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INTERVIEW WITH FREDRIK LAVIK, A SPECIALIST IN EAST AFRICAN MUSIC
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MARTIN JÕELA’S

INTERVIEW WITH FREDRIK LAVIK, A SPECIALIST IN EAST AFRICAN MUSIC

Martin Jõela ja Fredrik Lavik
kirpputoril

Martin Jõela and Fredrik Lavik visiting a flea market

I prefer to listen to music from vinyl records that I have got through crate digging. Crate digging is concept originated from the USA, where old dusty records are kept in old milk crates at thrift stores and sold for cheap prices. It’s my favorite hobby and also a way to visit foreign countries. Actually most record collectors tend to prefer dusty stores for well-organized record stores. Thanks to Internet I have been a guide to foreign record tourists at least for 10 years here in Tallinn, showing them secret digging spots and shared info about good Melodiya records.

In 2011 I was contacted by Norwegian record collector, record label owner and DJ Fredrik Lavik, if I could show him around Tallinn. We became quickly friends and few years later I helped him release LP on his Jazzaggression label. It was compilation of best Estonian jazz funk from 1970s by Jaan Kuman. By now I have helped him to release 5 records with Estonian music. Since the first release I have been also helping Fredrik as record mailing office, due to cheaper shipping rates from Estonia than from Finland, where he currently resides with his family.

Previously I had heard Fredrik Lavik’s great jazz and funk mixtapes from Internet, but on our first meeting he told me that he had just acquired close to 10 000 vinyl singles from Kenya, most with African music from 1970s and 1980s. He started to catalog it, shared best finds on his blog, played them at parties, sold on Internet and eventually started to reissue some of them under his new record label Afro7 Records.


The Scorpios

The Scorpios. Front art of the debut album: A Man Called Warwick

What kind of music Afro7 releases? There are so many countries and music styles in Africa.

I’ve focused on East Africa, this is kind of a specialty for me since I acquired a large selection of Kenya 45 singles some years ago. So far we have released music from Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, and very soon we have two new releases from Burundi.

How much have you listened to African music before your infamous discovery? What is your musical background?

I hadn’t listened very much. Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, some of the established pillars of the funky afrobeat, mostly Nigerian artists. I’ve been a rare groove junkie basically since the 90s. Anything rhythmical that would catch my ear. It started with my mother’s record collection, there was some good stuff there. I remember finding “Mirage” LP by the Awakening on Black Jazz label. Also “Dune” LP by Dave Matthews and a lot of ECM albums. So this caught my curiosity. Also in the 90’s I was into electronica, ambient, IDM etc.

Tell me again about your infamous record stock find in Kenya that started it all.

Fredrik
Lavik

Fredrik Lavik, the boss of Afro7 Records at work

This was just pure luck. Me and my wife and a friend called Mvoi walked around the electronic market area of Mombasa City, and spotted some records. The guy working there gave the lead to another spot that had large collection that I eventually ended up buying for a price everyone was happy with. Got it shipped in a sea container to Norway. And now I have been selling and archiving since 2011. It’s big job but it’s been rewarding.

All music was from Kenya and only 7“ singles. There’s a lot of different styles, each tribe has a different style of benga music, so you’ll find luo benga, luhya benga, kikuyu, kamba, taifa bengas. All with distinct guitar styles and tempo. A lot of choir music. Also a lot of Swahili music that could be offshoots of earlier Congolese styles. And mentioning Congo, there’s a lot of Lingala music. In between them some Western artists, like Pink Floyd or Madonna, on Kenya pressings.

This was a distribution stock, so it’s not all unique titles, for example, there could be hundreds of copies of one title. So when I started selling some of my finds, there was suddenly decrease in the prices of some of the titles. So there was panic among “only one known copy” collector’s scene. I got messages, can I buy all your copies? For example, from Colombia. In Barranquilla, Colombia, there is a big following of some of these more Congolese inspired music, because they take the breakdown of each song, they call it la caida and they flip it on their soundsystems.

This purchase made you immediately a specialist in Kenyan music! You had already been releasing jazz records and then came Afro7. Though before first A7 release you put together “Kenyan Special” compilation for exotic music label Soundway. How did this happen?

It was Miles Cleret from Soundway, who contacted me after seeing some eBay auctions I had. We got acquainted and started putting together first volume of Kenyan Special. I had so much potentially good music at that time. Of all the Kenyan music styles the kikuyu benga kind of hit the strongest (stripped down guitar, hard drums, catchy melody, and tough harmonics). So the first volume of compilation has a lot of that Kikuyu music. At that time it wasn’t a very common sound to hear in Western clubs. So we kind of kick started the whole benga trend.

Light & Sound of Mogadishu

"Light & Sound of Mogadishu"

The first Afro release was actually a compilation of Somalian music, “Light & Sound of Mogadishu”. This record has got good crossover reviews, not just from DJs and crate diggers. Finding old Somalian music is complicated anyway.

This was Andreas Vingaard’s (Frederiksberg Records) idea. He had interviewed the guy who ran the Light & Sound label in Somalia, who lived in Denmark. Matthew Lavoie of Voice of America had already done a blog piece about the songs so we just made it into a product. The music was fantastic, and the quality was above the usual Somali cassette quality. I had to get the songs out of Library of Congress in Washington. The Light and Sound original releases are extremely rare.

Then you started releasing 7’’ singles, by now there’s already 10 titles. Why singles?

Singles are easy to do and you can ship them cheap, even from Finland! Also the Kenyan music market focused mostly on singles, there wasn’t many LPs pressed. So you can find one artist with two killer tracks and nothing more, so seven is the format! I also try to keep the original artwork, as the Kenyan label flora is as exciting as the Jamaican one! So many lovely logos and different imprints, it’s part of the fun of digging through them!

The Scorpios

The Scorpios

And then you released LP by The Scorpios, a contemporary group from London with mostly Sudanese musicians.

This also came out of the blue, there was a YouTube clip that a fellow collector from Canada discovered and posted it on social media. It had a raw kind of traditional edge to it and the singing was marvellous, so I hooked up with Adam Bulewski, who was pulling all the strings with band, he’s a great guy. And they recorded a whole album.

Next LP release was a compilation of Black Savage. What makes them exceptional?

Gordon Ominde & Black Savage

Gordon Ominde & Black Savage

Black Savage was one of the few kind of afro-rock outfits in Kenya that was pretty young at the time they released a full album. The main guy was the late Gordon Ominde who held the band together with a lot of different players throughout the years. I think, his widow told it was like this, “back then in Nairobi, everybody was playing together and basically jamming around.” A kind of melting pot in some way, and there were some white guys and locals trying to make some money out of it.

One of latest Afro7 releases involves Misha Panfilov, a musician from Tallinn. It’s a two song 7“ single by a contemporary Nigerian trumpet player Etuk Ubong. How did this happen?

Yes, Misha Panfilov did the production and mixed it to sound more authentic. I remember, Gilles Peterson asked, if this is old or new music!? I kind of knew we had succeeded in what we wanted to achieve! There is also a full album recorded here, so we have to look into that as well...

How many times have you visited Kenya? Tell me about crate digging there.

I have been three times to Kenya, last time was back in April this year. Because I have now some knowledge on the vinyl output I can spot something good quite fast. So it was fantastic feeling to be able to dig in the field again there.

All your releases are officially licensed. How have musicians reacted when you want to release their music from the 70s or 80s?

Usually the old artists are positive, but often they have passed away too. Like when we licensed the David Waciuma track “Devil Go”, he had just died 2 months prior to finding him. Very sad!

What can we expect next from Afro?

Yaseen

Yaseen

We are doing a very exciting Taarab compilation of Yaseen & Party, a unique musician who had a lot of releases on 78 rpm records and 45 singles back in the 50s and 60s. Taarab was the music of the Swahili coast with traces of Arabic and Indian influences. It’s more stripped down and usually combo format with strings, flutes and percussion instruments. Yaseen was kind of unique because he had his own invented type of amplification of a Taishōgoto, a Japanese harp instrument. It sounds like a synth hybrid, so the unique sound of that instrument gives it a kind afrofuturistic feel, and he has a very distinct voice and of course, the rhythmical elements are fantastic. It’s like nothing else, we’ve also gone great lengths to get the story, pictures and every detail this release deserves.

Also we are doing two releases from Burundi, one album that was only pressed on Melodiya by a group called Amabano. This was recorded in Burundi in 1986, when the government there was pro-soviet and Soviet label Melodiya had a unit there doing field recordings. So, here was a chance to record one of the finest acts of the country and it got released, but then never made it back to Burundi! Now it’s remastered and will come out with full story and new artwork.

Listen to Afro7 mix on Epifanio’s Mixcloud page:

MARTIN JÕELA

Martin Jõela is a record collector, a radio show host and a founding member of (Frotee label).
He lives in Tallinn, Estonia.