DJ Nomad provides an insight into the last 25 years’ development of African music within the electronic music scene in Europe. This is a digger’s paradise!
“Around 1991 a friend in Munich invited me to an illegal rave party in the Alps […] and I immediately got hooked on the idea of playing African music in a club context.”
You are one of the most respected Afro music DJs and collectors in the scene – you’ve been in the game for years now. When and how did it all start and what changed during all that time?
It all started with finding Brian Eno and David Byrne’s album ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ around 1986. It was the first time I consciously decided to buy a record that was based on polyrhythms. I was heavy into electronic avant-garde and industrial at the time, and that record bridged the gap between African traditional rhythm structures and electronic sound design in a fresh and fascinating way. After that I started researching African rhythms in a more conscious way. Around 1991 a friend in Munich invited me to an illegal rave party in the Alps with Beppe Loda and DJ Mozart and I immediately got hooked on the idea of playing African music in a club context.
So yes, I guess it was Beppe who inspired me to start playing African music as a DJ. He is still my mentor, although I was never one of the guys that copied his style or sets. For many years, I haven’t found anyone that had that same passion and dedication, mainly because after the Italian Afro funky, cosmic movement, African music seemed to have disappeared from the clubs. It wasn’t before the West London Afro / broken beat genre started that I would meet DJs that were also into digging and playing African music.
Around 2000 Hunee and me became friends due to those shared interests and we started playing together as Triple A Soundsystem, mixing Afro with disco, hip-hop and ragga. After five or six years Hun got more into house, and I started my own party series Vulkandance, which was only about Afro and tropical music. At the time there was nothing like it in Berlin. Of course the same thing was happening at the same time in Paris with Tropical Discoteque and four years earlier in London with Sofrito. Much later I found out about Turning Point, La Casa Tropical, Invisible City in Canada and about other parties and labels all over the globe. Through social networks on the Internet, a new global community of Afro diggers, musicians, labels and DJs started to build a scene.
There’s an amazing amount of fresh blood around now and I see new parties and DJ mixes popping up on a weekly basis. It’s pretty amazing when you look at it from the humble beginnings of the scene to now. I am immensely grateful to have had the chance to struggle with this music and help bring it back to Europe, alongside labels like Soundway Records or Analog Africa and amazing DJs and diggers like Beppe, Hugo and Frank, John Gomez and Rickard Masip (Sofrito) or Émile and Aurel (Tropical Discoteq).
What size is your collection? How did you feel when you sold records from your collection for the first time?
I have downsized my collection a while ago from roughly estimated 10.000 to 2000 that I keep at home. It felt good to get rid of the stuff I knew I would not use again or ever listen to again. I prefer that the records keep circulating and people actually listen to them instead of rotting away in some storage. Now I keep my stock tight and do flea markets or sell records from my home to friends. I don’t do Discogs or eBay sales because a lot of people are just ripping files when you send them the record and then they return it stating that the grading was off. Plus I am traveling way too much to keep up with sending out stuff in time. As a Discogs seller I would be horrible…
How does a typical digging day look like for you? Do you have secret spots, places, areas or countries you can recommend for digging? What is your strategy when looking for new stuff?
Haha, if I would talk about it, it wouldn’t be a secret any more, would it? Of course, I have my spots in various cities. I hardly go digging in Berlin anymore since it’s way too much work for too little satisfaction. For me, Paris is still the best. I prefer the rawness of flea markets to clean record stores like those in Tokyo, where you can find everything but everything has its price. I like surprises and I like to find stuff that nobody ever paid attention to. In Paris, it’s mainly flea markets, Clignancourt of course, and the little weekend flea markets. I can find lots of soukous and cadence or zouk for amazing prices there and occasionally I get lucky with some unheard of Cameroonian disco. Paris is the most convenient and easiest place to find amazing records. And then there’s the Antillais. As for shops, I can recommend the bottom bins at Superfly and the countless bookstores that still carry second hand CDs. I found amazing Gwo Ka there. Last time I was there, Hugo [Mendez] showed me an African CD shop I didn’t know. I spent hours there. Every time you think you have seen it all, the city surprises you with new spots. The Dutch and Belgian countryside and record fairs are also pretty decent, especially for South African stuff.
“Most of the kids that are now getting into that thing never got down to doing the dirty work, basements, spore masks, traveling, following leads, all the disappointments and all the excitement.”
Could you share some of your latest – in the scene yet – undiscovered record finds?
I am in Vienna right now, and went to the record fair and to my favourite shop Teuchtler.
I found the original 12″ of ‘Mysteries of the East’ from J.Halib, which is not new to the scene but pretty dope.
A pretty good zouk/soca private press compilation called ‘The Caribean Hit Makers’.
‘Mulher de Angola’ LP from África Tentação with great Merengue Criolla and the ‘Jingonça’ Album from Bonga, which got some nice fúnana and coladeira tracks on it.
For home listening I found a ridiculously cheap copy of Shirley Nanette’s Album ‘Never Coming Back’ which made me pretty happy since there’s ‘Sometimes’ on it – an all time fav soul-jazz track.
Also, I found the Bobby/Demo ‘More Ounce (Rap)’ modern soul synth boogie 12″ with the instrumental on it on the flip. This is a one-dollar record. Nobody has dug that yet. And the flip side is a total killer.
If you want to be ahead of the time now – start digging soukous, zouk and cadence. It will be the next big thing after the Cameroonian boogie / salsa makossa and the current South African bubble-gum hype.
In the last few weeks you played at celeste in Vienna twice, what were your impressions of the Viennese party scene? Who are your connections in Vienna? What do you think about the Viennese scene in general? What is it like in Berlin?
I love Vienna. It’s – like Paris – a second home to me. The Parties are much smaller than in Paris, of course, but I can definitely see the scene growing. People in Vienna are mostly more relaxed and healthier than in Berlin. I love everything about the city. From the fine arts and the art nouveaux facades and its high cultural underbelly to the dive bars. It was mainly through the efforts of Tingel Tangel that I got to play in Vienna on a regular basis and became friends with amazing characters / DJs like DJ Armin Schmelz, Simon Riegler, Bernhard Tobola, Giuseppe Leonardi, Mike Burns, Il Rampelotto, El Salgado and others.
Berlin is ok. It’s not amazing or overtly exciting anymore, which is great since I travel a lot. I don’t feel I’m missing much when I am away – (which is indeed different from the Berlin of the mid nineties). The glory days are over. Too much money is spent in the city’s nightlife, too many drugs, too much repetition and uninspiring electronic music in the clubs for my taste. The best place in the city was and is Sameheads. It’s the save haven of good music and simply has a great vibe. It’s our home every two months.
The best Party in the city right now, besides Vulkandance is Das Zündet. A funk party from some graffiti kids where up to 600 local youngsters gather. All word to mouth propaganda. No tourists, no cops, no House music, just funk.
„A lot of DJs make the mistake that they only dig one certain style. The DJs I like are the ones that are versatile.“
It seems that afro-influenced music gets a lot of attention nowadays, was it way different back in the years when you started?
The scene has changed a lot. I remember when promoters, DJs and record dealers where making jokes about our parties. It still happens from time to time but not as often anymore. Some of the guys that were joking about Afro, zouk or latin stuff are now playing records we dug years ago.
But as tough as it was to be the underdog, as easy it was to find cheap records.
The prices now are just ridiculous, since Afro music and digging became such a hype. And I mean, let’s be honest, most of the kids that are now getting into that thing never got down to doing the dirty work, basements, spore masks, traveling, following leads, all the disappointments and all the excitement. They read blogs or look at playlists to get inspired. You won’t find them on their knees, getting their fingers dirty.
I see a lot of different scenes evolving in different cities. You have one classic Afro funk / highlife Holy Grail scene, like the Hot Casa guys in Paris or Turning Point in Canada. And then you have the more up-tempo tropical party oriented scene. There are the Afro disco / boogie and Afro house guys and the Afro beats and tropical bass scene.
Back in the days when Beppe invented that style of DJing he played a lot of French Afro disco, but also percussion records like Babinga, Guem, Zaka and Arab stuff. He was very versatile. Now, a lot of DJs make the mistake that they only dig one certain style.
When I started Vulkandance, I had to play more Afro disco to build a transition for people into what we are playing today. I’d say we have reached a new freedom. At parties like Tropical Discoteque, Sofrito or Vulkandance you can hear tons of different styles of unheard stuff in one night, which definitely sets this small scene apart from the majority of the sound you hear in dance clubs nowadays.
With a single party in 2013, Africaine 808 and Vulkandance arose as club focused projects and became manifest in physical music releases. What were the ideas behind the music project and the label?
It all started as a one off party in a bar in Berlin around 2000. I never intended that it would become the source for a music project. Africaine 808 started in 2002 mainly because Dirk kept on hassling me over 10 years to make music with him. He knew me as a producer through a common friend who played our records to each of us before we met. I quit music production around 2001 because I got pretty busy in my second job as an artist and because I was disappointed of working for the record industry. I kept on digging, of course, and I kept on DJing and organizing parties.
Every time when we randomly met, Dirk asked me to start a project together and after like the 20th time he asked I gave in. When we sat down in the studio we were most fascinated by creating polyrhythms with drum machines and mixing them with recorded percussion. At some point, one of his friends brought an 808 to the studio because he hardly used it and didn’t want to sell it, but also didn’t want to have it laying around unused so I got busy jamming the box. Dirk got busy on the synths and Africaine 808 was born. I mean let’s be honest, from all the drum machines I heard, the 808 is the furthest away from sounding “African”. It really was all a joke, just the idea to clash some sounds we liked to create something new. Just an on-going session.
If there is anything like an idea behind all of it, it is to celebrate the music we loved. It was basically just an experiment trying to share the music and make people happy the way it made us happy. It was the same as with street art. You start something with a DIY attitude, and then all of a sudden you find out that other guys are doing the same thing in other cities around the globe and you connect and exchange and a movement starts. Diggers like Hugo Mendez, Beppe, Uchenna, Samy Ben Redjeb, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Émile and Aurel, Davide Geminicricket, Gregoire de Villanova, Vintage Voodoo, Redlight Records in Amsterdam, Hot Casa and all the others that have been doing it for many years. Not forgetting the radio guys from Funkhaus Europa for instance that kept world music pretty much alive in Germany when everyone else thought it was dead.
Are there still Vulkandance parties going on? How have they changed over the past years? Was there a change in crowd?
The party is going on, of course. Every two to three months we are doing one at Sameheads. The current series is called Boum Vacances and usually every party has a theme. We had a South African party, where ESA and I played only South African music all night long, which was pretty wicked, building the night from the roots of jive over jive soul and Xhosa disco to Bubblegum, Shangaan and Kwaito and then going deep into S.A. house at the end. This is pretty much the spirit of Vulkandance, and what makes it special. It’s the only party where the old stuff, the folky, rooty stuff and the super modernist future stuff can get played as well. The DJs we invite are free to do whatever they want. I only try to invite the best and people I’ve been playing with before or that I’ve been in touch for years.
The list of DJs we had so far is pretty impressive: Émile Omar, Tropical Treats, Dersu from Alma Negra, Beppe Loda, Tropical Jeremy, Auntie Flo + Esa, Alex Voices, Awesome Tapes from Africa, Chief Boima, David Tinning, David Ostblock, Isa GT, Tropikal Camel, DJ Zhao, Mawimbi Crew, Afrobot, Eli Pavel + Rita Só.
In 2016 you already released an EP and a 2×12’’ LP on Golf Channel Recordings. Can we expect even more from you guys in the near future? What are your plans?
Well, the Album is out, the third 12″ for Golf Channel is out too and tons of remixes are coming this year. The last one that got released was the one we did for Magic Source on Favourite. As for 12″ on Golf Channel we’re going to take a break and work on some new stuff for other labels. One thing that is almost done is a collaboration with the Dutch band Umeme Afrorave for Mawimbi records in Paris. There’s a bunch of other things in the pipeline I can’t really talk about yet – but I can promise you it won’t be a boring year. We just moved to a new studio and are constantly re-structuring our live acts, which improved a lot this year. Hopefully, next year, we’ll have more gigs with our percussionist Eric Owusu who’s busy touring with Pat Thomas this summer. The future plan is to tour with a complete party sound system setup, DJ set, live set and live drums and percussions plus MCing all night long.
Now, I am working hard on a Vulkandance Edition Series for Favourite Recordings in Paris. First one will be an amazing, absolutely breath-taking track from Esnard Boisdur, which was a regular in my sets over the last 2 to 3 years. Next up is a collection of rare Cameroon boogie and modern soul.
Text by Florian Stöffelbauer
Photos provided by DJ Nomad