The BBC recently announced streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have overtaken CD and vinyl sales in the UK. But what does this mean for East Africa?
East African nations such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania once bathed in the glow of the golden age of vinyl. The 70s and 80s saw thousands upon thousands of records being pressed by the likes of Polygram (a Dutch-German company that later merged with Universal Music). However, illegal downloads shared and sold on USB sticks at the market have dented a once rich and vibrant production scene that flourished throughout the pre- and post-independence years. International record companies fled the scene of the crime, leaving what felt like a trail of irreparable destruction behind them.
Back in 2015, there was even a story on The Vinyl Factory showing one of the last vinyl pressing plants in East and Southern Africa up for auction on eBay. Once owned by major South African label Gallo Record Company, the Zimbabwean plant was once the only vinyl factory in the country, but stood unused since music piracy ceased operations in the early 90s.
It all seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it?
It suffices to say, East African countries have had a setback, but so have we all. And like many European countries and the Americas, we’re slowly starting to see little splashes of colour in the tapestry of vinyl rebirth.
Since 2007, there has been a noticeable increase in the in the fascination with, use of, and sales of, vinyl. Particularly in the West. That indie-cool factor of owning a set of turntables and a couple of battered Bob Dylan singles from the 70s is alluring, perhaps romanticised by the digital generation. That intricacy of creating something by hand; the element of craftsmanship is something to be appreciated once again. And while one record will most likely cost you more than a subscription to a music streaming service (full of thousands of quality tracks, albums, and podcasts) for a year, people are forking out for it. Big labels like Sony and Universal have re-entered the vinyl market, re-issuing classic albums and enticing diehard fans with never-heard-before exclusive interviews, sound sessions and performances.
Thanks to the success of African artists like Fela Kuti and Wizkid, local and international interest has peaked vinyl business, particularly in countries like Kenya and Uganda.
In Kenya, we must look at its thriving hub: Nairobi. The home of Jimmy Rugami and his infamous market stall, stuffed to the rafters with contemporary and traditional African music, limited edition sleeves and turntables galore. He followed the allure of youthful resistance and audacious beats from his mountainous hometown of Meru, to Kenyatta Market back in 1989, and is busier today than ever before.
Just over the border in Uganda, record label Nyege Nyege Tapes launched an extensive vinyl series, with some donning them the galvanisers of the local Kampala music scene. The label is championing sounds from the likes of Ekuka Morris Sirikiti from Northern Uganda, Fokn Bois from Ghana, Batuk from South Africa and Mamman Sani from Niger; forming a studio culture which is eclectically diasporic. The traditional sounds of the Congolese rumba, abstract electronica, thumping techno and hip-hop are all slowly becoming available on vinyl, in an attempt to quench the thirst for diverse African music.
Record Store Day has also risen to prominence across the African continent, acting as a driving force for the collection and sharing of vinyl knowledge. In Nairobi, Jimmy’s shop is the beating heart of the celebration; streams of locals, expats and tourists flit in and around the musical epicentre, trying to catch a sale on some of his exclusive 7” and 12” East African vinyls. In Lusaka, Zambia, The Time Machine pop-up vinyl and comic book store is amass with fans of hip-hop, Marvel superheroes and graphic novel junkies. In Cape Town, the infamous Mabu Vinyl Store attracts collectors of vintage cassette tapes, trance, techno, drum and bass, pop and jazz devotees. Featured prominently in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugarman”, the store combines pop culture aficionados’ love of movies and music in one electrifying place.
Despite its turbulent history, vinyl sales really are lifting off across Africa, especially in the Eastern capitals. It’s clear Nairobi and Kampala will become ever more important as the movement gains pace. Let’s just hope they can keep up with the demand.
Photo credit: Afropop.org