Diggers Directory: Les Disques Bongo Joe

“We like to surprise the label’s followers” says Cyril Yeterian when pinpointing the ethos of Les Disques Bongo Joe. It’s a great distillation of what makes the label consistently exciting; a constantly expanding discography that spotlights regional obscurities, under-documented styles and new bands working in unclassifiable modes. Rather than cultivating the homogeneity of a distinct “sound”, Cyril instead chases a spirit; music that feels earnest and vital. Haitian gospel, deep creole music from Réunion, and caustic Post-Punk from Spain sit alongside droning folk, contemporary Anatolian rock and incantatory DIY pop. 

This free-wheeling spirit guides the physical store as well. They stock a number of like-minded contemporaries, including a brace of new releases, with a strong spotlight on Switzerland’s local scene. It’s also a community space, hosting live performances, musicological lectures, and most recently, the Résiliences Sonores DJ broadcasts.

Switzerland forms the focus of Cyril’s Diggers Directory mix. It echoes their compilation INTENTA: Experimental & Electronic Music from Switzerland 1981-93, with the frigid technopop of Claudine Chirac and Grauzone that characterized Swiss Wave in the 80s, mixed with a fleet of contemporary musicians from all corners of Switzerland. Listen through as Cyril writes about his history with Arabic classical, and Dub, and the unsung heroes he’s dedicated to championing.

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 origins are in the Middle East and I started my musical journey while singing Arabic classics in the car with my parents. They were listening to a lot of Oum Khalsoum, Fairuz and Asmahan and this must have been the very first sounds I’ve been familiar with.

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?

I started collecting reggae and dub records as a teenager. There were plenty of squats in the 90s in Geneva and my generation could discover so many different music styles for very affordable entry fees which opened our ears very early. There were some very active sound systems that brought UK dub sounds to us and that’s the way I dived into vinyl collecting. I feel lucky every day to have music as my main passion, as I’ll keep discovering music through digging for the rest of my life. There’s no end. Every day a new door opens to my ear.

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

Many people ask me – for eight years I’ve run a record store – if my personal record collection has increased significantly. In fact my collection decreased as I see more and more the Bongo Joe store as my own record collection. And I’m very happy to see rare records I may not see twice in my life and that I used to keep in my personal collection, leave in people’s hands. It is really important for me to know that records (old and new) circulate and don’t sleep in a collection for decades. Records have been manufactured to be played on turntables. My personal collection was in my toilets for years (toilets were oddly way too big in my old flat) and now in my bedroom. I sleep close to the records I cherish 🙂

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

I used to love digging in flee markets and thrift stores and have found so much great music there but nowadays this has changed a lot. These days I really like digging in people’s collections, and trading records. I love cassettes as well. There’s a lot of unknown sounds to be discovered on cassettes.

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?

Here’s a little non-exhaustive list of great people I’ve met on my journey: Nuno Ketu, Vincent Privat, Booty Carrell, Felix Vincent, Simon Debarbieux, DJ Tom B, Loïc Diaz Ronda, WTF, soFa, Eric Isaacson, Davide Domenichini, Maxxi Fischer, Matthias Orsett etc etc etc

Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?

I like to tell people that in my top five singers of all time none of them sing well or perfectly on tune. So many unsung heroes. So much music would have deserved more attention and still does. I’m glad to have a record label and reveal some unknown music to wider recognition.

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

Too many of them! That’s what keeps me excited about collecting records.

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 like both. I like digging alone and sharing my discoveries once back home with my friends and collaborators. And I like digging with friends because it can turn out challenging and fun (and sometimes stressful haha). I really loved digging with my old pal Lukas Goretta aka WTF. He’s the finest digger I’ve ever met in my life.

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?

What I like the most as a starter is to dig into the shelves that are not specific to the music style of the store. I’ve found some great jazz records in rock specialized stores and great electronic records in reggae record stores etc. But there’s no way to feel good when you step in a record store that has a cold atmosphere. I’ve never found a solution to that.

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

I’m very sensitive to artwork and I’ve bought records many times just for their covers. Some music styles or music scenes have very easy to recognize cover designs and this clearly helps while digging.

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

It’s a Swiss music special mixing past and present music from every corner of our country. A lot of artists that we put out on our label. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

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

I’ve mixed many songs from INTENTA Experimental & Electronic Music from Switzerland 1981-93, the compilation we put out a year and a half ago hand in hand with the Décalé crew, and for sure many bands from the very active scene in Geneva and the rest of Switzerland’s music scene.

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

soFa is someone that really impresses me. Always strange new music to share! I really like Fred Kramer from Radio Martiko / Souma Records who digs so deep into Mediterranean (and beyond) music with a very sensitive ear. He’s after something not many people are aware of: real hidden music scenes. And I could list so many more people!

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

I really appreciate the finds of younger diggers that have come to the store over the years. So curious! So talented! Alan Bolumar, Quentin Pilet, Kevin Babtous. Love you guys!

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

We’ve been working for many years on different reissues that will finally will see the light of day soon. Can’t tell you more about them now! And so much new music to share with the world: music from Switzerland, France, Turkey, Belgium, Congo, with a wide range of different music styles. We like to surprise the label’s followers.

L’ECLAIR – Dallas [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
Bongo Joe]
CAROL RICH – Computered Love [Not On Label / Bongo Joe & Décalé reissue]
CYRIL CYRIL – Les Gens [Les Disques Bongo Joe / Born Bad]
LEONI LEONI – If There Is Magic It Is Made In Your Womb [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
TOUT BLEU – Ere De Rien [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
AUGENWASSER – Paid The Rent / Going Out [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
OLIVIER ROGG – GE/CH:Seq [Mega Wave Orchestra / Bongo Joe & Décalé
MASSICOT – Kratt [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
CLAUDINE CHIRAC – Etudes [Bambi Productions / Bongo Joe & Décalé reissue]
AMAMI – Ivory [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
ELEPHANT CHÂTEAU – Dreamings [Halb Tanz Halb Schlaf / Bongo Joe & Décalé
HYPERCULTE – Résigné [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
I SUONATORI – Matrosen [Sounds! / Bongo Joe & Décalé reissue]
ANDROO – uno.nostalgia [Polydance Theater]
BELLS OF KYOTO – Swiss Air [RRRecords / Bongo Joe & Décalé reissue]
USER 1201 – Do It With The Crew [CAF?]
GRAUZONE – Film [Off Course Records]
MERIL WUBSLIN – Là Autour [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
LA TÈNE – La Tardive [Les Disques Bongo Joe]
ANDREAS HOFER – Untitled [Not On Label / Bongo Joe & Décalé reissue]
SKY BIRD AND THE FISH OF HOPE – Lay In The Sun [BOY (Because of You)]

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