Hey, every­one. Thank you all for com­ing. I’m going to take you through a project that I start­ed back home in Kenya that aims to col­lect vinyl that peo­ple just have chill­ing around at home.

So, basi­cal­ly we used to have the only press­ing plant in East Africa between 1976 and 1990, and we used to press about a hun­dred and thir­ty thou­sand LPs every year. But right now there are lots of peo­ple who have those, but they’re not doing any­thing with them.

Before I go too far, I want to show you a clip that inspires me.

https://​youtu​.be/​R​4​r​M​y​1​i​A​268​?​t​=53

So, I swear I’m not going to Bay on you today. I m not about to do that. The why behind this project is, in December 2014, I was in Amsterdam. It was my first night there. I was sup­posed to be going for a fes­ti­val, but dur­ing that night I said I’m going to go out. And I went to Trouw, which is where this image is from. And I watched nd_baumecker, who’s a real­ly real­ly great DJ play­ing a vinyl set. And in this room, it was all focused on him. And I loved the aes­thet­ic of vinyl itself. I loved how it made us feel. At one point I remem­ber cry­ing, and it just took me away. And so I decid­ed that, hey when I go back home I’m going to start col­lect­ing these things. And that’s how I start­ed col­lect­ing. So, I’m not that old in col­lec­tions. I don’t have a thou­sand records. But I am very much inter­est­ed in the medi­um.

From there I basi­cal­ly decid­ed that since Nairobi used to be a place where there was so much activ­i­ty in terms of col­lec­tion of records between the 70s and the 80s, bands used to trav­el lit­er­al­ly twenty-four hours from Tanzania to come and record music in Nairobi, have it pressed and then dis­trib­uted. So, there was a lot of activ­i­ty going on, and the city’s pret­ty his­toric for that. But today, you can’t find any of that. We had record labels like Polydor, Phonogram, and AIT, they all had offices. They all had record­ing stu­dios in Nairobi. But today. you can’t find any of that his­to­ry any­where.

So, it’s like there’s a par­a­digm shift between the time when we were buzzing and now. Modernization has basi­cal­ly made it all irrel­e­vant. And between 1976 and 1990, there was actu­al­ly a record-pressing plant that was estab­lished in Nairobi. And we were the only ones with one, so peo­ple would trav­el even from fur­ther. So, now it was peo­ple com­ing from Congo, AKA Zaire, and com­ing to record music. Influences between Kenyan musi­cians and musi­cians from Uganda and Tanzania, peo­ple who may have nev­er met before but now because they had this one place where they had to record music and had these labels bring­ing them togeth­er, they were inter­act­ing. But what’s hap­pened to all that music? What hap­pened to all those peo­ple who were buy­ing those records from back then? Where is it now?

We have a meet­up every month in Nairobi, every first Sunday of every month. It’s a place called Soiree Gardens, and this is where I bought my first records ever. So, it was just a few months after I got back home, and I went to this meet­up and I bought these three records. They reflect what was the trend back in the day.

So, dur­ing the 70s, 80s, and ear­ly 90s, there were only two radio sta­tions in the coun­try. One, which aired in English, main­ly played Afro-American music, as they called it. So think of all these kind of guys: T-Connection, Kool & the Gang, Shalimar, dis­co funk, soul, that kind of stuff. So, a lot of peo­ple who were col­lect­ing from that time col­lect­ed these.

But the kind of stuff I’m look­ing for is around the indige­nous music which was record­ed. Indigenous being it’s peo­ple who came all the way from Zaire, peo­ple who came from Tanzania, peo­ple who were record­ing even from Kenya them­selves, Kenyan artists. They were speak­ing in ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages, so they’d record Kikuyu, in Meru, in Swahili, which is the nation­al lan­guage. Or, peo­ple who were com­ing from Zaire who were influ­enced by musi­cians from Kenya. So, there’s a pop­u­lar music style called Benga, and its orig­i­nat­ed from the Western part of Kenya. But it became some­thing that influ­enced gen­res like Lingala. So, how do we find that kind of music, because peo­ple were still buy­ing that?

So, a lot of peo­ple who have records nowa­days have them either as per­son­al col­lec­tions, so it’s some­thing that exist­ed in the fam­i­ly. You’ve had it all all your life. The oth­er place that peo­ple get records is col­lec­tors who ship them in. So, basi­cal­ly I’ve come from Germany and I’m bring­ing every­thing I ever owned and I’m bring­ing it with me to Nairobi or to Kenya in gen­er­al. And last­ly, Europe, America, Japan. So like, I per­son­al­ly buy modern-day records, peo­ple who are still releas­ing vinyl now…I buy them, but I buy them from here, from Berlin. And then when­ev­er I’m here or if someone’s here, I have them bring it to me. And as you can see that’s a whole process.

So in Kenya right now, the resur­gence of vinyl that the rest of the world is feel­ing isn’t real­ly a thing. It’s like some­one who has just recent­ly bought a play­er and they feel like they want to find records, they’re going to have a hard time find­ing new stuff. There are only two record stores in Nairobi, and both of them are pre-1990. The Melodica Record Store was estab­lished in 1971, so it’s a fam­i­ly busi­ness. It’s been around for ages. And then the oth­er store is actu­al­ly a store in… It’s very inter­est­ing how jux­ta­posed it is. So this store is here, and just next to it there are peo­ple who are roast­ing meat. And this place is known for roast meat. So, peo­ple walk in—it’s a mar­ket, it’s a mas­sive mar­ket. People walk in, they’re hav­ing meat. And then just by some­where, there’s this store, owned by a guy called James AKA Jimmy. And Jimmy is actu­al­ly one of the peo­ple who sell records at the month­ly mee­tups. So that’s the only way you can get records in Nairobi right now, aside from actu­al­ly look­ing for them your­self, like I am, and going to peo­ple and find­ing them.

So, the aim of the project is to save the vinyl. There are so many peo­ple who have lots of it, and they’re not doing any­thing with it. Basically, I’ve got tons of it… Like, I remem­ber every­one I met and told that, Hey, I col­lect vinyl on the side. It’s a project I do.” They tell me, Oh, my grand­dad has some. They’re just…I don’t know where they are.” Or, My dad used to col­lect those.” Or, We used to play Frisbee with that,” you know. Or, We spoilt the play­er, and now no one plays them.”

So that’s the expe­ri­ence I’ve been hav­ing a lot of the time. And it made me ques­tion why peo­ple would let that music die. Because in real­i­ty, now we’ve got Beyoncé, we’ve got Rihanna, we’ve got Jay Z. But we used to have peo­ple like Papa Wemba, who were mak­ing amaz­ing music. And they used to record some of it in Nairobi. But where is it? We have it, but you can’t find some of that stuff on Spotify. You can’t find it on YouTube. It’s gold­en music. The new gen­er­a­tion of musi­cians com­ing up in Kenya needs to find some of that for inspi­ra­tion and use it as base mate­r­i­al. And they’re actu­al­ly look­ing for it, but they can’t find it.

For exam­ple, there’s a project in Kenya and across East Africa, actu­al­ly, called the Santuri Project, and basi­cal­ly they bring togeth­er artists and they put them togeth­er through a boot camp of about a week. And they record music. So, they bring expert sound engi­neers. They have a part­ner­ship with Ableton. There is equip­ment there. They record sounds, they record drum kits, they record all sorts of pro­duc­tion mate­r­i­al, and then they share it. So, with col­lec­tives like that in exis­tence, the kind of project I’m putting togeth­er with this is to try and share some of that orig­i­nal mate­r­i­al that can’t be found now with peo­ple like those, so that more music and be cre­at­ed using clas­sic, orig­i­nal inspi­ra­tion.

So, the process behind it is I basically…it’s very per­son­al. so I have to iden­ti­fy peo­ple who have records and who are will­ing to actu­al­ly donate them for this cause. The process of that, I have learned very fast, is dif­fi­cult. Lots of peo­ple will tell you, Hey, we have these things at home, and they’re just chill­ing. Maybe you can come get them.” But fol­low­ing up with those peo­ple and get­ting them to actu­al­ly give them to you is the next biggest part.

After I get them, I orga­nize for the col­lec­tion. So, I come out to wher­ev­er you are in the coun­try. Most peo­ple have them in the rur­al areas, so I have to plan a trip to go get them, maybe two hun­dred kilo­me­ters out of Nairobi, three hun­dred, four hun­dred. Then from there, I cat­a­log the releas­es. So, some some of the pro­duc­tions that we had made in Kenya had cat­a­log num­bers that are rec­og­niz­able on Bandcamp. So it’s some­thing that was made for Germany and then brought to Kenya. Because Polydor, Phonogram, all those record labels were in Kenya.

But some aren’t even there. They had their cat­a­log num­bers based on the fact that they were pro­duced in Kenya. So, how do you get that on Discogs? How do you get Discogs rec­og­niz­ing that music was made beyond Germany, America, and Japan?

Then restora­tion. This process is par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult because, lim­it­ed resources. But essen­tial­ly, most of records I get have soup stains from the 1970s. And you know, the kids did some­thing and they nicked one part of it. So it’s pret­ty dif­fi­cult to actu­al­ly play that stuff.

And then dig­i­ti­za­tion. This is an end goal that I have. I hon­est­ly haven’t actu­al­ly start­ed dig­i­tiz­ing some of the music I’ve found because most of it is actu­al­ly avail­able already. So I’m still look­ing to get that ver­nac­u­lar music, that orig­i­nal Kenyan music, orig­i­nal Tanzanian music.

My chal­lenges so far, it’s main­ly been lim­it­ed resources. One, a lot of the peo­ple that I’ve met have been inter­est­ed in sell­ing the records. So, on top of that you have this sud­den inter­est in sell­ing, and you’re won­der­ing, If I don’t buy these records from you, you’re not going to do any­thing with them. You’re going to basi­cal­ly just leave them. But if I do, you don’t under­stand the painstak­ing process of restor­ing them. And also, you don’t real­ly val­ue them as much as you’re cur­rent­ly valu­ing them. It’s just some­thing that you’re inter­est­ed in now because you think they’re valu­able.” Of course they are valu­able, but you can under­stand the sud­den read.

The non-Internet tar­gets is in essence, there are lots of peo­ple who have these things, but using the Internet to get to them is not the best way. So, it’s my grand­moth­er who has these records. If I read your post on Facebook, it’s part of a post from 9gag, and there’s a post from Brolife[?] and then it gets lost in all the noise. So using the Internet doesn’t real­ly work. It has to be com­plete­ly per­son­al. It kind of has to be door to door.

The lim­it­ed resources, aside from the restora­tion bit, it’s also the dig­i­ti­za­tion bit. You need to have turnta­bles. You need to have a sound card. You need to have a bunch of things that allow you to actu­al­ly col­lect these records and make them dig­i­tal.

Finally, before I move into the Q&A, I would like to cred­it David Tinning. David Tinning start­ed the Santuri project, and he wrote a sem­i­nal piece about records in East Africa. He was liv­ing in Tanzania for a while. He went to a cer­tain record store, and he was fol­low­ing the his­to­ry of how peo­ple were mak­ing records back in the day. In Tanzania as well, there’s been this huge death of the vinyl indus­try. So, peo­ple who have record stores, they’re main­ly get­ting for­eign clients. It’s tourists who are walk­ing through town. They see a store with records and then they walk in and start buy­ing.

People like me are con­sid­ered dif­fer­ent and weird, because essen­tial­ly guys are like, Why are you col­lect­ing these things? This is like Spotify. You can down­load an app for that. There’s like, so many alter­na­tives now.”

But the idea is that this music shouldn’t be lost, and that’s what the Santuri project is also try­ing to do. Media Policy and Music Activity, it’s a piece of research that was done around the media sit­u­a­tion in Kenya between 1970 and 1990. It talks about how the cas­sette rolled in, the fac­to­ries had to be closed. Also the fact that there was only one record press­ing plant in East Africa. Didn’t real­ly help because it was a monop­oly.

And some peo­ple couldn’t afford to make the music, but they were mak­ing great music. There’s even a sto­ry of a band that basi­cal­ly faked a dif­fer­ent per­sona to record twice. So, they went in as Band A, and then lat­er they sent a let­ter to the record stu­dio and they said they were Band B. They went, record­ed anoth­er album, and then it sold like crazy. And then lat­er, the record label real­ized, Oh, shit. It’s the same guys.”

And then inspi­ra­tions. Joseph Mathai is a very close col­league, and he basi­cal­ly told me about Michael Bay and told me that if the nerves over­whelm me, I should not walk off the stage. And of course, Google.

With that I’d like to open up to a Q&A ses­sion. The main point of this pre­sen­ta­tion today was to just show you what I’m try­ing to do, but also I’m look­ing at if there are any col­lec­tors in the room, what is your expe­ri­ence with col­lec­tion? Have you tried some­thing in terms of going for lega­cy records? Or are you just curi­ous about what it is like own­ing records in Kenya and look­ing for them, or being a col­lec­tor?


Audience 1: I just was wondering about how your relationship, or if you have a relationship, with any DJs here. Because they're finding the material here, or I don't know where they're finding it, either, and it's become popular again, I think, to do sets only with African music all over. Or like, Awesome Tapes From Africa that's bringing bringing tapes back. So, it's people out there doing it, but maybe it's not happening in Africa. It seems like you're trying to incite that.

Evans Campbell: Yeah, so that's the thing. There's a lot of foreign interest in the music from the continent. But there's no local interest in this. So that's why you'll find projects like Awesome Tapes From Africa, which is doing really really great work. Even the Santuri project wasn't started by locals, as well.

I think, essentially, it's important for people like me to step up and do something about it. Because at the end of the day, this music is going to end up being lost, and no one's actually going to act and stuff. I don't currently have any connections with DJs here in terms of like, "Hey, you're looking for African stuff. Let me give it to you." But I'm working towards eventually doing that.

So, the idea of this is not just keep it within Kenya or within projects in East Africa, but also to share it with the world, because essentially, more people need to learn that music and it's going to inspire.

Audience 1: Do you have a web site, or something that you load— If your future idea to digitize them, would you make a library or…

Campbell: So, I'm probably going to… The way I'm probably going to work is not necessarily… Because digitizing it and then sharing via web sites is going to open up a whole other issue around copyright and stuff. But, essentially I intend to work with projects that are doing that kind of reclamation of music. So, like Santuri and any other projects that are around here that are doing that.

Any other questions, anyone?

Audience 1: What is the best album that you've found, dusting about in some basement? What's the recommendation?

Campbell: By virtue of the fact that I never knew their name, I have to say finding Shalimar and Wham. Yeah. I was like… This is them? Wow. This is someone who's like, not doing anything with this record, and I get to keep it and actually do something with it. Yeah. But I feel like the moment I'm going to have real joy is when I actually find local stuff. Which so far has not been that easy, actually.

Any other questions? Okay. If no one else has any other questions, I'd like to say thank you very much for listening. I'm around over the next two days. I'm in Berlin until the twenty-fourth. Talk to me. Let's catch up. Let's make this happen. Cool. Thank you.

Further Reference

Evans' blog

This presentation at the re:publica site.


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