "the vampires" would mean riches for the "chickens".

    Chris Meserve, Miles Cleret, Gregoire De Villanova, have all been digging for African records for at least 15 years and I myself have started in 1993 and there are many more examples. We have always been doing this or for the love of music or/and as material for our compilation or to sell them to DJs and producers for their work (I see NOTHING wrong with that) and it was/is not in our interest to "scream it on top of the roof"…..for what? to boost our egos? And what is so impressive about digging in Africa when one knows that 95% of the work is done by others who are tracking down stocks and collections which we only have to check out once we fly over? One tale or two can be impressive but after that it becomes kinda ridiculous. We haven't invented digging records in Africa, thats what I´m trying to say.

    This is not only true with African record but also with South American music. "A new interest for Colombia records" I read on various blogs.

    How new? Time is relative, thats true, but not in these fast paced times we are living in where a compilation released 6 months ago is already called "old". Most of the interesting Colombian records have left "la costa" decades ago and are in the hands of Mexican who have made very good use of them and have spread Cumbia all over central america long before I bough my first record.

    Chief "Cinderella" Boima has woken up too late and in his dizzy and sleepy mind has forgotten to check what has been happening in the past and believed he had written a revolutionary article. Lo siento!

    What is also misleading here is to think that every African release these days is Afro-funk related. First let me make one simple statement: if you dont like it dont listen to it. secondly: 95% of the African music released and sold is traditional based music. The market is full of it, it just a question of how hard you want it (probably not hard enough). The labels releasing that kind of stuff (I´m thinking of World circuit) are selling units that I would only be dreaming of due to effective promotional campaigns but mainly because they have managed to target audiences that actually buy CDs.

    That takes me to the next point:

    In my opinion this article attributed here is related to a sort of new interest generated by a generation of young hippsters/bloggers (the writer being without any doubt one of them) all very well connected via twitter, blogs and websides. On one hand This has help spreading the word like nothing else before (thank you) and on the other it has generated a riches of illegal download platforms (no thanks) which many are using without thinking of the consequences this has on smaller labels such mine. In addition For financial reasons mostly (I was told) the mp3 generation who I honestly believe love the music, hardly ever buy a CD and I like to point out that The material downloaded with one click has taken long and expensive trips to find, important sums of cash to license and years of research to document.

    Not even 2 weeks ago I got a message on facebook asking: "Is it ok if I share your album on my blog?" – I let you imagine what he meant by sharing.

    I have sold just enough Poly-Rythmo CDs to recoup the budget invested in that project – but then the band is filling most if not every venue they´ve been playing at in recent months…what does that tell you? Just type "the Vodoun Effect+download" in you google and watch what happens.

    To talk about colonialism really show the ignorance of someone who probably was one of the first to click on a rapidshare file and then decides to waste our time. I just saw Frank talking about an certain EP with a Poly-Rythmo track Chief Bioma supposedly released, thats good to know cause I have just received an email from Melome Clement the founder of the band (I´m explaining cause Chief Boima might not know). In that mail Melome´s explained that he was sitting in a train in the sleeping cabin heading towards spain. The bed above him was not properly blocked and it fell together with the weight of the sleeping passenger on Melome´s head. The email I received from him was to ask me to forward his royalties as soon as possible for medical treatment and to replace the teeth he had lost in that incident. Boima if you wish to forward some of the cash from your release to him let me know and I send you his email, mine is :…be a chief!

    I often hear comments such "music should be made available for free"…Oh yes? Then produce your own album and give it to the masses if you wish, but dont deal with the music that others have created hoping to make a living out of it. And if you love it so much why is it that 99-cents are too much to spend when your starbucks coffee each morning cost 3 or 4 times that?

    The buzz around our stuff is real but in terms of income it is a fata morgana and it is only a question of time before we start looking for other ways of making hands meet and if I have to sell a few records to keep my label going so be it.

    PS: the map is crap btw

  19. Hell yeah that map is crap. I wish Samy and I had our separate territories but instead we're constantly stepping on each other's toes up and down the Gulf of Guinea. Then there are a couple of people on there who've never set foot in Africa. I've seen this same map someplace else about half a year ago so even this was stolen from another source. Go buy a box of crayons, chief and draw up your own map!

  20. It is easy to write a little piece on the interweb these days. Throwing words around like colonialism and plundering shouldn't be so easy. Reading this quasi-intellectual article reminds me of a cartoon, a caricature of post-modernism: a guy stuck in the middle of four fence-posts: the label simply read 'modern postism'. Boima post(ur)ed himself with a little map and crayons and makes crazy claims. Then gets fenced in his posts by Frank.

    I'm glad people like Will, Frank, Samy, Matt, and Chris are replying. Some of them I've met in person, with others I've shared emails, or met online. Most importantly, we share a love and respect for music: all kinds of music. It's thin-eared to say it's all funk & rock; listen again, it's much deeper and poly-rhythmic! It's fuzzy-brained to compare this to colonialism.

    I have the greatest respect for the work that is involved in making these releases: tracking down albums, licensing material, interviewing artists, getting royalties paid.

    As Samy says, digging didn't start in the 1990s. Werner Graebner is another example (for Tanzania: muziki wa dansi, taarab). Thanks to them for getting these reissues out because they're certainly not getting rich from it.

    Graeme Counsel (not on the map?) is nowadays restoring the national music archives of Guinea-Conakry. A (neo)colonial strategy? Please. Check your facts or ask someone who knows.

    There are plenty of Africans who collect records: one example is Jose Henrique Ribeiro, aka Mangalha, started collecting in the 60s in Luanda (and now has over 23,000 LPs). And there are plenty of radio-stations here in Africa (I live in Tanzania now) where old records, as well as contemporary local music, gets played regularly.

    Enjoy the music.

    Hope you get out of the fence-posts you've created around you.

  21. Well, there's a lot to respond to, and a few personal attacks going

    on, which is understandable, but I should clarify a couple of things.

    First off, and I apologize for not making this clearer in the first place, I did not make the map, or any point claim to make the map, nor does the map represent my opinion which I feel that is evident in the text. As many of you point out, the map has been circulating for awhile. I saw it a few weeks ago, and wanted write something to deconstruct the map's over-exaggerated argument. There's no where in my text that I call anybody a colonialist, I'm just trying to illustrate how that perception may have come to be.

    To clarify a couple of the personal attacks for the record. I'm not using a fake name, and my EP that's for sale on Amazon is of my own original material. The track in question is from a DJ mix I did in conjunction with the EP to highlight my musical influences and is not being sold.

  22. It is an interesting conversation. I do not think the colonialist framework really works for analyzing what these DJ's are doing, because the term colonialists has a lot of exploitative connotations that are only applicable if you have a certain political or academic point to make. I've always viewed the activities of crate diggers like Miles, Frank and Samy as more of a cultural exploration in that they resurrect/redicover forgotten musical forms and highlight their vitality as the music still sound fresh 40 years later. That being said I do think a lot of cool music is overlooked or not given the exposure it might deserve because it does not fit into a commercially viable category. I have a lot of great recordings that would never make it into a club or festival setting because it is too melancholy or introspective, but which represents the style of music people were listening to, especially once you get out of the Lagos driven music scene. As far as highlife music is concerned there were several indigenous african labels that catered to regions and tribes outside the Lagos area that produced first rate stuff that never really got much exposure in or outside Nigeria because the big European labels were based in Lagos and they focused on that market . So, I guess my point is that there might be a difference between looking for music that is commercially viable and trying to systematically document the evolution of music forms in Africa. I think another point is that people like Samy Red Benjamb have been a little more conscietious about using the liner notes to give voice to the performers and allow them to document their experiences in the african musical world and I think these interviews and insights offer a lot of information that will be valuable to future researchers and music fans as it gives you a glimpse into a world that has largely been undocumented in the west.

  23. PS: To Michael Scott:

    We´ve spend a whole week listening to highlife in my kitchen, I´ve meet you more then 4 times in SF, you have been my close friend for 9 years, you have been editing the liner notes of my compilations, you have send me birthday cards every year, you have made me more then half a dozen of mix tapes and you still have no idea how to spell my name?…in the corner :)

    Hi Boima

    Apology for my previous message, I must admit it was a little unfair.

    As you see many of the leading diggers for African records are reacting to your message – we have experienced the reality on the ground and the I guess the way bolsters have been portraying our activities has made more then one of us very sensitive to this issue.

    You have to know that many of us have created jobs and have send many children to school through our quest for records. We also deal with our partners in Africa with the upmost respect and the money they earn monthly is sometimes higher then the average income in Germany, so imagine. The notion that we just travel to Africa, empty everything and pay peanuts is incorrect. I have seen such comments on many blogs over the net by people who have never set foot in Africa – how would they know? They see a record going for 300$ on ebay and conclusion is made.

    Here another example of anti-colonialism (we are in agreement, you didn't directly use that word):

    I´m preparing an Angolan compilation as we speak. Half of the songs I´m going to release are the property of a portuguese company that has licensed the music to me. I´ve always financed my compilations from my own pockets but do to the extremely high costs in Luanda I started looking for funds and managed to find support from an institute. They loved the project and decided to offer me the double of the amount they initially offered. I used that money to license the other half of the project and also forward more or less the same amount of cash to the guys that had composed the songs I got from Portugal. That money was billed for interviews, pictures and documentation:

    (Eu Samy Ben Redjeb, declaro por minha honra que entreguei ao senhor Santos Junior a quantia de XXXUSD (XXX Dolares Americano) pela sua colaboracao (entrevista, material e informacao) no projecto musical angolano da empresa discográfica Analog Africa.)

    I am in no way mother theresa, bless her, but since I had received some extra cash It was the only way to go into that project with a good feeling and also to encourage the artist to put their weight behind the project – it is as simple as that. I know that Soundway is dealing with their artists in the same way, paying high advances. (BBE take note).

    All this to convince you that the image in your article is distorting what is really happening on the ground – I wish you could take some of the ideas we have forwarded here and rewrite something that truly reflects our works.

    Hope this finds you well and please don´t take all of this too personally!

  24. Boima,

    Sounds like a cop out to me.

    You say you're not comparing names depicted in the map to colonists, but you basically spell out that searching for African records could be compared to the search for African minerals in colonial times. I think you need to explain yourself a little more, as I object to you referring to me in this way.

    I'd also like to point out that your note on colombia is both naive and inaccurate. From the early 60s Colombian entrepreneurial producers and record dealers have both distributing and re-recording African music without paying rights or even listing the original artists. Barranquilla sound systems were based on exclusivity and rare African records changed hands for $500+ dollars in their day. Furthermore, dozens of African, Haitian and Martinique songs were re-recorded by Colombian bands and released on major labels with no credits given to the original writers. So, for me, to make out that colombia has had some kind of non commercial relationship with their African heritage is plain incorrect.

  25. It was extremely informative for me – probably for all of us – to read what Samy or Will have to say. Although your methods are no mystery to yourselves, they remain a big mystery to most.

    Just wanted to add a couple of things…

    First point: I think it's quite alright for Boima to raise these issues.

    Colonialism is basically messing with a nation's sovereignty.

    Recorded music is a key part of any nation's cultural heritage, which I consider to be a fundamental part of their sovereignty.

    So when foreigners come in to do things to the music that no one locally wants or can do, even with the best intentions, then the issues of sovereignty and "colonialism" are necessarily raised.

    And here we are, question raised!

    Second point: your responsibilities go beyond the business of music

    The big issue is this: Whether you want it or not, you may be the only ones preserving the cultural heritage of some of these countries. This may not be what you set out to do, but that's what's happening. You are in fact labels, ministries of culture, university labs, etc. With those roles come huge responsibilities. (and with such roles can also come extra funding, as Samy's Portuguese institute money indicates)

    One concrete example: When one of you buys out the rights to a song – as has been the case, I know for a fact – does it not become your responsibility to make sure this piece of culture you just purchased is made accessible to the people of the country you bought the song from?

    Perhaps my example sits on the fringes of your work, but the point stands: Whether you want it or not, what you are doing is much, much bigger than what you set out to do. And if you only stick to your mission, being a label and releasing impeccable collections to Western audiences, then, you are not taking into consideration everything that lacks around music in Africa, and then indeed, there is an element of colonialism: you are in fact messing with these countries' cultural sovereignty.

    I'm not saying that is what you do, I'm asking you: this piece of world heritage you are commercializing, are you taking necessary measures to make it available to locals?

  26. Well read into it what you want, I never said your name in my text. The map did, I was just creating a frame from which to look at the map. My criticism comes from the angle of who is actually making the decisions about what gets repressed, packaged with love, and distributed.

    My point on Colombia is that their interest in the music is motivated by cultural heritage. I am aware of the industrial complex that has been set up in Baranquilla. Even though there is a lot of bootlegging, just as there is a lot of bootlegging of your records, or perhaps even more significantly and on a greater scale, the bootlegging of local contemporary artists in African cities today, the cultural exchange happened without the mediation of "Western" cultural middlemen (but yes global capitalism played a roll) and that's what I think is interesting.

  27. Will Holland

    sure! to say that African music was and still is pirated in Colombia is true. do not pay royalties. only one person called Yamiro Marín of Cartagena was the only one who took or payment for a license. by the label Gallo Record in Sur Africa. also heard from another person. a French recident in Barranquilla in the 80s at this moment I have the name of he (Frances) bought licenses for the label "Tropical" of Colombia.

    mi friend Sydney Reyes have ask more information and then publish

  28. Seeing the names of both friends I have met through collecting African records and people I respect for their work in compiling, researching, remastering and re-releasing African music, I figured I ought to throw my penny's worth into the conversation.

    My interest is in Kenyan and Tanzanian music and I run a website dedicated to cataloguing 45rpm vinyl records from those countries. It is a collaborative effort, collectors from all over the world have taken the time to send me lists of records they have found and I have spent a lot of time collating their lists, adding them to the website, cross-referencing artists' names and building links to draw everything together. So far the website features more than 2,600 records.

    What the website doesn't do is post records for downloading, because I live in hope that one day some of the music will be released with proper royalties paid to the artists and with well-researched sleevenotes that puts the music in context and explains its importance to a new audience. I would love to do this myself but I don't have the time or resources for such a massive undertaking.

    So why do I run the website? Because some of the music is great and some of it is tedious and all of it is part of the cultural heritage of Kenya and Tanzania and its history needs to be documented.

    Attempting to do this from London, where I am based, isn't easy. I've fired off dozens of e-mails and posted dozens of letters to broadcasters, journalists, record producers, government officials, even former record company PO boxes in a bid to find information about artists and labels. Almost all have gone unanswered. Most of the information I have gleaned has come from other collectors and from the time-consuming business of trawling through microfilms of back issues of contemporary Kenyan newspapers held in the British Library's newspaper collection.

    Believe me, this isn't glamorous work – and I doubt putting together compilations is terribly glamorous or lucrative either. People do it for love of the music, the opportunity to track down and meet the musicians who made it, give them their due, restore their place in history and open more ears to their great music. The satisfaction comes from achieving these aims.

    The renaissance of Orch Polyrhythmo is a prime example. What could be better than dancing in a packed hall to a set by a band who count you as a friend and whose fortunes you have played a big part in reviving? And if young people back in Cotonou reckon Orch Polyrhythm are old hat, so what? One day, they will grow up and perhaps their kids may come upon the band's music and fall head over heels for it. It's that possibility that makes preserving history important.

  29. You mentioned me by name in your original post saying "The image of these guys as plundering opportunists isn’t helped by their reception in “The West”. As one music writer puts it,”Frank Gossner’s DJ sets burst with exclusive tracks…"

    And if you post a map that mentions people by name siuggesting their activities are of a colonialist nature than you are respinsible for that as well. Regardless of how pre-school the graphics and content might appear.

    With your pathetic attempts at backpedaling and somehow making sense of your ramblings just look even more like those "socialist" communist!" yelling teabaggers. These guys look similarly funny when you ask them for their definition of socialism or communism.

  30. I also thank Sammy Analog Africa for search in Colombia of records and also Miles Cleret of Soudway Records. They not only have done great work in their productions. have also shown you productions in Europe and the rest of the world, Colombian music that many people did not know. also many artists, will go abroad to touch across borders, something that never before had generated.

    not only the artist receives his royalties, also he artist and earn much better than in Colombia

  31. Boima,

    I'm sure we will cross paths eventually & we can discuss this further, its opened up an interesting debate.

    For now, I'd appreciate if you get your information straight before using my name in your article, pictorial or otherwise. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to comment and respond here, otherwise you'd be doing a pretty good job at misrepresenting other people, people you have never met.

    I also look forward to commenting on your musical practices, will check where you're coming from.


  32. Wouldn't a more pertinent map be one that showed how much land in Africa is now owned by non-African companies? If you are looking for neo-colonialists, that might be a better starting-point than having a go at a bunch of music lovers. Then ask yourself how these firms came to acquire so much land and who has benefited most from its sale. I guess it's much easier to attack people who put their postal and e-mail addresses on the back of the CDs and records they sell than the real exploiters who keep their money in tax havens.

  33. In response to Frank:

    Oooooo, Frank, did I hit a sore spot?

    Wow! "Stay in school Benjamin"… That sounds a bit patronizing, no? Is that another aspect of colonialism I omitted in my shortcut definition?

    In French we say "pas de fumee sans feu", there's no smoke without fire. I can't help to think your aggressive, yet quite unconvincing dismissal of my points only underline their truth.

    So what is it Frank? Do you feel you are fulfilling your responsabilities?

  34. Benjamin, nothing you said is worth any further comments. I dismissed it as the misguided ramblings that they so cleary are to everybody with only half a brain. This might not convince you but that was neither my intent nor would I have expected this.

    How do you get the absurd idea that it would be up to you to point out any responsabilities I might have?

    After having been mentioned here by name, I felt like I should explain myself and that's what I did. I'm done with this and won't post any further comments as this is simply not worth my time.

    No go and peddle some more of that PC generated auto-tune rubbish and good luck with that.

  35. nice conversation.!

    quite normal to see people react, as they feel they're being accused , via the names on the map, although it may not have been Chief Boima's intention. the neocolonialism thing of course was absurd, since we all know about the columbian example- although afri colombia taught me sthg.

    I am not sure that the article actually suggests that africans are being stolen, ie not paid by those digging and issuing compilations…yet it was interesting to hear the explanations spontaneously given here by Sammy, or by Frank, as i recently asked him a few questions for a series of diggers portraits in worldsound magazine. interesting because -at last- they shed a light on something that long needed some light shed on it: how the locals benefit from it…Too bad it had to be clarified in those conditions !

    but hey, lets face it: the mechanisms of economy and business -this is a business after all, it needs to be economically sustainable like Sammy said- may eventually create some distortions. How easily available will that music be to the local public/business/scene, if the original license holders / artists / managers have taken the habit of dealing with northern economic standars ? Thats not such a stupid question. If the concept of exclusivity arises – which does from time to time ;) I am quite sure- then things may get even worse.

    now following on Michael Scott… after all, the concern about the public being strongly orientated towards only a few genres, based on the fact that most of what is made available to the public via the offer and the media that echo , makes sense. But that's not the digger's fault … Ocora records, Golden apple's benga rock music, Smithsonian stuff or the Sublime frequencies compilations dont get the attention they deserve in comparison to other discographic proposals, do they ?…i wonder if this Honest johns new wave compilation will have a lot of success…well it should normally cause thats honest johns, but…

  36. "I could play a continuous set for two nights in a row with all un-reissued West African Funk." llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  37. for me i love these afro beat compilations from west africa i'm a white swedish old man that has been into african music since 1970's playing with lots of african musicians through the years & all that time its been very hard finding any afro beat & afrofunk always been much easier to get congolese styles i'm very happy about the works of samy ben redjeb & frank they are no colonialists i justb think they also love this music & wants spread all over the world it's good that they save this music for coming generations while there still are some of it left

  38. I think as much as some peoples feathers may have been ruffled this has been a great discussion. As one of the people behind Dutty Artz, the label issuing Boima's music I would advise those making accusations to do more research. The pieces we released are original sample-free compositions by Boima.

    The funny and sad thing about this discussion is how little money anyone is likely making in this space today. As a label owner I definitely commend those making well documented reissues and paying royalties. It's not easy.

    That being said the discussion about accessibility, aesthetic impact and how stylistic choices made by diggers affect the music are very relevant and shouldn't be shouted down.

    I think certain commenters here have acquitted themselves pretty poorly. Just because someone has raised a question about your artistic practice does not justify childish ridicule and personal attacks. For me this type of a defensive reaction certainly makes me suspicious. My hat is off to those who took this as an opportunity to offer clarity and expand on what we all know.

  39. Comparing the 'Scramble for Vinyl' and the actions of a handful of record collectors with the colonisation and plunder of a continent is unnecessary and trivialising. However Chief Boima's blog does raise a couple of important questions for everyone who's passionate about African music.

    The first is who gets to define what counts as African music and how this changes over time. It's always struck me as odd that back in the day an artist such as Christy Essien was was seen as undeniably naff compared to contemporary highlife, juju or fuji while today she's sufficiently hip and funky for a hefty price tag on e-bay. Meanwhile to-day's exciting 'Naija' music scene is seen as an unauthentic copy of US hip hop and r&b. What's going on there?

    The second is that, while the diggers and their blogs have brought a mind boggling range of African music to our attention, the market for any type of African music in Europe is fast shrinking to zero. Much more music is getting posted on the web for free access than will ever make it to i-tunes or a music store. And when you do make it into a music store, the 'African' section consists mainly of the diggers' compilations and little else – a sad comparison with the days of vinyl when you could do your own digging in a store close to home with no need to spend 6 months in Cotonou, Lagos or wherever.

    In this context it is a shame that the artists taking the music into the 21st century are so overlooked and ignored. My resources to go digging anywhere are very limited, but when I do it's for new Mbalax, African Hip Hop, Kuduro, Naija, Kwaito etc. So it's a paradox that CDs and digital technology have seen a narrowing and shrinking in the market for new African music rather than its expansion. The diggers have revitalised some great old tunes but African musicians surely need partners who'll look towards the future with them. Posting clips on Youtube alone won't pay the rent.

  40. My apologies if I was offensive. You might want to look up the word "defensive" as it means something entirely different.

    I admitt that my tone of voice was condescending at times but that's what you get when you post up nonsensical pseudo-intellectual bullshit spiked with personal insults: You get put in your place.

  41. Legacies of colonialism remain alive and hurtful in Africa. Capitalism remains alive and hurtful around the world. Racism remains alive and hurtful around the world. Like them or not, these facts are a part of the context of everything we do, including anything we do with or about African music. Hence, the question becomes: How best to preserve potentially "lost" music, share music–in all its glorious diversity–with the widest possible audience, & etc while at the same time undermining capitalism/colonialism/racism and honoring the wishes/rights of musicians? There's unlikely to be one right answer, although it's always a good idea to be as mindful as possible of all of the implications and ramifications of one's actions. Hence I appreciate the original post for raising these questions and I am glad to see this evolving discussion. I hope only that everybody will be willing to question ourselves–quietly, in the privacy of our own consciences, rather than online where one tends to become defensive–every time we are about to do something with somebody else's artistic production.

  42. My last comment was a reply directed to Matt btw.

    I know I wanted to stay out of this several posts back but let me respond to what John had to say which I think is really interesting.

    I had to look up "naff" since I honestly didn't know this word before, live and learn, so first of all thanx for that.

    I think you're being a bit harsh on Christy. I think she was really, really young at the beginning of her career and yeah, her lyrics are without a doubt quite corny at times but she did record with some serious heavyweights and you just can't deny how good some of her songs are.

    I admit that I'm not really into any current style of music, be it from Africa or elsewhere. I just personally don't like the sound of new productions.

    When I lived in Guinea, I was doing a local club night together with a young band that could be absolutely incredible but sometimes also uninspired and quite boring due to tensions between the musicians and the band leader who got paid from the club and wouldn't pay his band. I stayed out of this. I was putting up posters and fliers, brought down my equipment and played records inbetween sets and after the show, didn't ask to get paid and just had a good time and bought drinks for everybody since none of the band members could even afford to buy a coke. There was constant talk about going into the only recording studio in Conakry but I had heard what type of stuff was recorded there and I just knew how they wanted to sound like. Now I could have told them to record right there in the club and maybe even put out a record with them but I knew that this was not what they wanted. I would have corrupted their artistic integrity. Doing so could have been described as an act of "cultural colonialism".

    I've lived and traveled in West Africa for 3 years and go back for extensive visits once or twice a year since moving to the US and I've seen enough West African music television, listened to the radio on endless bus and bush taxi rides and been to local clubs and bars to know that there currently just isn't anything out there for me personally. There are some great local bands that still sound great when they play live but if I'm honest, I just don't like the sound of modern recordings.

    If it's tough to sell current African pop music in Europe and in the US, I don't think it's fair to blame this on an overexposure of re-issues and compilations of old music. Maybe there are just not enough buyers who like "new Mbalax, African Hip Hop, Kuduro, Naija, Kwaito etc."? Are you saying the market is flooded with re-issues and they take the public's attention away from modern artists? I don't think this is the case.

  43. I don't see the relevance of racism in this discussion … As for the idea that record label people have the responsibility to make their releases available to the people of the country of origin: I think that "problem" solves itself: I'm pretty sure that for instance the Benin comps on Analog Africa are now easily available all over the country in the form of cheap, shoddy bootleg CD-Rs! I don't think that Europeans or Americans have to teach Africans anything about doing business … Or about exploiting other people's work. Perhaps the whole idea that those helpless Africans have to be protected from malintentioned westerners is in itself patronizing and, if you want, neo-colonial …

  44. "It’s an interesting comparison to look at the contrast between a community mediated project motivated by their own cultural heritage, and one that is more motivated by a commercial venture."

    I'm not sure that I understand the difference. The "commercial" venture (and the folks working with African music are hardly making loads of money, so I would use that term sparingly) is a way to popularize, to make the music accessible. There are loads of recordings that lean towards the academia rotting away in institutional crypts — ignored and forgotten.

    The West doesn't get to own the discourse. In the case of reissues, I would imagine most of the old musicians are more than happy to get a little money from something they had mostly left to the past — with the modern musicians, it's a chance to get a little cash to support their projects at home.

    I remember trying to engage one of my friends in a Tuareg band in one of the common debates that you see the Western music folks bashing their heads about — the exoticism of the Tuaregs, or the difficulties to project a message in a foreign language. He basically said "I'm making my music for Tuaregs — but if Western people want to buy it, fine, promote it, just send me money!"

  45. Very good article. I am a budding vinyl collector in Nairobi and can share the sentiments on how rare it is to come across vinyl and how the whole culture is dead. There are no official music stores that stock them, in my opinion the contributing factor to this is the emergence of compact disk and newer music formats like MP3, these are available easily on the streets at a cheaper price.

    My vinyl collection is currently restricted to networking with friends whose parents used to collect vinyl and they no longer need them or see any value in them. I have also come across a shop in down town Nairobi where I manage to stumble upon dozens of vinyl, dusty and stacked up in the ceiling, I visit the place regularly to get a couple of records.

  46. Great article. The rash of defensiveness from the collectors only proves that it's on point.

    Of course, as someone from a european heritage I wouldn't know about so much of the music if it wasn't for those extracting those cultural resources, so I don't think it's about demonising individuals and even though individuals were named I don't think the article attacked them directly.

    Instead the article raised some big questions, like colonialism, and it is the *resistance* to being associated with that term that is most in evidence in the comments. Personally, I think it is ridiculous for anyone of European heritage to claim to understand what colonialism means or what practices do or don't belong to it. We simply weren't subject to it in the same way – or more to the point, our very wealth and ability to make a "name" for ourselves releasing African music (with all good intentions and uneven effects) is itself a legacy of the colonial process that has not been available to those who created the music. That seems obvious to me but perhaps not to others. That is what I think of when I hear the term colonialism in this discussion.

    If we are talking about the relationship between Europe and Africa in any sense we are in the wake of the colonial relationship, so I completely disagree with anyone suggesting that this should not be a topic of conversation. And frankly, the defensiveness in this discussion by some of those "names" whose work I have admired and benefited from is causing me to reevaluate how I feel about their work (and how I feel about my own connection to African music).

    I look forward to more dialogue, preferably without people trying to exclude key terms from the debate.

  47. After going through all the comments i realized how the article has sparked a heated discussion from some of you

  48. After going through all the comments I realized how the article has sparked a heated discussion from some of you who have been mentioned by Chief Boima.

    I have had the same conversation with a friend a while back who had a similar opinion that doing so is "robbing Africa of its art" which i completely disagreed with.

    Being a young vinyl collector myself, still taking baby steps, I think it is completely pointless to compare this with colonization if anything it is embarrassing that majority of African folk don't appreciate their own Music.

    Kudos to all the crate diggers out there who are keeping the music alive through the re-issues, paying royalties and making these rare music available to the world.


    To; Frank, Samy,Will

    How can i access more information on your crate digging experiences and also the opportunity to purchase the re-issues that you have out there.

    Thank you.

  49. there are many who have commented here who are much much more qualified to write than I am, but I wanted to point out a few things thant I think haven't been properly highlighted in this debate:

    1. There are many reissues that have been put out out that are not funk/afrobeat oriented – Dakar Sound put out a fantastic series of reissues, Stern's has done fantastic reissues of Tabu Ley and Franco, and Strut has put out S. African Jazz

    2. Not all these reissues are being done by westerners – if you look at emusic you will find many titles out there from the Music Copyright Society of Kenya and Premier Music of Nigeria, and Syllart of Ibrahim Sylla is a fairly large player in the reissue/compilation arena

    3. What is qualitatively different about the Soundway and Analog Africa releases is the quality of information and research that accompanies the music – I think when folks lament that all the reissues are funk oriented it shows that a) they are only aware in their own little world of these reissues and b) they wish the other reissues were as lovingly put out.

    4. There was often quite a bit of exploitation in the original production of the records that have been dug up, by both western and African interests (see the history of sonodisc for example) by negotiating directly with artists reissue/compilation producers are actually producing more of a revenue stream to the artist than buying the record actually produced.

    5. The "otherization" of Africans and African music produced by such efforts – in fact by highlighting afrofunk reissues you have weakened this arguments because theses reissuers have highlighted a subgenre of music where the back and forth musical cross-pollination is perhaps most evident – my experience has been by seeing this likeness folks are able to venture out from afrobeat into other areas of less western-sounding music, at least that's what I've seen from my son's listening tastes

    6. I think others have pointed out that there is little "gold" to be made in this goldrush and my own experience with those of the bloggers and reissuers out there has been that they aren't getting rich and that other motivations, primarily a deep appreciation of the music is at work.

    just my own 1cent

  50. I'd like to thank Frank for replying to my post and the others who've added their own interesting contributions.

    I agree I was a little harsh in singling out Christy Essien as 'undeniably naff'. She's done some great tunes. However I think I am right in pointing out that she, and many of the other artists revived on recent compilation albums, weren't seen as being sufficiently 'authentic' for many African music fans in Europe back when their music was first released. My point was simply that tastes change and new taste-makers pick up on something different. But for me it's just a shame that so much of this 'new taste' looks so firmly to the past.

    What's also interesting about these collections, and I buy a lot of them as they're usually very good, is that they question my own recollection of the time. I've ended up hearing a lot of great music I hardly ever noticed before so thankyou. I mean, Lagos Disco? Never came across it when I was in town and the tunes were being released right under my nose! How come I missed them? Guess I must have been chasing after that elusive new fuji release.

    I also doubt the diggers are squeezing new African music out of the market. I fear the cd market for all types of African music in Europe is in terminal decline. If it wasn't for the efforts of the diggers they'd be next to nothing on the shelves at all. In London the specialist outlets for African, Latin and Brazilian music have all closed in the last couple of years – so it's the megastore or mail order if you want the few new discs that are out there. I enjoy listening to good music whatever era it comes from, but I also like to hear where it's going and that's where we're missing out.

    I mean it's great that Poly-Rythmo are having their place in the sun. I saw them in West Africa back in the day and they blew me away then just as they did in London earlier this year. But, in a small market place, I'd rather have the choice of hearing something new rather than another Poly-Rythmo re-release. This isn't to criticise a fantastic band nor is it a trend confined to African music alone. Just check on the space in the jazz racks devoted to Miles Davis re-releases and 'legacy editions' compared to cutting edge new music.

    In short I feel that anyone who isn't keeping a close eye on new African music is missing out. It's true that digital technology means it's very easy for anyone in the world to make a bad record but the converse is also true. There are a more than just a few artists making fantastic 21st century music that make my hair stand on end the same way as Franco did when I first heard him in the 70s. And, for me, this is where the future of African music lies and it's where I'd put my money if I had any. Maybe the wheel will turn full circle when the diggers of 2040 put P-Square and 9ice on their rare groove compilations of the future. That'll be the day.

  51. Quick note to Zim: Ibrahima Sylla has on his own robbed more African musicians than all the westerners together ever did or will do.

    Orchestra Baobab, Salif, you mane them, he's worked with them and they're still waiting for their money. Actually they stopped waiting a long time ago.

    I mean, we're talking about a guy who claims he's lost money on 'Soro'…

  52. Africolombia,

    Yes, I understand that there were also a lot of legit licensed records coming out of Barranquilla, I was not suggesting that it was a purely bootleg market. My intention was to illustrate to Boima that Colombia was not some kind of magical land where records only changed hands for the sake of heritage.

    Perhaps, may I suggest the original text be removed and replaced with the comments here listed, this discussion has been far more interesting than the original article…ever was Hahaha… Sorry.

    I also agree that it's an interesting point to be made that records, in the commercial sense are articles for expression but also for capital gain. The original records themselves that we know and love as art are also commercial ventures, a momentary capture of a performance, but a commercial document none the less.

    Another interesting discussion, or inversion on our discussion would be to talk of the arrival of Latin records in Africa. Did that wave of music arrive by record and radio? Did African music enthusiasts travel to Cuba, puerto Rico and new York to look for Records?


  53. some African production in Colombia were distributed without a license.

    producers did not even know the name of the original melody or the artist who interpreted it.

    travelers, or people of the time, friends, characters had you the opportunity to travel to Europe for example, came (arrived) back with albums without covers and with the labels hidden or scraped.

    usually returned with wore a copy or a pair of them and sold to the highest bidder. in this case any owner of the old picós – sound systems in the 70s & 80s.

    since there was much competition between the owners of the old sound system. them waiting for the travelers or the boats in the ports … etc to be in the forefront and buy the best records.

    the fame of the sound system had to be for the best music I had this one

    music producers and traders in the same try to talk to the owners of the sound systems to negotiate with them and then press them illegally or without a license.

    without any original name of the melody or the name of the band that played or the country of origin.

    only be guided by any name or any letter (alias – Nickname) that was like our Spanish.

    to identify or differentiate.

    to many productions were licensed, legalmene "legitime".

    African music was popular since the 60s to late 80s that was the best time of the sound systems, I think that was the best time or the golden age.

    with the advent of technology and the changes are lost a bit of passion for music.

    much was the boom that many local bands began copying the albums solemente no African music also of Haitian music, Jibara (Puerto Rico) Regaee Jamaican Dub.

    bands like Las Chicas Del Can (El Negro no puede), inspired for the song of Golden Sounds "Zangalewa" Lizandro Meza (Shacalao) Fela Kuti Original Version "Shakara" and Other I do not remember at the moment.

    can also listen to the version of Shakira in the last world "Waka Waka" I guess shakira hear it in her childhood in a corner or on the radio or possibly in some Sound systems of their neighborhood. African music always had with us.

    Greetings from Barranquilla.



  54. Wow. I've just spent like two hours reading this post and all the comments. There's a lot to say, and some serious bombs have already been dropped, with big Frank especially coming out swingin'. Couple things still seem to need addressing.

    1. The Map and the term "Colonialism": You know, despite the qualifiers and disclaimers Chief Boima offers above of not creating the map himself, he placed that shit right at the top of the page, and then refers to it in his article as being only a "little hyperbolic". Really? You think? Also, he notes: "the current mad-dash for rare African vinyl could be analogous to Europe’s 19th Century Scramble for Africa, a mad-dash for rare African minerals". Really? It "could be analogous"? The comparison of the practices of a few legit reissue labels with the practices of white men burning off the hands of enslaved African children for wanting more water to drink on rubber plantations where they live in tiny disease and shit infested shacks in the Belgian Congo? Yeah, you’re right, that definitely seems like it "could be analogous".

    Oh, wait- no it doesn't. That’s not even close, and this is why Frank and Samy et al. have every right to be hella pissed off with this sensationalist blog post (which, it should be noted, is the author's inaugural for this site. Somebody maybe wanted to create a big splash with some blown-up controversy?). These labels aren't even on the same planet as Shell or BP or slave traders. That's an insane comparison to make, especially in light of the real issues of culture that the article eventually does a weak job of trying to touch upon. It’s kind of like trying to debate domestic economic policy while holding a sign with Obama in a Hitler 'stache: it basically invalidates any real arguments you might have.

    If Chief was sincere in trying to address the map and colonialism, maybe he should have been like "hey, this map is pretty much bullshit hyperbole, but here are some legit questions about the cultural implications of this trend in African music reissues". He could have simply linked to the map. He could have said "Man, the blood diamond trade is really awful. Aren't you glad that Analog Africa actually pays royalties to all the artists on 'Afrobeat Airways'? Still, it's kind of weird to have a white guy be the cultural taste-maker for what African music folks listen in Europe and the States".

    Sure, colonialism has evolved into something very different than the example I gave above, but Chief doesn't seem very interested in clearing that up, even while very accurate examples of what we could call “colonialism classic” continue to take place all over the continent today. This article becomes sensationalist, with the only kind words for diggers come too few and too late to erase the fallout from the map and the unqualified use of the word colonialism, and the real questions in it only get glossed over after the Frank-baiting parts.

    2. Hot DJ on DJ action: If this guy's a DJ, I don't understand his concern that these other DJs are only reissuing stuff that DJs and people who go to see DJs would like. Really? What else would a DJ reissue?

    Listen, it's a complete cultural fluke that 40 year-old West African music is arguably the most popular outside of that continent, and that DJs would be the ones finding those platters. As Chief notes, just as it used to be that nerdy musicologists would track all over the damn place to get rare field recordings, Samy and Duncan and Frank and the whole gang are tracking all over the place to get the rare vinyl that the bookworms missed in the first place. So academics used to be the ones bringing African music to the yawning Western masses, and now it's DJs, and damn, the kids love those grooves. Thus, we get DJ-spinnable music from Africa.

    No one PLANNED this, it just happened. The trend got started, people dove in, rabid fan-base was built, and now we have this cottage industry of re-issues of African music that is waaaaaaaaay more enjoyable than almost anything Nonesuch put out 30 years ago, whether or not it's "African enough". In our market-based economy, the market determined that afrobeat will be more available for the next decade than soukous. It's a shitty system, no doubt about it. Capitalism sucks. It would be great if all art and music were valued equally, but they’re not. From the sound of things, it seems like these songs don’t really hold much value for many people in Africa, whereas the crate-diggers saw something they liked. Bringing us to…

    3. “For whose benefit?”- This is, of course, the real heart of the matter. White people are benefiting from the work of black people, and some people might call it colonialism. I’d say that we can safely step back from such reckless hyperbole (see above). But what does it mean for white people to be acting (with or without intention) as the cultural ambassadors to the West for parts of Africa instead of, you know, the people from those parts of Africa? I don’t know. It’s not inherently colonial per se, but it does remind us of the treatment Africa has often received at the hands of white people- in VERY simplified terms, African people worked and white people profited (and let’s face it- as hard as these crate-diggers work, it’s not the same thing as “hard work”, knawmean?). Is it possible for there to be an equal exchange (cultural, economic or otherwise) between white people and African people in light of the colonial past?

    That’s kind of THE question of pretty much all discussions of race, and it’s a bummer to think that the answer might “yes, an equal exchange is still centuries away from being possible”. But at the same time, this makes the work that these labels do take on an even braver, more important light. Awkward steps have to be made towards a future where people in Africa have the same kind of cultural and economic mobility as white people, and in a small way, compilations like "Ghana Soundz" might do so: you have the talent and hard work of African musicians being recognized by folks in the West, while the musicians are finally being fairly compensated. Thanks to the Analog Africa and Soundway reissues, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo were able to tour Europe and the US for the first time in their 40 year career. Yeah, of course it’s not a perfect arrangement, but it’s better than it used to be. That’s kind of the most we can hope for at the moment. Colonialism and racism took centuries to construct, and it’s gonna take at least as much time to tear down. I’d like to thank all of these crate-diggers and label-owners, because even if they don’t look at their task in the same way that I might, they’re still doing a bang-up job of cranking out the jams and raising important questions like these. Plus, if I get to grind with big-booty gals to the tunes they unearth, so much the better.

    Sorry for the long post, but I’ve had a lot on my mind. Been expecting to see an article like this for a while. Thanks Chief.

  55. It's all about the love of the music. Anyone who has bought any of the compilations put out by Analog Africa, Soundway, etc. should be able to see the obvious love and respect towards the music/musicians that the compilers have. We also should be grateful for the efforts in rescuing this music from the dustbins of time and sharing it with a new audience, giving it a second life in the world. To level the charge of some new kind of "colonialism' on them is so misguided and absurd. I doubt highly anyone is laughing their way to the bank so to speak. Good for them for defending themselves against such a load of hogwash.

  56. Wow!

    I think gavin & people took you too harshly, boima. Comparing people & place within music to colonialists doesn't mean you're the white devil, its just talking about power structures and where we fit in that history. I don't feel like you were telling record bros to stop listening to old afrobeat, or to stop releasing it, just "worrying they concentrate too much on those forms of music that fit nicely into the story that they, the DJs, want to tell about the music." makes sense to me!

    Many here seem to deny our place in the realm of power as a taste makers, promoting our own likes and interests. With our norms => $$ and real clout. Acknowledging this & thinking about the effects =/= Y'all are evil malicious thieves.

    Frank says its hard to sell current african pop music in europe/US.

    Maybe to a particular set of [white?] people with his tastes! uhhhhhh not to the diaspora! Not to many youngins [who have their own hang-ups, preferences] has he looked at recent french charts??

    [how about.. "its hard to sell music, esp to people who can't or won't buy it"]

    Crazy that they even scold you for using that map (eye roll illegally?) ! crazy that somehow these people think colonialism is too evil, too loaded to bring up in relation to them!

    WE ARE ALL COLONISTS, no? at least their children, trying to make the best of it… be honest!

  57. Rachel, your blasé statement that "we are all colonists" is totally ridiculous. On the other hand, if you want to say that white people have unfairly benefited from colonialism, that would be an "honest" thing to say. The kind of ridiculous hyperbole in the first half of this article, in the map, and in statements like "we are all colonists" is exactly what makes real discussions about race impossible. You might as well be saying that in effect I, as a USAmerican, am a slave owner. Sorry, that's bullshit. Sure, there is no doubt that I benefit from the white supremacist infrastructure that encouraged slavery and continues to perpetuate all manner of crime against people of color. But I didn't put chains on anyone, and to imply otherwise, even in allegory, is pretty inflammatory. Of course colonialism is a loaded term, especially for these crate-diggers who have spent years in Africa and might have a little more first-hand knowledge of exactly how deep the damage of colonization runs, and more personally, how it affects their friends living there.

    That's why this article is so obnoxious. In order to continue the long process of undoing racism/colonialism, there's a real need to discuss some of the questions raised towards the end of the article. But you don't open a dialogue by saying "Duncan Booker is the heir apparent to King Leopold's near-genocidal reign in what is now the DRC because he compiles records of old afropop".

  58. Surely the aggressive vinyl extraction techniques deployed in Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and elsewhere by some individuals and the subsequent sale of these items on the international market is not entirely that divorced from the practices of colonialism? And the stories of personal adventure seem remarkably similar to stories of intrepid colonial explorers….

  59. Like a pack of demented children…

    Glad to see you have found a new angle and now it's "aggressive vinyl extraction techniques… and the subsequent sale of these items on the international market".

    You couldn't make it any clearer that you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. No clue, no money, no records, no real excitment in your own pathetic life. You read up on the lifes of others and you're overcome with jealousy. I can't really relate but I'm sure it must feel terrible.

    Given the cost and work to actually find a sellable record in any West African country, the prices of these things on the collectors market in Europe and the US is still far too low. To you this might seem like a lot of money but it's not.

    This time I'm really done. Gotta do some housecleaning before picking up Albert Jones (band leader of the Freedom Family) from the airport tomorrow.

  60. Ref: Frederick's Lugard's comments and links.

    Did anyone actually buy these records at the sums the seller sought on Ebay? I ask because as part of my own research I regularly check the site and see a multitude of records offered at ludicrous prices because the seller thinks the discs they have for sale originate from Africa and thus must be "rare" and worth a fortune.

    In fact, such listings just clog up Ebay with a load of overpriced records, but some sellers persist in listing them for months on end in case someone with more money than sense should chance to be foolish or drunk enough to drop big money on what they have to offer.

    Ebay is a woefully inaccurate gauge of the value of records, because the seller determines the price. There's nothing to stop a vendor listing a copy of the Eagles' Hotel California for $10,000 even though other vendors are flogging it for 10 cents. They can keep it on the site for as long as they want in the vain hope that someone will be stupid enough to buy at their asking price.

    Many African records appear regularly on Ebay at vastly overinflated prices because the vendor perceives them as rare. In fact, they were flops. They didn't sell in the first instance but wound up gathering dust and occupying shelf space. Confronted with a tyro crate-digger, record shop owners, delighted to sell stock that has been languishing on their shelves for years, are not about to admit there are another 5,000 copies mouldering away in the basement. They are pleased to close a sale and move on, so even records listed at $10 on Ebay may be over-priced.

  61. I've seen records on ebay sell for top dollar lately. For two years I have been tracking this one white covered Africa Negra record because I saw a copy sell for $2000. The next time it came up someone paid $1600. After 8 or 9 more copies appeared the price started to drop and I finally won a copy for $105. The other thing is that I bought my first copy of the LP, which I traded away, off the web for 20 euros, so it is really hard for crate diggers and collectors to be able to anticipate what might become valuable. I do know the bidder who paid $2000 was based in Colombia so you have to wonder what their thinking was or how this record came to be worth so much in their eyes. I also remember an afro boogie LP titled Xtasy that went through the same cycle. I also know that I saw another record off the Ahma label, without a cover, which sold for over $900 last year. But these are the exceptions to the rule. I pretty agree with what you say about the overpricing in general. I just thought I'd cite a few examples of rare records that did sell for real money.

  62. Sorry I'm late to the party, but I'm glad Boima posted this and kicked off a discussion.

    I'm kind of surprised at how upset people are at the idea they might be implicated in colonial power. How could you not be? How could we all not be? Its real, it's embedded in the world we live in, it shapes our ability to travel, use technology, to buy stuff, to communicate. It's a bit silly to say "because I do this thing personally I have nothing to do with colonialism" or "because I have these feelings I have nothing to with colonialism." The languages people speak, the currency they use, the fact that planes fly to one place or not another, or buses go this way and not that, whether there are phone lines or satellites connecting people, the people who are happy to talk to you and the people who aren't, the presence or absence of recordings in specific parts of Africa or elsewhere.. all of those are shaped by the global economic system which is a product of history and actions that create recreate colonial relations. It doesn't mean people are cogs in some great machine, but it does shape the way we interact. And what Boima's post does is encourage us to think more consciously about it. Provocatively, but

    So he asks is "who is benefiting"? It's not vitriolic on Boima's part to simply point out the colonial history and express a concern for fairness, given the vast power imbalances and unpleasant histories between Europeans/Americans/Brits and Africans. If you are acting fairly, then you should be able to rest easy, in fact you might be more in agreement with Boima than your tone would suggest! When people here describe the lengths they go to get money and reputation back to the people whose music they collect, that sounds like they are actually in agreement with Boima's concern about fairness. So the hostility really seems overblown.

    In my own work in Jamaica (not as a collector but as a researcher), coming from the US myself, I would be unethical but also intellectually useless if I didn't recognize that my presence in the various places I am, and my interactions with people there, is embedded in systems of colonial power. I don't get around that by insisting that I'm a good person, or that I pay people whatever I think is fair, or whatever. I try to really notice how power works, to be honest with people and myself about the ways I want my work to subvert that power, while not denying that I benefit in lots of ways from it as it exists now. So for example, it would be dishonest for me to pretend that power is not there – if something bad happened to me in Jamaica, the Jamaican government would likely care more about it (because of US interests and pressure) than it does about the many Jamaicans suffering there every day. I'm free to do what I like with that knowledge, but I wouldn't be doing myself or anyone around me any favors by pretending it wasn't true. So anyway, I asked myself all the time – who is this work valuable to? How does the information I gather and represent and interpret fit into a big picture about Jamaica in the world? Because without attention to that stuff it can easily be used to reinforce power rather than subvert it.

    So thanks Boima for raising those questions around record collecting & the image of African music that results.

  63. @tim clifford

    please check facts and sellers carefully

    record is sold, not offered.

    price is not unusual, probably cheap.

    seller has already been in thread.

    lol @ 5000 copies in basement

  64. Sizwe picks up an interesting line of inquiry. The manner in which some of the stories of vinyl digging in Africa (and elsewhere) are shared do have resonances with the manner in which earlier European explorers related their adventures in Africa. I accept that not all diggers and music entrepreneurs adhere to some self-regulatory voluntary code of conduct for engaging “the natives”. Some really do appear to try and do the right thing though.

    However, I do not doubt that relations between diggers and some sellers might have been difficult at times, and unbalanced in terms of determining or negotiating “fair price”, and that there may not be many “African agents” who are now shareholders of any sort in the business these diggers may have established … each case will be different, and yes, the margins do appear to me to be small most of the time.

    We do need to separate out an issue related to vinyl being “exported”. Even if that particular vinyl is now extremely rare – it was originally specifically made for sale. The original artefact (master recording if you like) is not the subject of this discussion – it is the “replica” – it may be one of a few original recordings and the master tape may be gone … but I do not think it is the same debate as Egypt being entitled to ask for its plundered pyramid museum pieces back.

    Owning and selling the record is not owning the rights to reproduce that record and selling those reproductions.

    It does come down to the home countries themselves needing to consider developing digital archives of material such as is being discussed. In this event, the authorities in those countries would be within their rights to ask known owners of various rare material to provide them with a high quality digital transcription of that recording … they would not have the right to demand that the “vinyl record” is returned to the country.

  65. Re: Tim Clifford's comments –

    Ebay is a woefully inaccurate gauge of the value of records, because the seller determines the price.


    eBay is actually a woefully inaccurate gauge of the value of records, because the BUYERS determine the price.

    Anyway, this has been a pretty interesting discussion, which I have followed right from the very beginning. I've opted to stay in read-only mode, though I do feel that as a digger of African records who also happens to be a native of one of these countries whence said records are being dug… I can see both sides of the issue.

  66. from Grumpy at Chatty Mouth (

    "I think the Chief's colonial analogy is spurious. The fundamental nature of the colonial exchange was to extract raw materials at negligible cost, take them to the mother country for manufacture and often sell back to the colonies as finished product. I don't think this is what Sterns, Soundway, Analog Africa etc are doing. The biggest predators of African music are Africans themselves. Le Grand Maitre Franco released records nearly every week to stay one step ahead of the Kinshasa pirates. Without a single exception, every music stall in Sudan when I was there sold (almost exclusively and quite openly) pirated tapes of dubious reproduction values and no information beyond a scribbled artist's name. Mind you in a place like Sudan musicians expected to get their daily bread by performing; recordings were not really viewed as a serious source of income.

    "Where The Chief might have scored a point (though in a sense he's stating the obvious) is his contention that western knowledge of, say, Nigerian and Beninoise music may have been disproportionately coloured by the choices made by the likes of Analog and Soundway. Imagine if the only Jamaican music we knew was the roots rock reggae brought to us by Island Records; you'ld have to say that would be a partial view of Jamaican music. But I wouldn't blame Analog or Soundway etc for this; Africa is a continent of 54 countries and even within the single one I knew reasonably well, Sudan, nearly every tribe (of which there were many) had a distinct and distinctive music. Peter Verney's Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan CD made a decent stab at reflecting some of this variety but I'm sure Verney would admit he was only scratching the surface and was also constrained by what little of the music was actually committed to record (as I mentioned, in some countries – Mauritanie is another – musicians perform, they do not as a rule go into a studio to record – though opportunists in the crowd would record haflas and tapes would be available in the souk by the following week). In England every Tom, Dick and Harry indie band has a recording contract. In Sudan you could count the studio-recorded artists on the fingers of one hand. If your only access to the music of a distant country is through its recorded archive, in some cases you are bound to get a distorted view of its music."

  67. I think it's the article that reeks of colonialism and/or some Gil Scott Heron "Blacker Than Thou" type business.

    I would like to use this opportunity to thank Soundway, Honest Jon's, Academy, Strut etc for making this music available for everyone to enjoy.

  68. Here's my two cents:

    Boima, I think you really meant to start a conversation about what Matt Shadetek articulated as "accessibility and aesthetic impact" but yo man, you did a pretty bad job at "framing" it.

    BUT don't abandon these ideas, It would be great to see you tease out these ideas because they NEED to be discussed. I love a lot of these re-issues, particularly the analog africa series, I mean, in terms of transparency, representation and general notes, is their anybody doing work like Samy Ben Redjeb?

    On the other hand I have seen some stuff that DOES come off as exploitative and disrespectful, so I would say you are right in having suspicions about intentions and practices… IMHO the colonialist analogy is a lazy comparison and just doesn't work for too many reasons, I say meditate on it a bit more and try to articulate your thoughts with fresher concepts.

    Some of these guys were offended and I can understand why, I think you insinuated some derogatory ideas about the individuals named on the map. BTW,why didn't you credit the author of the map? That was rather careless! but hey, live and learn.

    Question: Why the picture of Wole Soyinka at the top? I don't believe he is a Pan-Africanist, are the bloggers?

  69. Rey, did you make it? I will gladly credit you. It's been circulating anonymously, and I tried to track down the original source. Do you have an original posting I can link to?

  70. I agree with Rodrigo that what Boima is guilty of, above all else, is poorly framing a valid discussion.

    While the colonialism comparison is inflammatory under any circumstances (and Boima himself grants that it is hyperbolic), I think it's a bit unfair for commenters to hyperbolize the metaphor in turn by suggesting that Boima compared the activities of a few record collectors to the colonial-madated genocide and mass maiming in the Belgian Congo; King Leopold's singularly brutal administration was hardly the colonial standard.

    Boima bases his colonial comparison mostly on the idea of the search for African records as a modern-day version of the scramble for Africa. And frankly, I don't think that analogy is all that far-fetched. Anybody who has actually been "in the field" digging for records in Africa knows that these records are like natural resources that ARE on the way to being depleted, even as more and more prospectors enter the fray.

    What I find problematic is that in the midst of this feeding frenzy, it appears the objective of the diggers is to extract from Africa every single record (they deem to be) of value. And really, why shouldn't they? After all, it's not as if these records are, for the most part, being preserved or valued by the indigenes. Isn't it better for the records to be in the possession of those who do hold it in high esteem? But it does have some troublesome ramifications.

    One valid point Boima tried to make was the issue of the slightly distorted history of African popular music that results from the emphasis on "funk"; and let's face it… we're not talking about John Storm Roberts, Gunter Gretz and the like here; the most visible facets of the current boom in African music reissues ARE driven by an interest in funk and afrobeat–not that there's anything wrong with that, either.

    I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing–the DJs and compilers for the most part do not claim to be exhaustive chroniclers of African culture and there's no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to construct their own narrative of African music based on the parts of it that are relevant or interesting to them. If the Africans want to present a narrative from their own, probably more "authentic" perspective, they are also free to do so.

    This is where the problem comes in for me: "the scramble for vinyl" often robs the Africans on the continent of the raw materials with which to build such a narrative.

    Samy mentioned earlier that most of the actual digging work in Africa is done by local record dealers who locate and accumulate the inventories and then guide the foreign dealers to them. What troubles me is that these dealers gather the stock from a variety of sources: defunct distributors, forgotten warehouses, private collections… but they also sometimes loot public libraries, radio stations and other repositories, which means that local attempts to archive this musical history are effectively thwarted.

    How can the Africans produce a compilation of the music that's relevant to them when all existing copies of the records are currently lining the shelves of European collectors? I'd be lying if I said it didn't somehow remind me of Nigeria having to display a replica of the famous Queen Idia "Festac" mask because the original is still being held by the British Museum, who consistently refuse to return it to the land from which it was stolen during the invasion of the Bini Empire in 1897.

    But I should stress that unlike the British colonialists who carted out scores of artifacts from Bini, the modern-day diggers BUY the records fair and square.

    Should they be blamed for the fact that the Africans are willing to sell them for a pittance (And yes: in the scheme of things, it IS a pittance)? Probably not. Should they be held responsible for the fact that the African countries have not done a better job of establishing secure archives for their cultural history? I don't think so.

    Still, the issues do persist. I'm not sure they are or even should be of particular interest to the foreign diggers, but I think contemporary Africans should be VERY concerned about them and as such it's a worthy topic to be discussed on a blog dedicated to issues related to African culture.

    It just probably should have been presented in a less instigative form.

  71. Uchenna for the win. That was a really inspiring comment!

    I would also like to add that for every Samy, there's 10 tools out there who just go to Africa on buying trips for no other purpose than to pay as little as possible for rare records and resell them for high profits upon their return to The West. The music itself is secondary to the prospect of the almighty dollar / euro / pound profits to be wrenched from a salivating international audience of music fiends who run the gamut from tastemaking DJ's to vinyl speculating vultures.

  72. To add a bit more:

    Those vinyl speculating scumbags should be the real target of this discussion, not the loving reissuers of these rare gems.

  73. I guess the real question is whether westerners can be sensitive to the feeling Africans might have about the ways their music is collected and disseminated and the impact it has their ability to define themselves and their cultural heritage. The argument being that africans are experiencing a form of cultural colonialism when they have no input into ways their music is used to define their cultural heritage, either in a commercial sense or an academic one. Reversing the situation you could ask how Americans would feel if Africans came over here and bought country music LP's, found a market for them in africa, and used them as fodder for liner notes about what American music and culture was all about. It would be an incomplete picture of our musical heritage and we would lose the ability to influence the narrative. In terms of vitriol being aimed at speculating scumbags I would argue that multi-national music corporations that make and market music in africa have had a far more devastating impact on the cultural development of music in africa as they have controlled what is being played and what is being recorded. Who knows what kinds of indigenous music never sees the light of day because some record producer had not been introduced to it or did not think it was interesting. I think the vinyl speculators crimes are small in comparison.

  74. I can't help feeling that some of these posts underestimate Africans (if I can use such a general geographical term to cover such a heterogeneous mass of people). I think "Africans" are quite capable of resisting "cultural colonialism". For sure the musicians of the continent were not impervious to the influences of the west (Cuban music, James Brown, European instruments to name but three) but they weren't swamped by them. Congolese music remained Congolese, Senegalese music remained Senegalese, Malian music remained Malian, in spite of guitars and keyboards, in spite of ridiculously dotty renditions of Spanish lyrics.

    I think we need to look at the word "heritage". Perhaps for us in the north this word is too much tied up with the kind of things that Cecil Sharp and Harry Smith and Alan Lomax (and I guess to an extent Hugh Tracey around Africa) were doing which was to record the oral tradition before it disappeared. The emphasis is on getting the stuff on record and placing it in Cecil Sharp House or the Smithsonian Institute and preserving it for posterity. These exercises were not nationally or institutionally mediated but the work of individuals who felt that stuff shouldn't be lost. Although Sterns and PAM and Analog Africa etc are doing valuable work in anthologising and contextualising the music of a handful of African musicians, I'm not sure this is "heritage" in the same sense. I wonder if there are African musicologists with the same collecting and preserving zeal as Sharp, Smith, Lomax et al. I would have thought the radio archives (if such exist) of the various countries of Africa might be a starting point for such collections.

  75. So releasing an afrobeat is wrong because it doesn't recognize other genres? If I'm releasing a comp of german krautrock I will be critized beacuse it doesen't recognize traditional bavarian brass music? I don't know one afrobeat or afrofunk comp with linernotes saying that this is the only african music.

    Ant the argumentation that because of afrobeat and afrofunk other african genres aren't reissued is bullsh*t. If I go to the next big cd-store they will have tons of african music but probably no afrobeat compilation. If I go to the small vinyl selling recordstore around the corner they will have a couple of afrobeat comps and reissues but probably no other african music genres, 'cause they don't sell well enough on vinyl.

  76. Ant the argumentation that because of afrobeat and afrofunk other african genres aren’t reissued is bullsh*t.

    David, I really have no idea of WHOSE "bullsh*t" argument you're raging against because I'm fairly certain nobody has said the above, nor has anybody suggested that reissuing afrobeat and afrofunk is "wrong. It's this kind of oversimplification of the issues for the sake of scoring easy points that leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

    I'm with you, though: I haven't seen any afrobeat or afrofunk compilation liner notes suggesting that this is the only African music, but I have seen a few that do sort of contextualize them in a way that creates a not very accurate portrait of the scene. Like, imagine if you were to put out your krautrock comp–I don't think anybody would require you to include some Bavarian brass in there, but if you made it look like NEU! and La Dusseldorf were the biggest bands in Germany for decades, you have to admit that it might be problematic. Michael Scott illustrated the same issue above with his country music example.

    Anyway, I don't think is really about any one compilation and more about the cumulative effect of release after release mining more or less the same ground (of course, there's nothing wrong with that, if that's what the audience wants).

    Or David, what do you think about the following copy taken from the liners of the reissue of the 1977 LP Be Nice to People by the Nigerian rock group Question Mark:

    Question Mark recorded this album in 1974 in Kenya, the land safari parks, of elephants & lions. 5 musicians, all English vocals, heavy fuzz guitar, 8 freakin tracks. If you think BLO and WITCH where great African albums, you will love this one. It beats most bands from Africa such as OFEGE, CHRISSY ZEBBY, RIKKI ILILONGA and MACK SIGIS PORTER, unless you are only into African rhythms and chanting. This album has mostly western style songs with great and heavy guitar sounds all over but with an strong African touch of course.

    I mean, apart from the fact that they got the country and the year of release wrong, do you see anything troublesome in the above text?

    (This is an extreme case, of course, and not at all reflective of the more rigorous efforts of labels like Soundway, Analog Africa, Strut and Academy.)

  77. I greatly thank Boim Tucker. and his gentle bride Tamara Connely(Bolivia). they had the gentilesa to visit my humble home in Barranquilla, Colombia.
    I had the honor of taking him to southern parts of my city and show the neighborhoods of african descendents in Barranquilla, also The Sound Systems and Picós old.
    also experience. the mexcla of the painting and music, (Los Picós) is our coastal culture. unfortunately little time.

    I know the Boiman had no intention of offending anyone, he is very generous.

    Viva Africa!

  78. Uchenna,

    psych rock collectors really can be total weirdos, right? as long as a record’s got a fuzz guitar, the context from where it came from doesnt matter… and they end up hyping really subpar records like those question mark and ofege lps over some really great shit that doesnt get the reissue treatment; just because they didnt use fuzz pedals! same happens in asia and south america too

  79. ToniK –

    Yes, I learned what a peculiar bunch the psych rock crowd can be when I was really into those “Love, Peace, Poetry” compilations that collected psychedelic music from all around the world, completely devoid of context! (They’re still great to listen to, of course!)

  80. Interesting discussion! Although I haven’t read all of it yet, I’d like to make a few comments.
    As for criticism on reissuing African music that’s fused with western styles like funk or rock instead of more indigenous African music: before the appearance of compilations like Afro Rock Volume 1, Nigeria 70 or Ghana Soundz, there was hardly any awareness in the ‘west’ of the existence of these kind of fusions apart from Fela Kuti or Osibisa. The reissues by people like Miles Cleret, Samy Ben Redjeb and Frank Gossner have filled this gap and are a welcome addition to the other African music that’s out there in the stores.

    As someone already pointed out above, there have been, and still are, lots of reissues and new releases of other African music styles on labels like Stern’s, World Circuit etc. etc.
    Sure, there are still plenty of classic gems outside of the Afrofunk/-rock/-beat scope waiting to be reissued, but I think we will see more of those reissues in the near future. For example, Soundway’s Ghana Special compilation is already pointing in this direction: many songs on this album are pure highlife (which also originated as a fusion of African and western music, by the way).
    Also, I think the current interest in Afrobeat/-funk/-rock will encourage people to dig further into African music and discover other styles as well.

  81. An example of the ground involvement I’m talking about:

    Not merely some idealist “pseudo-intellectual crap”. I admire Jay and Georg of Out Here for their work. And I encourage any project fostering culture and development in Africa. Not saying everyone needs to be doing exactly what they’re doing, just saying everybody involved should first be asking themselves what they can do to place these bits of cultural heritage where they belong, on the shelves of HMV as well as in institutions, schools, radios, streets and homes in Africa. And there are organizations out there to help piece such projects together. And I’m also happy to get involved if I can facilitate.

    Frank, your aggressive dismissal is unconvincing, but in the end pretty funny. I love the slogan you came up with:
    “pc generated autotune rubbish”
    I might have to plagiarize you and adopt:
    “Akwaaba Music: Peddling pc generated autotune rubbish since 2008″

    Now back to peddling…


  82. Must say that when I have spoken to Samy Ben Rejeb and Will Quantic on the matter of vinyl digging they don’t seem to be in it for the money or the power,
    which would perhaps be characteristics of colonialism.

    A lot of old vinyl ended up thrown on huge fires and destroyed, if they have the passion to sift through it all and make great compilations and fully license the tracks so the artists or their estates get royalties plus entertain us in the process as well as encouraging more of an interest in music from the motherland then all grease to their elbow.

    Funnily enough Frank Gosner’s great find Pax Nicholas and the Nettey Family which was re-released on Daptone records was found in a record store in Philadelphia I believe, according to his Voodoo Funk blog.

    I guess its all down to how the record diggers conduct themselves and whether they try and pull the wool over someones eyes and rip them off blind.

    Its interesting that no-one comments on Harry Smith who gathered masses of old shellac and vinyl from warehouses in the US. Vinvl that would otherwise go to the melting plants during the war effort… he sifted through them and compiled the Anthology of Folk music preserving for ever some early blues, spiritual, american folk and bluegrass.

    Its not a simple call – although I did find the accompanying map humourous.


  83. Wow, there is a such a focus on people’s feelings, whether African or those of the collectors. But feeling, or even intent, I think aren’t central to the point. Also, pointing out there are other bad things happening in Africa (or anywhere else) is kind of a derail too. Why is it a bad idea to examine the acts we actually do commit, rather than ignoring them to point the finger at acts beyond our control?

    People who are genuinely acting in bad faith, planning to rip people off, are not folks who are necessarily going to think about these questions anyway. I don’t think the point of this post was to identify evildoers and call for punishment. I’m guessing the point was to try to inspire people to think more seriously about the larger implications of cataloging, collecting, transporting, sharing, and playing African records.

  84. I agree. The exact same thing happens with Latin American music. You have the Latin music that gringo record nerds love and dig for, but it’s usually widely ignored by young Latinos living down there, who are more into following the mainstream tastes of Europe and USA. The whole new cumbia phenomenon and the gringo’s current fascination with everything Afro-Colombian and Afro-Brazilian are excellent examples of this. There’s nothing inherently wrong about it, it’s just a different perception of the music. Ones look for the “exotic” factor that still has some familiar back-beat (the funk), while the others see it as old music that’s only of their interest if it has some nostalgic value.

  85. I find the OP’s characterization of John Storm Roberts to be very odd… he lived in various parts of Africa and collected both old and new vinyl releases at that time.

    To propose that he was some kind of “neo-colonialist” for trying to get some sort of appreciation in the West for many different kinds of African music is, in my opinion, really absurd. (Especially given the fact that so much of what he issued was – still is – unpopular in both Africa and the West.)

    Swahili taarab music. Some great comps of both Ghanian and Nigerian highlife – the latter pretty much ignored even today. Central and East African acoustic guitar music. Field recordings from Panama and Java (the latter being popular music, but not the kind of pop music that was being issued by contemporary record companies). Ibo guitar highlife.

    I honestly don’t see anyone picking up where he left off.

  86. Not to mention the Ugandan 45s and 78s that were collected by John Storm Roberts and reissued on his comp “The Kampala Sound.” No doubt all of the artists in question died during Idi Amin’s era.

    But who, now, is going to Uganda and getting Ugandan music reissued? Or Rwandan, Botswanan, Zambian etc. etc. etc. music reissued – in its home countries as well as in the West?

    Nobody, so far as I know. Maybe because too little of it fits into the trend that also fuels “rare groove” comps?

    God knows, Kenyan and Tanzanian taarab 78s don’t move that crowd. And there are far too many other genres of music from all over the African continent that simply don’t resonate with a lot of folks who hold Afro-funk dear.

    What I wish: that Africa’s best music be available for all Africans to hear – and to anybody else in the world whose ears are attuned to what’s good.

    That’ll really take some doing, and I don’t hold out a lot of hope that it will ever come to pass. But we can try, no?

  87. Hí buzzbase1,
    Excuse me a question? John Stor Robert be alive?. he continues as an producer. after visiting my friend Sydney Reyes in Barranquilla, told me about this person, i remember in the 90s. I think I said back then that the productions performed under the Original Music label, also I think I said at the time you purchased or communicated for fax with John Stor


  88. John Storm Roberts died last December. Here is his obit from the NY Times.
    I found him to be a very funny , sensitive, and knowledable fan of African music. His book “Black Music of Two Worlds was one of the first works to conceptualize the Afro-Atlantic.
    Like the current generation of reissue-ers, he didn’t get rich, his company went bust in the early 90s.
    Some of his records have been pirated and reassembled by Mississippi Records (the songs on Love is Love and Lipa Kodi Ya City Council almost all were issued by JSR’s Original Music).

  89. Chis- KTRU,
    is a sad news, I thought it he was alive, my friend Sidney
    wanted to talk with John . they interchange communication by Fax and some time he replied in Spanish.
    is sad
    Sidney once showed me a small brochure and a CD of the Eastern Band of Brother International. in a catalogue o Original Music

    Peace in his tomb.

  90. also remember my friend to buy some Vinils of Label African, African Dance label of clour orange, some of Variuos Artist, Dr Nico, Johny Bokelo, Bella Bella and Others… in the 90´s. 1992 or 93

  91. HI, Will, just for the anecdote, Cuban music arrived in Pointe Noire (Congo) with the cuban sailors who where travelling with their "grammophones". They were playing their records (VG at the time) at the port for some money, or alcool…back. And for another anecdote, there is a guy from Bénin who travels a lot in Cuba and Caribean area since the seventies, and brings back some music. He has the biggest collection of this kind of music in Bénin and plays his LP on the National Radio….James

  92. A few days ago I did an interview with the BBC. I don’t know yet when this will be aired but when they first approached me, they mentioned this old article that I had already forgotten by then.

    I had a few days do prepare for the interview and wrote down a little manuscript so I could give them some choice facts and personal opinions on the issue. I’m afraid most if not all of this will get lost in the editing. I thought I would share them here as this is exactly the type of shit that often seems to revitalize this otherwise fairly sluggish board.

    An American citizen accusing me of neo-colonial behavior for going to Africa to buy records, simply based on my heritage as a European. This is stupid and in its core racist but it’s also truly funny. Here are the facts you need to fully appreciate the irony:

    America had a colony in West Africa that was founded in 1847 and this colony was one of the shittiest displays of human behavior of all times: The colonialists were free African Americans and upon arrival they immediately enslaved the local population, denied them the right to vote and erected a one party dictatorship that would last for over 130 years. These Americo-Liberians spent their days prancing around in gaudy costumes and European wigs while they had their domestic slaves clean up behind them. They also used slave labor on an industrial scale well into the 1970s. These Americo-Liberians even became players in the by then illegal slave trade and as late as 1930 sold slaves to other countries. The fucked up history of Liberia culminated in one of the regions most bloody civil wars: Here’s a fun but sadly little known side fact: The Revered Jesse Jackson was a strong political supporter and a close friend of Charles Taylor. That’s true neo-colonialism for you. Thank you, USA.

    Now let’s look at our self-appointed “Chief” Boima Tucker. The “Sherbo son” how he sometimes refers to himself and see what his proud African heritage and Sierra Leonean roots are really made of:

    There’s an interesting Wikipedia entry about the Sherbo Tuckers:

    The Tuckers of Sherbro are an Afro-European clan in the Southern region of Sierra Leone and they ruled as chiefs in Gbap. The clans progenitors were an English trader and agent, John Tucker (merchant), and a Sherbro princess. Along with the Caulkers, the Tuckers became one of the two most powerful Afro-European chiefdoms in the Sherbro country. The Tuckers were also one of the three most notorious Afro-European slave trading clans in West Africa alongside the Rogerses and the Caulkers.

    So here there’s a direct descendent of European colonial merchants and slave traders calling me a “plundering opportunist”. How deliciously funny.

    Fuck you, “Chief”.

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