Diggers Directory: a mix series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
Whether it is the deep afro-centric funk of Fela Kuti, the synthetic disco genius of the late, great William Onyeanbor or the eccentric rap fusion of Ata Kak, the desire for African music continues to grow amongst vinyl junkies of all ages, making Temi Kogbe a perfect and timely, guest for our next installment of Diggers Directory. Lagos born and raised, Kogbe’s collection ranges from high-life to afrobeat, jazz and afro-disco, ammassed over many years, and sees him placed as one of the leading experts of African music.
We go deep into his life with records, as well as find out about his new label Odion Livingstone, contemporary music in Africa, who’s carrying on its great tradition and the beauty and problems faced when collecting across the continent. He’s also done a vinyl only, hour-plus mix to accompany.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
My parents were academics, Dad a geologist, mum an opthalmologist. Dad was social secretary at the University of Ife and had a reasonably sized vinyl collection. I used to look through them as a kid and, later, when I startedcollecting, I went back to them. He had quite conservative tastes – Abba, the Womacks, late Motown soul stuff, Marvin Gaye, but there were Nigerian records too: juju, through to some of the funkier fusions like Geraldo Pino and Lijadu Sisters, which I remember picking up on.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Primarily, it was for the music. The music that I was interested in was on vinyl -are grooves, jazz, broken beat, early jungle… then I made and nurtured friendships with like-minded people who shared information with me. I’m still learning after all those years…
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
I store some in Paris, most in Nigeria (I can’t be too specific for obvious reasons..).
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
French West Africa – it’s a diggers paradise. Life is relatively cheap but logistics is what makes digging in Africa expensive; the travelling and airfreighting boxes of vinyl.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met onyour travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Broadway, DJ Patrick, Kenneth, Damian, Big Joe… all of them have helped me in one way or the other. They are all genuine sources of information and greatpeople.
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
There are not many but one comes to mind: Willie Roy’s ‘Don’t Give It Up’, an amazing funk album from Nigeria, 1981. It’s a direct, well executed, flawless record. Livy Ekemezie’s ‘Friday Night’ too which is the first release on my newlabel with Odion Iruoje, Odion Livingstone.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
Colomanch, early ‘70s EMI release… never seen, only whispered about in hushed tones.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I’d go digging with Uchenna Ikonne any time. He works a lot with reissue labels including Soundway and he is knowledgeable and very generous on digging trips. He found and gave me an album on my wants list: Kiki Gyan’s elusive ‘Feel So Good’ album. For me it’s generally a solitary thing, though. I do the travelling myself across West coast. I do hear about diggers on their own trips but generally try not to meet them. I met a guy in Takoradi, Ghana, who had responded to one of my radio ads asking if anyone had records to sell. When I met him, he told me that another guy had put an ad out days before I did but he never got to see him, as the guy was sleeping or busy when he tried to call him. I went over and he had all the K. Frimpongs, Vis A Vis, Andy Vans and some Ebo Taylors. I bought almost 20 LPs and he gave me a box of over 100, 45s for free of the early African Brothers stuff. Great haul.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting process, with some many different genres and formats. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after? Is it about patience, diligence and a bit of luck or are you more methodical when you enter a record shop?
There’s no record store where I dig, it’s mostly private collections of vinyl. I pick up hints from the names of the session men on the back cover, the labels and the producers. That’s generally enough to go on. You see records of indigenous music where there’s no hint about the music. So, then, it may just be the cover design. Something draws you to it to check it out.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?
Artwork is a big deal. I have records with artwork from artists that I respect which I keep for the artwork alone. I am also working on a book on Nigerian and Ghana LP cover design from the ‘50s to the ‘80s with input from Lemi Ghariokwu and other legendary designers, musicians and producers who were active in that period.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you made for us? Where you r ecorded it, what your set-up was and the idea behind it.
The selection includes tracks from three genres I love; ‘80s Electro Boogie with stand out producers like Jake Sollo and Nkono Teles. The second sub-genre is 70s funk-rock bands like Asiko Rock Group, The Mighty Flames, Mansion, Masisi, Aktion. Amazing music from a very fertile period. You don’t have bands these days in Nigeria, apart from church bands. I miss that era. The third, sub- genre, is Edo or Bini Funk which started in the ‘70s, with highlife musicians likeMochico Bay, Collins Oke and Aigbe Lebarty exploring funk through highlife music. I have loads of great music from that region and it speaks to me in a way that’s is so layered.
We asked you to keep the tracklist secret but are there any standouts from the mix you’d like to shout out?
I included a track from a group called the Sealions – they were on Ben Okwonko’s Clover Recording Organisation. He was apparently quite a character; he had compilations of his artistes with nudes on the cover. He also put out a lot of funk rock music from artistes like Aktion, the Comrades, Mansion, The Visitors,Akwassa, Founders IV, Jerry Boifraind.
Yourself and legendary producer Odion Iruoje, have started a new label in association with Strut Records, called Odion Livingstone. Can you tell us what we can expect from the label and it’s first release ‘Friday Night’ by Livy Ekemezie?
We to intend to establish the label as a curator of really special music from the past. Eventually we will do contemporary music. We are in it for the love and hopefully the attention to detail (selection, mastering, artwork) will show this. We also intend to explore genres (like juju, fuji, highlife..) that are off the beaten funk disco track as there are gems to be discovered there. The great African disco is a broad basket.
Licensing and releasing the amazing Livy Ekemezie ‘Friday Night’ LP was a great break. We intend to follow up in 2017 with several very rare early ‘70s Afro- rock LPs, mythical LPs that only a few dedicated, OG DJs have even heardabout. Grotto’s mind-blowing ‘At Last’ from the mid-‘70s is a funk-rock masterpiece by a teenage band produced by Mr Odion Iruoje; the amazing Apples’ ‘Mind Twister’, also produced by Odion, is a unique album by another teenage group that defies categorisation (the closest comparison may be Shuggie Otis’ gem ‘Inspiration Information’ from 1974). ‘Mind Twister’ also features inspired interventions from Curved Air’s ace keyboardist, Francis Monkman, that takes the album to a whole other level.
These are LPs that are never seen and, when spotted, they go for thousands of dollars. They are in pre-production and others of similar calibre are following soon after. We have been blessed with access to the music and the musicians that made the music. Amazing music with cool liner notes and period pictures from the musicians we licensed the music from. I, as a fan and lover of that genre, am really and truly humbled and chuffed. Stay tuned
With reissue culture and the current obsession with African disco , sometimes contemporary artists from the continent get overshadowed or possibly overlooked by record buyers. Can you think of any modern African musicians which you are particularly excited about at the moment?
Funsho Ogundipe is a really special musician with a cultured take on Afrobeat. He needs major recognition. I hope to work with him in the near future; Kdei from Ghana blends contemporary sounds with highlife in a way that is really unique; Funbi is another talent more on the pop scene – his songs are well arranged and stand out in the current music-scape; Etuk Ubong is a jazz trumpetist with an amazing band of talented young Nigerians. He, and Funsho’s Aiyetoro are the greatest things happening on the Lagos jazz scene right now.
Finally, what are your plans for 2017 and beyond?
We are dedicated to bringing the heat, with well curated releases that are really special items with great liner notes, interviews and period pictures. It is a labour of love so we are invested for life. God is good.