Thursday, Nov 20 2008 | 15:52

Analog Africa releases unusual African music from the 70s, music with a certain twist that will surprise you or that you didn’t expect to hear from Africa, and that often had a strong impact on its country of origin. Frequently these recordings – all fully licensed – were never released outside of Africa before. Considerable importance is also placed on detailed liners notes telling unusual stories about unusual musicians, complete with rare photographs, interviews and full discographies.

Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb was born in Carthage, Tunisia, to a Tunisian father and a German mother. He was brought up in many different countries, such as Sweden, Tunisia and Austria, and is now based in Frankfurt, Germany. The idea of the label started in November 1999 when he came across a recording by the Green Arrows whilst digging for vinyl records in Zimbabwe. He was so captured by what he heard that in October 2001 he set up Analog Africa, his first project being a compilation by the Green Arrows.

The music enthusiast’s love for African music goes back to his time in Senegal, a country that had a very strong impact on him: “I was working as a diving instructor in Senegal in 1994 and I fell in love with the country, the music, the fishing, the beauty of its people. When the diving club I was working for decided to send me to Greece I quit to be able to stay in the country and applied for a job as a DJ in a hotel in Mbour, about 60 miles South of Dakar. At that time only chart music was being played in the hotel’s nightclub but I convinced the owner to let me try and organise an African night once a week. The hotel had very little African music, so the owner gave me some money and I went to Dakar to look for records. My African night became a hit, not only with the tourists but also with local people. Spurred on by the success, I decided to push it a bit further and was spending each one of my days off in Dakar searching for records to play at my night. That’s how my whole vinyl obsession started. At that time the record digging craze that we are experiencing today was almost non-existent in Africa and as a result records could still easily be found in Dakar.”

“While in Senegal I came across a record by (Zimbabwean musician) Thomas Mapfumo called “Gwindingwi Rhine Shumba” – that record was on a totally different level. I flew to South Africa in November 2005, leaving most of my records behind. A year later I was on my way to Zimbabwe, then Malawi, and slowly worked myself up the continent – Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and so on, discovering so much amazing music. Travelling was taking its toll on my finances though, and I started to think of a way to dig for records without wasting too much money. So I applied for a job with a German airline company as a flight attendant. The people around me thought it was a big joke … ‘Samy in a uniform, shaved and polished? Never!’ Anyway, I got the job and soon found myself in full time employment. Six months later I requested a part time position instead. So then I only had two flights a month and the rest of the time I was digging for records in Africa or concentrating on setting up my label. The best thing was that even while working I was able to search for music because flight attendants were able to select one flight of their choice each month and my choice was mostly Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. We were also allowed to exchange flights between flight attendants and as it happens one of the most unpopular destination was Lagos. I took advantage of that and exchanged my second scheduled destination for Nigeria. As a consequence I was in Lagos and Addis almost every month and always made sure I came back with lots of vinyl records, and needless to say I never had to pay a penny for excess luggage! Around that time I also really got into Afrobeat and my label Analog Africa was shaping up too. I had released my first two compilations (by Zimbabwean 70s bands The Green Arrows and Hallelujah Chicken Run Band), but quickly realised that if I wanted to make it work I would have to make it a full time job. So in August 2006, after six amazing years and to the surprise of my loved ones, I decided to quit my job with the airline to concentrate on the label. Without the constraints of the airline job I can now be away on “records safaris” for more than just two weeks and in the last few years I have been focusing my efforts on records from Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as Colombia.”

The foundation of Analog Africa is without a doubt Samy’s huge record collection from which he draws the music as well as various information that could eventually lead to the source and the master tapes (i.e. year of recording, production company, composer’s name etc). For the two first releases, the Green Arrows and the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band albums, mostly master tapes have been used. (About one third of the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band album has been mastered from vinyl by Samy himself.)

“I travel to Africa to meet the artists, to ask for permission to use their music, pay for the rights and to ask them to share their story – that to me is fundamental. I also spend a huge amount of time searching for pictures, old posters, documents and obviously for original vinyl, reel tapes, matrices, acetates and so on. To get a better picture of the general music scene during the 70s, I try to locate the people who worked in the music industry at the time, sound engineers, sales managers, club owners, label founders. All this is Analog Africa’s DNA if you like.”

“I realise more and more that the essence of my music label is traveling and searching in dusty warehouses and personal collections for forgotten music which otherwise would get thrown away or burned. Some of the tracks I’ve already released would have been lost for ever if I didn’t do it. Shortly before I arrived in Benin in August 2005, the sons of Albarika store, one of the country’s main record companies, had made a huge pile and burned about 20,000 records. A family member who had returned from Gabon needed the space, so the father’s (Adissa Seidou) record room was emptied. As no one had asked for those records for two decades, they didn’t think it made sense to keep them. I was told that kids were running in the street with pieces of reel tapes flying behind them as the master tapes were thrown away as well. The same thing happened in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where the producers from CVD (Club Voltaique du disque) threw all their records into a metal container and set them on fire. You hear those kinds of stories all over Africa. I am sure there must be some amazing music recorded in Africa that has been lost forever, but some people are trying to limit the damage and that’s what I hope I can contribute to, too.”

Apart from running Analog Africa, Ben Redjeb has established himself as one of the main sources for original African vinyl records for DJs, producers and collectors worldwide. Also after a long break Mr Analog Africa has started Djing again and together with Pedo Knopp and Marc Petri has launched a club night in Frankfurt specialising in 70s raw, funky and psychedelic sounds from the tropics, called Africadelay (www.myspace.com/africadelay).

analogafrica.blogspot.com
www.myspace.com/analogafrica

The album Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De CotonouThe Vodoun Effect” is going to be the next release on Analog Africa (release date: December 12, 2008).

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