Music writer Chris Parkin celebrates a tiny Frankfurt-based label with a brilliant idea that turns ten albums old on Monday…
Next week sees the release of Analog Africa’s latest collection of dusted-down West African rarities, Bambara Mystic Soul – The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979. It’s the tenth release from Samy Ben Redjeb’s small Frankfurt-based label, which provides us with a perfect excuse to herald the record label as one of Europe’s most interesting.
It’s hardly a household name but Analog Africa is already much-loved by fans of world music, discerning hipsters, record-collecting nerds and the curious alike. One such fan is Franz Ferdinand’s gap-toothed drummer, Paul Thomson. A few years ago he told me he was smitten with all ‘those curio labels’ springing up – labels digging for music unheard, unreleased or underappreciated, such as Cherrystones, Trunk and Finders Keepers. The latter is held in such high regard that Jarvis Cocker, Gruff Rhys, David Holmes and Demdike Stare are each curating a benefit compilation for the label after it lost most of its stock during the London riots.
But it was Africa Analog that Thomson reserved his highest praise for. And thanks to early adopters like him, the label’s releases have reached a wider audience than owner Samy – simply an enthusiastic crate-digger – could have hoped for. Along with brilliant African groups such as Tinariwen, Tamikrest, Amadou & Mariam, Bassekou Kouyate and others, the label has helped alter people’s perceptions of world music. It’s now transformed from a slightly worthy stereotype into something as vibrant and edgy as Europe’s own indigenous pop scenes.
Speaking to Samy while he was hunting for old records in Togo a few years ago, he explained how he got started with Analog Africa: ‘I started DJing in 1995 in a club in Senegal, doing house and disco. Then I came up with the idea to do an African evening and the owner of the place just gave me some cash, so I went to Dakar and started buying records. I kept finding interesting Zimbabwean music so I quit my job and went to Zimbabwe and started digging for records there.’
Since releasing Analog Africa One, Four-Track Recording Session by Zimbabwe’s 70s band The Green Arrows, he’s put together one fine collection of previously unheard (outside of West Africa) music after another. The label’s catalogue now boasts releases by the implausibly titled Hallelujah Chicken Run Band; a collection of songs by the (now-reunited) band most readily associated with the label, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou; Anibal Velasquez y Su Conjunto; and two brilliant West African selections – Legends of Benin and African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro sounds from Benin and Togo.
You can hear the music discovered by Samy for the label on this fine mix he made for The Quietus last year.
To round off a year in which Samy’s label was nominated for a Gilles Peterson Worldwide Award for Label of the Year, Analog Africa is about to release its tenth collection.
Bambara Mystic Soul explores the mid-to-late 70s music of Burkina Faso – the country’s funky, soulful, strutting Burkinabè style in particular. It’s a roiling brew of Afro-Funk, Middle Eastern rhythms, Latin guitar licks and the syncopated guitar techniques of Burkina Faso’s neighbouring countries, Mali and Guinea – and a sound that practically none of us outside the region have ever heard before. Samy’s strange, transient working practices have certainly paid off.
‘Six months of the year I’m in Africa,’ he said. ‘I mostly buy ’60s and ’70s stuff. In the early ’80s they started experimenting with synthesizers but then Congolese soukous became so big that every country started doing soukous. I’m looking beyond that. I can’t really say what my favourite compilation is though; I wouldn’t release it if I didn’t love it.’
Here’s to his next ten releases.
Bambara Mystic Soul – The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso, 1974-1979 is out on October 10.