Kalita is dropping disco and boogie heat with Iwabo, while unearthing the stories behind the music

Kalita Records is an independent record label based in London and is setting the bar high with selection, integrity and journalism. All releases are officially licensed with the rightholder’s consent. Plus, the label is even filming interviews with artists and broadcasting them on their website.

Kalita is up to their third release already with Iwabo’s Reggae Down. This track was the band’s only release and was originally out in 1985. This fine reissue continues the label’s attention to detail – with liner notes and a never-before-seen photo of the band – following the in depth interview with Okyerema Asante for Kalita’s last release.

World Treasures Music spoke to Kalita boss Chris Webb and found out that this is only the beginning:

WTM – Give us a run down of the releases so far – how did you come across the music and eventually choose to reissue it?

“Firstly, in relation to NST Cophie’s, I had known about E Clôlo for a long time, as I had heard it on an obscure Youtube clip without any track title and instantly fell in love with the song. After then hearing Bian Kou a few months after, I knew that his album Mon’Da Center was truly a lesser-known gem and deserved love and attention once again. Quite out-of-the-norm, Ernest actually has his own website through which I tried to contact him to ask if he would like to re-release his music, but never received any response. It was only after finding him on social media that we were finally able to make contact and he was responsive and interested in the fact that music lovers in London were so into the music that he had released in Paris and Abidjan 36 years before.

“After a short time we had agreed to re-release three of his songs from the album and he was willing to send a photo of himself from the time for the sleeve cover, as well as being kind enough to answer some questions that I had – the responses being truly valuable for putting together the liner notes.

“Secondly, in relation to Okyerema, Sabi (Get Down) has been quite well known for some time in the West, in large part since diggers in the West started focusing on the amazing music that emerged out of Ghana in the 1970s, 80s and 90s for that matter. However, the B side That’s My Girl (which in fact has received more airtime recently than Sabi – something I wasn’t expecting, but which looking back is totally understandable) was still a semi-hidden gem. I contacted Okyerema through social media and he was very much willing to discuss working with Kalita in celebrating and re-releasing his music. After obtaining an agreement, I was able to learn more and more about Okyerema’s amazing career, from being part of Ghana’s legendry Hedzoleh band, to moving to America as part of Hugh Masekela’s outfit, and then pursuing a successful solo career whilst simultaneously working with megastar musicians such as Paul Simon, Lonnie Liston Smith and Fleetwood Mac. It has been an honour to work with him and I hope that this is just the start.”

WTM – the interviews with artists are a great idea, really well done and a credit to you.

“It’s something that I believe needs to be done much more and as anyone who watches the interview can see, we both had a great time discussing Okyerema’s life and career (as well as learning of things I hadn’t known previously, such as the fact that he had been in an ill-fated 2-week long band with Ebo Taylor, Pat Thomas and Kiki Gyan!).”

WTM – what else is coming up?

“Although the first two releases are West African disco records, Kalita isn’t just focused on West African disco. I try to unearth and re-release great music regardless of where it is from. Reggae Down is by the Trinidadian musician Victor (Irenaeus) Perelion, the fourth is a huge American gospel disco single, and the fifth is a much needed official reissue of dancefloor-focused disco out of Tampa, Florida. I guess the main theme running through is disco and boogie, but more generally it’s just music that I love that I believe needs to be celebrated again. Let’s just say that we’re only just getting started, and that 2018 is going to (hopefully!) be a great year.”

For more tunes, mix links, news and more – go to the Kalita Records website.

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