On a chilly afternoon at stall 570 Kenyatta Market in Nairobi four men shuffling through thousands of vinyl records momentarily pause when one of them, French tourist Emmanuel Manuel pulls a record. It appears to interest all of them.
He hands it over to the man next to the phonograph (record player) who examines it carefully, then places it on a player. Within seconds, sounds of rhumba waft through the air.
“When you listen to modern music, nearly all of them are samples of what was recorded decades ago. To get the original track you have to listen to it on vinyl,” says Manuel who is touring Africa but made a detour to Kenya to get African music on vinyl.
“When you start buying vinyl, you fall in love with authentic sounds. There is nothing more authentic than this,” he says.
Outside the stall, James Rugami, the owner works on a huge Grunding phonograph he has just acquired. After refurbishing it, he hopes to sell the 60-year-old machine for Sh300,000. He has two of those in his collection.
“There is no hurry in selling,” he says.
“You see that one,” he says pointing to a similar player at a corner.
“I have been with it for three years but I’m not in a hurry to sell it.”
While his huge record players are slow in the market, it is the opposite for his records. Vinyl, described as the fine wine of music formats, was pushed to its death with the arrival of cassettes in the mid 1980s. But it is slowly making a comeback. Yes, in 2018. And with a bang.
This is at a time when everyone is streaming music from the Internet and artistes are complaining of dwindling royalties. After being relegated to being a part time activity for music collectors as fancier methods of consuming music dominated the globe, vinyls have come full circle.
Motivated by an organic and commercially cultivated wave of nostalgia, music lovers are trooping to record shops in droves to get a fix of old music. This is as streaming takes off due to wide accessibility of the Internet leading to a decline in sales of CDs and downloads.
Like opening old wine
With just two known shops selling vinyls in Nairobi, getting your dose of old school music can be a challenge as Saturday Standard found out. A record costs from between Sh100 to Sh7,000.
However, a number of entertainment joints are coming up with vinyl-themed days for example Gypsys Bar in Westlands. Why two completely opposite formats of distribution and consumption of music that are a century apart are making a resurgence is a question that is baffling industry players. But for the lovers of vinyl music, it couldn’t have come at better time.
“It is like opening a bottle of old wine,” says Kevin Saolo.
“There is some sense of pride when you call your friends and play for them music on vinyl. Guys in the office will ask ‘why you are still listening to music on vinyl?’ But when you play for them the conversation changes,” he says.
Graham Katana, an artist, says apart from the nostalgic appeal of vinyl, its tangible aspect is what is drawing millions of music lovers across the world two decades back. He says there is physical and emotional connection a vinyl record offers to its owner that a digital file will not.
“When you have music on a flash disk, it is still a flash disk not an album. It does not have any art work, it can crash, and the files can get erased,”
“...When you read a book on a kindle, is it not a book? But if you ask a real lover of literature they will tell you flipping pages of an actual book is satisfying. This is what the digital formats of music cannot deliver,” he explains.
While there are no numbers yet to demonstrate the resurgence of vinyl in Kenya, last year more than 13 million LPs were sold in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the highest count in 25 years. According to Nielsen Sound Scan which tracks music sales vinyl records comprised of 16 per cent of total album sales in the world last year with 54 per cent of customers aged 35 or younger. Deloitte in a report about the industry has said, “Vinyl is expected to continue its remarkable resurgence, approaching US $1 billion globally in revenues...”
Invented in 1877, the phonograph which is credited for changing the music industry forever has undergone few changes. There is no fast forward, rewind or shuffle. But with vinyl records enjoying a comeback, phonograph manufacturers too are trying to fit in with the new times.