Nairobi Music Store Sells Vinyl Records Again

26 August, 2015

A music store in the Kenyan capital Nairobi was once a popular place for East African musicians to perform. The music they played combined the styles from many African countries. Much of that music was recorded on vinyl records. They lost popularity when CDs and MP3s were invented. But now, vinyl records are regaining their popularity, and the lost music is once again being heard.

Joselow: "OK, so what have we got here?"

Karim: "This is a Luo band, umm..."

This is Abdul Karim, owner of the Melodica music store in downtown Nairobi. He spoke with VOA's East Africa correspondent Gabe Joselow, who reported this story.

Mr. Karim's father opened the store in 1971. Many musicians recorded their music there. They came to the store from throughout Kenya, Tanzania and Congo. Their music was a mix of styles from those and other East African countries.

Melodica music store
Melodica music store

"Some of these guys they just learned enough how to play guitar basically on their own without any education in that and then they just come up with their own kind of beats and then say ‘All right, we're going to go and sell a goat and head off into Nairobi and go find a recording music store,' and bam they would be at the store entrance playing their guitars, trying to impress. It was really amazing."

Mr. Karim says the store was crowded with musicians in the 1970s and 80s. He says people stood outside the store and listened to the music that was being played and recorded inside.

But in the 80s people began buying music on cassette tapes. In the 90s, CDs became popular. Soon, the last factory in Nairobi that made vinyl records closed. Families sold or threw away their record players. The music that had been recorded at Melodica for vinyl was put into storage. But vinyl records are starting to become popular again and the music is once again being heard.

James Rugami has been selling vinyl records at the Kenyatta market in the capital since 1989.

"...there were people who thought I was crazy. They would come over and have a look and say ‘What are you keeping these for?' But today they are coming back and appreciating. I'm so happy because it's even very, very young people."

Mr. Rugami says his sales have increased 40 percent over the past two years.

"The day before yesterday, I served two very interesting girls. One told me she came from Canada and the other was from Seattle, Washington. One was 19 and the other one was 17. They knew what they were looking for."

He says his customers want African music.

"No question about that. African, especially from guys across the borders -- they're looking for African, and the older the better."

Both Mr. Rugami and Mr. Karim say people from throughout the world are contacting them to buy African records. Facebook groups have formed in Kenya, and fans of African music on vinyl records have monthly listening parties.

Mr. Karim is buying new record players -- called "turntables" -- from China to help meet the growing demand. The old music of East Africa is once again being played – and enjoyed.

I'm Jim Tedder.

VOA correspondent Gabe Joselow reported this story from Nairobi. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

vinyl – n. a plastic material that is used to make records and clothing and as a covering for floors, walls and furniture

downtown – n. the main or central part of a city or town; the part of a city or town where there are tall buildings, stores and offices

beats – n. to hit (a drum or other musical instrument) repeatedly in order to produce music or a signal

fan – n. a person who likes and admires someone (such as a famous person) or something (such as a sport or a sports team) in a very enthusiastic way

turntable – n. the part of a record player that turns the record

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