Diggers Directory: Sam Tha Digga

Last November, I spent a week in Nairobi running Extra Soul Perception with Andy Lemay, a cultural exchange that brought together artists from the UK, Kenya and Uganda to make an album. Despite studio time demanding most of our attention, Jimmy’s Records was an obligatory trip. The draw of Nairobi’s premiere record shop was all the greater after Andy had stumbled across Samuel Ombasa DJing at a bar a few nights before my arrival; going by the name Sam Tha Digga, he also worked behind the counter at Jimmy’s. Andy’s not usually one to shy away from hyperbole but Sam’s set – vinyl only, hip-hop focussed and delivered with adept turntablism – had left such an impression that most conversations the following week had some segué into his talents. We kept in touch throughout the week and invited Sam to play at our party at The Alchemist; such was his determination to play vinyl, he brought his own turntables when we weren’t able to source any ourselves. As his interview confirms, Sam lives to play, collect, listen to and share records and is a DJing talent who deserves wider acclaim.

Titled “moneyorthelackthereof”, his 1hr40 mix focuses on hip-hop with money as its theme; a rumination on the effects of the pandemic and a wish “to give hope to all of us as we wait for better days.” In a new format for Diggers Directory, Sam has also supplied a video of his set, made in partnership with Tha Swissarmyhauz Sound System, which you can view at the bottom. Together they’ve been publishing regular vinyl session, which you can watch via Sam’s YouTube.

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud Select. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download the mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid.

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 father loved music so much, he listened to music whenever at home. He wasn’t into vinyl he was a cassette tape guy, and it was rumoured that he was the first person to own a cassette tape player.

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?

My interest in vinyl was sparked by my neighbour Henryin the ghettos of Kawangware, Nairobi in the 80s. We would go to his house and he would play for us Lingala records on his orange portable Sanyo turntable. I’ve listened to most genres of music available to us, but being a hiphop fan, I would say, The Fugees – The Score was a pivotal record in my teens. I started collecting records for nolstalgia’s sake. I loved the album art, the pop and
click sounds that make the background to the main music

Where do you store your records and how do you file them?

I keep my records in a small shelf next to my turntables for easy access whenever I feel inspired to do some practice or whenever cool mix ideas manifest randomly. I don’t file my records really. I have a disorganised system where there is like a jazz area, a funk corner, a rock n roll zone, an African space, a few classicals, some latin, some house, old children
songs, then a dozen hip-hop and 90s RnB albums and 12″ singles, not forgetting my crate of 45s. However, i usually put records that blend together in mixes together as sets. That helps a lot when doing gigs.

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

Favourite spots in Nairobi to dig are: Jimmy’s (REAL VINYL GURU) storein Kenyatta Market; Melodica, in the city center. I love these spots coz I’ve known them and shared with them for long till they become family.

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?

I would like to give a shoutout to various communities that we share and work with: Nairobi Soul Club, Everyone in Crate Society, my friends at The Pit & Crew. Special shoutout to the legendary Dj Adrian who was an early inspiration for my love for vinyl & hip-hop.

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?

I would say African traditional music records are the most elusive records to find, considering that Kenya alone has more than 42 tribes with their own exclusive styles and approach to music. Those records are rarely seen and most are in bad condition if found.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

I prefer digging on a solo, coz I have tunnel vision at times (looking for a specific records for making mixes). Whenever I dig with friends I get distracted by thier finds. However I enjoy digging with friends as well, some of my digging partners are Jumanne Thomas (Netherlands), Anthony Mwaura, Kiyaa Kanjukia, David Njuki, Amos Mabinda (Nairobi), Marios Vogel (Switzerland). These are fun people to catch a vibe with in Nairobi.

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?

My guide into getting what I need with no distraction is dictated by whatever mix I am trying to make.

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

Album art is more than just icing on a cake for me, there is nothing more satisfactory than spinning your records while looking at album art, liner notes and credits.

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?

“moneyorthelackthereof” – the title to my mix sums it all up. Its a hip-hop tracks mix with the focus on Money as the main theme. That came to me because during these global pandemic days, life has been particularly tough for everyone in the entertainment industry. Personally as I share the music I’d like to give hope to all of us as we wait for better days.

Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?

Watch out for ZAPP III – We Need The Buck, The Roots – Hustla, Nappy Roots – Po Folks, Masta Ace – The Grind, Tony Toni Tone – If I Had No Loot. They’re some tracks I’m exited to have on this.

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?

I wanna mention George Ouma (DJ Jojo) – mad collector, friend and partner. David Sanders, Jimmy Greene, Lionel Diara from Nairobi Soul Club.
Then shift over to Madlib (the loop digga), J Dilla…Rip, Beat Pete, Natasha Diggs, Dj Koco and Dj Muro.

Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?

Immaculate Apiyo from Kisumu City, always looking out for Brazillian wax. My friends Anthony Mwaura, Amos Mabinda and Kiyaa Kanjukia.

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

I am so looking forwards to releasing this mix for you.

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud Select. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download the mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid.

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