Interview with founder of Sahel Sounds, a West African music label

Sahel Sounds is a record label, a recording project and artist collective focused on the culture in the West African Sahel. While based in Portland, Oregon, founder Christopher Kirkley frequently travels to West Africa to locate, record and work with musicians in that area. 

Sahel Sounds publishes a unique array of artists and genres including Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar, electronic synth composer Hama who plays modal, quarter tone “Arabic scales” on a Yamaha electronic keyboard, the sinuous singing and lilting melodies of Les Filles de Illighadad and a handful of other compelling artists.

Kirkley also writes extensively on the artists, how he met and recorded them as well as illuminating what makes their musical approach so distinctive. Also, the record label’s YouTube Channel features over 450 videos of the Sahel Sounds artists. 

Founder Christopher Kirkley took time to speak with Boing Boing to share his insights on the Sahel Sounds project. 

How and when did you start the label?

It was originally a blog that was kicked off in January of 2009. Simultaneously, I started the blog while I was traveling around West Africa to do this project of field recordings. But it was my own project and wasn’t financed by any external sources. 

What was the initial interest in this region of West Africa?

I heard some music from that part of the world and was really fascinated by it. However, I couldn’t find out enough information on that particular West African music online. I felt like I really need to go there myself and find out about it.  Read the rest

Interview with Rare Blues Collector John Tefteller, who bought a $37,100 record

John Tefteller is a well-known rare blues record collector. In 2013, Tefteller purchased “Alcohol and Jake Blues” by Tommy Johnson (1930), a very rare blues 78 rpm record, on eBay for $37,100.

Tommy Johnson made five records for the Paramount label in 1929 and 1930. Johnson, unrelated to bluesman Robert Johnson, was a little known and very under-appreciated singer/guitar player from Crystal Springs, Mississippi.

I love collecting records (mainly 33 rpm). However, being the budget-conscious (i.e. “cheap”) record consumer, I will gripe when paying over $37 for a record at Amoeba Music while John Tefteller paid $37,100 for one.

What made this Tommy Johnson blues record so rare? How did Tefteller get into collecting 78 rpm records? What advice does he have for folks wanting to get into collecting 78 rpm records? John Tefteller was kind enough to speak to me and provide insights on the unique world of 78 record collecting.

Why is “Alcohol and Jake Blues” by Tommy Johnson the rarest blues record?

That’s not the rarest blues record. It’s complicated when you say “rarest.” The way I look at it, “rarest” means that only one copy remains in existence. Then, you can call it the “rarest.”

What makes these blues 78s so rare today?

In the 1920s and 1930s the companies that produced these records made limited copies of the records for a limited audience. That small audience, through time, either broke, wore the records out or threw them away. The record companies rarely kept any masters and there was no way to trace the purchasing and selling of the music. Read the rest

Monk digs Johnny Griffin’s Pants

Jazz genius Thelonious Monk was often known for his laconic mumbling and other idiosyncrasies beside his legendary compositions, technique, and contributions to jazz. But in this short clip, Monk is crystal clear in sharing his thoughts on fellow bandmate saxophonist Johnny Griffin’s new pants.

“Some bad muthafuckers” indeed!

Further reading:

“Thelonious Monk's surreally strange and spartan genius gets its due” The Guardian

“The Secret Life of Thelonious Monk” The Atlantic

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Tokyo Listening – an interview with author Lorraine Plourde

Tokyo is a sound-saturated city: bustling traffic, train station announcements, people everywhere, the barrage of loud adverts, drunk salarymen singing in the Ginza streets at night, and even the loud caws of the Tokyo’s infamous large crows. Then there’s the seemingly ubiquitous background music in shopping centers, department stores, offices, and super markets. Read the rest