Back in the day when the phonograph record was the main format for music reproduction, fans would pack record stores flipping through the racks for the latest releases.
In today’s music streaming world, many fans are still excited by vinyl records and music-playing devices of the era, from the gramophone to the jukebox.
Vinyl aficionado and music producer George “Jojo” Odhiambo who has been collecting records since 1978, has put up 500 Long Play (LP) discs in an exhibition named Muziki Santuri: Legacies of Vinyl Records and Popular Lifestyles, which opened last Friday at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi.
When the BDLife caught up with him at the opening of the exhibition last weekend, he spoke about the challenge of selecting the exhibits from his private collection of 6,000 vinyl records.
“It was a big headache choosing the final records from the collection because friends would come and say “don’t take this one, replace with this other one,” says Odhiambo.
He turned to Artistic Performance Creator Aghan Odero Agan to develop the concept for the exhibition. “This is the music of Kenya, East Africa, the continent and the world, ” explains Agan.
“The exhibition represents the different eras of music and the technology that supported the vinyl format hence the inclusion of the record player and the jukebox.”
Odhiambo says the objective of the exhibition is twofold: showcase his vinyl collection and create awareness among the generations born after the vinyl era.
Indeed, there have been several school parties trooping into the auditorium since the official opening last Friday. “Some of the younger people call the vinyl records, big CDs,” says an amused Odhiambo.
Collecting music is more than just a passion for the founder of the music label Jojo Records; he has been producing benga records in Nairobi’s River Road for more than four decades.
Legendary producers from the 1970s and 80s including Phares Oluoch Kanindo, A.P. Chandarana, and Andrew Crawford, sparked his interest in the music business.
Over the years, he built up a collection from these producers while buying music at iconic Nairobi stores, Assanands and Melodica.
The albums at the exhibition take visitors on a trip through Kenyan music, right from the 1950s pioneer George Mukabi to 70s benga maestros, D.O Misiani, Victoria Jazz Band, D.K. Kamau and Joseph Kamaru, and 1970s soul star Slim Ali.
The African section displays albums by Congolese giants Franco, Johnny Bokelo, Tshala Muana, Mbilia Bel and Tabu Ley and Verkys and another part is devoted to giants Manu Dibango and Fela Kuti.
Visual artist Solomon Luvai drew two murals for the exhibition, Fela on one side of the wall and another of Ugandan musician Sammy Kasule holding a nyatiti.
The exhibition also includes albums by global icons like The Jacksons, Elvis Presley and Lionel Richie, Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, Eddy Grant and Lucky Dube.
A fresh lot of exhibits will be introduced during each week of the exhibition which is open till 9th March 2023.
The organisers have been elated by the interest in the exhibition. “This is beyond all my expectations,” says Odhiambo “There has been a constant stream of people of all ages checking out the vinyl records.”
Twice, in the course of the interview, he excuses himself to remind a group of excited youngsters taking pictures to be careful around the fragile exhibits.
Last weekend there were visiting school parties from Alliance Girls, Nembu Girls, Starehe Boys and Starehe Girls. “It has been fun being here,” says Sam Goko who is a Form 4 student at Starehe Boys, part of a group of German language learners from the school visiting the exhibition.
My dad listens to classics so I am familiar with some of the names around the room,” he says, pointing to albums by Fela Kuti, The Police, and Elton John.
“But this is the first time I am seeing the vinyl records so this is quite an experience,” he adds.
“I was just explaining to my friends how the jukebox used to operate.”
“We want to showcase the musical heritage of Kenya in its original medium so we have provided this space to Jojo to do justice to his collection of vinyl,” says Niklas Obermann, cultural programme officer at Goethe Institut.
He has been so struck by the interest from visitors of different generations. “We are getting the young people taking pictures and posting on social media and some of the older collectors are also coming in to take a look at the exhibition,” says Obermann.
“These are collector’s items and in a few years these records will be very hard to find,” says Agan. “This is the first in a series of exhibitions that will also focus on specific genres and artists, covering different musical formats, from the vinyl to today’s technology.”