Diggers Directory: a mix & interview series that salutes the diggers, record enthusiasts and music lovers. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
For our next Diggers Directory, we turn to one of the world’s leading authorities on rare South African spiritual jazz, Matt Temple. With standout releases so far from Dick Khoza, Batsumi and Sathima Bea Benjamin, his label Matsuli Music has become one of the most consistent around for jazz music, winning admirers from as high up as Gilles Peterson and Osunlade. We spoke to Matt about the records he adored growing up, the political impact of jazz during the Apartheid and the plans for Matsuli in 2016. He was also kind enough to put together all vinyl mix of South African jazz, which he’s titled the Johannesburg Love Trip mix.
Black Disco – New Discovery is is released on 20th June via Matsuli Music and available through their Bandcamp and all good record stores.
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?
Absolutely! Growing up in the 1960s my father had a lovely Philips record player on which he would play Harry Belafonte, Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald amongst other classical and soundtrack LPs. We lived on a remote farm and the record player beamed the big wide world into our living room. I still have a sweet spot for that Harry Belafonte record. Later we moved to the city and my father upgraded to stereo hi-fi. My two older sisters started buying records – a lot of Motown, singer-songwriter stuff. I would overplay LPs like Rodriguez’s Cold Fact (a big hit in South Africa in the early seventies), Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (with its mix of styles), Diana Ross’ debut LP, Ipi Tombi (the soundtrack to the stage show featuring Margaret Singana), Ian Matthews’ If You Saw Through My Eyes and Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.
By the time I had saved enough pocket money to start buying records I explored groups like The Beatles, The Who, Kiss, Queen, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground before the punk/new wave and ska broke through. Come 1980 I couldn’t live without my copies of African Herbsman, Armed Forces, Linton Kwezi Johnson, White Light White Heat, The Jam’s Setting Sons, London Calling, The Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It and The Police’s Regatta De Blanc. In the early eighties at university I was introduced to a whole new world: Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Youssou N’Dour, Franco, Orchestra Makassy, Thomas Mapfumo as well as local afro-jazz music from Amampondo, Malombo, Malopoets, Hugh Masekela, Harari and more. I went on to organise live music at university featuring many local acts.
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?
Before the CD gained prominence and then the late nineties deluge of MP3s, Napster and streaming services, there were only 78s, reel-to-reels, LPs, 8-tracks, cassettes and 8-tracks. Back then it was a way of connecting – to the outside world and to like-minded people and to enjoy the simple pleasure of sharing new discoveries. It was normal back then to go to a friend’s house who had a particular LP and spend time listening to it.
I still buy records because of it endurance as a format, the large format graphic art, liner notes and its physicality. Even the effort required to play records has meaning. I’m still drawn to the idea that there are records out there still looking for me! It remains for me a way of connecting to lost and hidden narratives and histories.
Digging has changed with Discogs, Ebay and the like providing ways of acquiring records if you have the money. But that chance encounter – finding something that you’ve been looking for in the most unlikely place – is still alluring.
Where do you store all your records and how do you file them?
Three locations – a storage unit with 2000 LPs; my personal room with another 1500 LPs and 600 45s plus the living room with another 200 LPs and 50 45s. They are mostly arranged by region & genre: South Africa – jazz through to popular; Africa – north, west, central/east coast and southern; jazz, latin, Brazil/Colombia/Peru; Arabic/North African; outernational; reggae, Caribbean/Islands; rock; pop; soul; RnB; funk; Hip Hop; electronica and beyond. It’s a work in progress!
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
On my London rounds I try to reach most of the new and used vinyl stores at least once every couple of months – Flashback, Eldica, Sounds Of The Universe, Phonica, Reckless, Andy’s etc. I also monitor Ebay and Discogs for stuff I’m particularly looking for. I travel a lot in my job and try to spend at least half a day checking out local record stores. Different countries and cities tend to throw up different second hand stuff so it’s interesting. I do some trading but then the people I connect with tend to be looking for similar stuff. Over the past five years the best spots have been found by accident.
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 on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
The guy who sold Haggle Records to learn the guitar! The owner of Chilli Records in Johannesburg back in 2010 – pre the South African vinyl resurgence – who decided to close down because people were stealing from him. Brain “Sugarman” Segar who runs Mabi Vinyl in Cape Town as well as the Fania enthusiast who I met in Cartagena a few months ago
DJs and producers often talk about a number of records that never leave their bag. Do you have any records like this?
Yes. I typically don’t leave without Lupita, Allah Wakbarr, Sorry Sorry Dub, I Exist Because of You, Fever, Downtown, Yeh Yeh, Sorrow Tears and Blood.
Is there a record (or records), which you’ve wanted to own but cannot afford or find in print anymore?
Gideon Nxumalo’s Plays for You and originals of 1960s South African jazz and mbaqanga…and a lot of South African stuff from the early 1970s.
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 don’t dig in London with mates so it’s solitary but in South Africa I’ll hook up with my business partner at Matsuli, Chris. We’ve made some great warehouse finds over the years.
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?
Each shop has its own way of organising stuff. I’ll gravitate mostly towards looking at international and African sounds, then jazz, then reggae then soul/funk and rock.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging, esp. if you’re not familiar with something you pick up?
Great cover art is always intriguing and I may listen based on the cover, but I don’t collect for the artwork.
Are there any specific labels or genres you search for?
I do collect some specific labels: As-shams (The Sun) from South Africa, Sylliphone, Badmos, Ndardisc. I am also particularly drawn to West African Latin-tinged sounds of Star Band no 1, Star Bad de Dakar, Orchestra Baobab etc.
Could you describe the story of Matsuli Music?
We’re musical archaeologists and curators dedicated to recovering and restoring to vinyl classic works from the golden age of South African afro-jazz.
What is it about South Africa and it’s music which resonates with you so deeply?
It’s close to the heart as I was born in South Africa but left to avoid military service in the apartheid army.
We asked you to keep the tracklist secret (to get listeners to dig deep for their IDs!) but are there any standouts from the mix you’d like to shout out?
Look out for the Makhona Zonke Band – the band that can do everything – with their track ‘The Webb’. Also ‘Night Express’ the title track from the Black Disco album out now on Matsuli. And finally a track by a little known band The Heroes.
Reading the cover and sleeve notes for Ndikho and the Natives, Batsumi and Sathima Bea Benjamin, it seems a lot of the artists on Matsuli used their music to fight against the Apartheid government at the time. Can you go into any more detail about the political effects of the jazz scene in South Africa during this period?
Choosing to play jazz under Apartheid can be read as a political statement. Jazz was seen as a proudly black articulation of identity with, at its heart, the idea of being free. In many ways this was construed as revolutionary. The fight was about being someone the government didn’t want you to be, as they tried to straightjacket people into fixed identities and roles within their social engineering project. But the music itself is profoundly transcendental and therein lies its power.
As jazz came to represent a form of resistance to the ideology of Apartheid so it became more and more difficult for players to find record companies that would record and issue their records, or to find venues that could afford to keep booking these artists. Choosing to play jazz under Apartheid was not a smart financial move but many felt they had no choice at all but to play. The impact of the black consciousness movement in the early and mid-seventies saw many groups like the Dashiki Poets, Malombo and Batsumi articulate a strong black and proudly African identity but, post the Soweto uprisings in 1976, the political struggle was turned up a notch with a military led government seeking ultimate control over the country. As the armed resistance of the ANC and other groups increased, so the political leadership of the opposition grouped closer to the ANC. Under these conditions all artists were expected to use everything at their disposal to fight against the system. A popular slogan at the time was: “The struggle for jazz, jazz for the struggle”. There were innumerable debates on whether art could be reduced to a tool of the struggle or whether it transcended such functional interpretations.
An finally, what Matsuli Music releases can we expect in 2016 and what are your plans for the rest of the year?
We hope to have another two albums out this year: possibly one of the early afro-rock LPs by the group Harari and a collection of previously unheard 78s from the dawn of the popular age of black music in South Africa.