Awesome Tapes From Africa reissue Umoja’s 707, South African music reigns and bubblegum is back!

The Awesome Tapes From Africa label returns after Brian Shimkovitz’s recent expedition to South Africa – resulting in this much sought after reissue of bubblegum music stars Umoja and their 1988 EP 707. The label boss and DJ also linked up with Johannesburg selector and Afro Synth record shop owner, DJ Okapi, to check out his rapidly renowned emporium.

The band’s ‘Om’ Alec Khaoli turned to the pure pop form during apartheid in the mid-‘80s and Umoja’s EP 707 was a chart-topping hit in 1988 that achieved double-platinum status. Bubblegum music was an extremely catchy township music with call-and-response vocals and synthesiser-led melodies.

Umoja translates as “oneness” or “unity” in Swahili. “Bubblegum music was about escape,” explains Khaoli. “If you had grown up in South Africa at the time, there was nothing more in your life than oppression. It was even in your dreams. Anything that was a way out was welcome…When this music was playing everyone just wanted to dance, just have a good time.”

Awesome Tapes From Africa will release Umoja’s 707 on LP/CD/Digital on May 5.

And while we’re at it, Brian posted this artifact recently:

Interview: DJ Okapi (Afro-Synth)

SONY DSCDJ Okapi has been at the fore of rediscovering dance music from South Africa since his Afro-Synth blog started seven years ago. He has just compiled Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth-Disco 1980-1984 for Cultures of Soul and is about to commence a DJ tour of Europe. As well as blogging about under-publicised artists from his home country, DJ Okapi is helping others around the world to reissue key tracks and is planning his own label to celebrate its musical legacy. He spoke to World Treasures Music.

WTM – What’s your background, how did you get into collecting and DJing?

Growing up I spent a lot of time exploring new music in CD stores, taping and relistening to my favourite radio shows, also during high school playing guitar and experimenting with production. When I was studying I got into DJing, first on campus radio then through that in a few small bars in Cape Town. This was in the mid-2000s so I first played mainly on CDs but was able to build up a record collection with whatever money I earned from DJing. Although I had an interest in South African music (like jazz and rock) when I started DJing and collecting it was more about American soul and funk, also 80s pop. Digging around I picked up a handful of South African records and opened a door into a whole new world of music, a parallel universe right on my doorstep. I realised that 99% of the stuff had only ever been released on vinyl and nothing was being done to preserve it. I set up the Afro-Synth blog and started doing more research when I moved to Johannesburg in 2009. So over time this kind of music has become more of a focus both in digging and DJing.

WTM – The Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth-Disco 1980-1984 compilation for Cultures of Soul is a great collection…

COS-018_coverart-300x298The Cultures of Soul compilation was a collaborative effort between me and Jeff from the label. He took the initiative and the financial risk, so in terms of the choice of songs he rightfully had the final say. I would not have necessary made the same selection but I like that Jeff could make that choice. It’s a real thrill to see this thing materialise after years of work. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to help share this music.

WTM – You’ve helped track down some SA artists for other labels to reissue – any plans in store with the artists you compiled?

I am hoping to start re-issuing some artists on my own label in the near future. There is plenty of potential to expand on the artists featured on the CoS compilation, but there’s also a huge amount of other music, particularly from later in the 80s and the early 90s too. I am working with some of the old labels and producers to try get this music out there again.

V.O. was re-issued by Invisible City from Canada. I helped them by introducing them to the guy who owns the rights to the music in order to license it legally.

Invisible City resissue

Invisible City reissue

V.O. was a studio project, so the producer Eddie Magwaza was the main guy behind it, not the performers. But he died a few years after the album’s release in 1990, with no next of kin. In cases like this (and most others) it’s easier to license via what remains of the labels and publishers.

Original LP

Original LP

WTM – Where do you go digging? Where have you found the best records?

Digging has taken me all over the place. In South Africa there aren’t a lot of record stores so one needs to look elsewhere, and develop relationships with people from the industry back then.

It depends what you mean by best – the best quality records are the sealed deadstock that I get from the old labels and one or two other suppliers. Some of the rarer stuff like my kwaito records have come from private collections, although the quality is not always great.

studio-k-1Some of my favourite albums I’ve actually picked up in Europe and not in South Africa, like Hugh Masekela or Sakhile. Since I’ve started selling records, first online and then from my store in Joburg, it’s been about trying to find multiple copies, not just digging for one elusive record. There are so many great labels doing amazing reissues too, showcasing all kinds of obscure African music, which I’m trying to make available to people in South Africa.

WTM – What have you got coming up?

Preparing a compilation of bubblegum sounds from the late 80s on Rush Hour.

WTM – Where are your gigs on your forthcoming tour?

Thurs 10 Nov – Boiler Room
Fri 11 Nov – NTS Radio, the DoYou Breakfast Show with Charlie Bones, 10am-12pm
Sat 12 Nov – Good Block 4th Birthday at The Brewhouse, London (More info here:  https://www.residentadvisor.net/event.aspx?883185)okapi-joziburg

Tues 15 Nov – Patterns, Brighton
Fri 18 Nov – Bottom Shelf, Outlaws Yacht Club, Leeds

Thurs 24 Nov – Bar, Rotterdam
Fri 25 Nov – Banana Hill at The Harley, Sheffield
Sat 26 Nov – Loosen Up at Rum Shack,  Glasgow
Sun 27 Nov – Paradise Palms, Edinburgh

I’m still available for bookings, especially outside London (Manchester) so if any promoters are interested they can just email me at djokapi@gmail.com

Check out the Afro-Synth blog here