Oct. 17th 2005
Guinea's own label Syliphone Records and its releases from the early 70s to early 80s offer a good insight into Guinea's musical heritage and one can still to this day witness live bands play songs like Balla et Ses Balladin's Afrobeat bomb "Nyo" at one of Conakry's many hotspots like "La Fourchette Magique" or "Loft". Guinean musicians have a reputation for being amongst Africa's finest. The quality of their musicianship is unequaled and a deep love for psychedelic sounds always lets them do amazing things ranging from unexpected to insane before a track can ever get boring.
I bought my first records on the African continent at Mr. Mafa's little record store at Marché Niger. Record stores or "recording studios" in Africa usually aren't places where records are sold but where you can order custom made mix tapes put together from the owner's record collection. Lucky for me, the sounds I was after weren't amongst the favorites of Mr. Mafa's clientel and so he let go of some of the first pieces for my ever since growing collection of african records. Sadly, the little store by the name "Syli-Musique" has now vanished. It's somehow matching since the namegiving Syli, a dwarf-elephant that didn't outgrow 12 feet was already extinct many decades ago.
Guinea is a very poor country, for the majority of people that is. However, there is a strong minority of government officials and their enlarged families that is very, very wealthy. You can regularly see them cruising around with their Hummer or Rover Limousines amongst the shacks and clay huts of their next door neighbours. This is because the small country (look it up on the map to see exactly how small) is extremely rich in natural resources. Guinea sits on one third of the entire world reserve of bauxit. Bauxit is the stuff needed to make aluminum. Guinea also has large resources of gold and uranium as well as copper and iron ore. Now instead of sharing the wealth with its people, the government instead chooses to blow all the richess with a truly absurd system of corruption, unefficiency and laziness. International coorporations take advantage of the local corruption and ship out valuable resources that they buy for dumping prices. Just like the slave ships up until 200 years ago, nowadays big cargo ships disappear on the horizon, leaving behind looted countries with mounting social and economic problems. Western relief organisations try to help out with attempts at something like a health system, the Saudis build one Mosque after the other and the Chinese build roads that last until the next rainy season sweeps them down the gutter. This way the government has its hands free to hassle their population with activities like the one that cost dear Mr. Mafa his record store: For a few weeks, special police dressed all in black took to the streets after nightfall and painted red crosses on houses and stores that were build illegally and too close to the road. After a week or two, they came back with trucks, automatic weapons, clubs, whips made off power lines and car-mounted machine guns. Shacks, houses and businesses got looted, torn down and the rubble looted again by crowds of impoverished children who followed the mob in hope of perhaps finding something edible or otherwise usable. Mr. Mafa's store also had received a blood red X. In his case even paying off the authorities wouldn't have been an option, he was located on one of the hotspots where new houses for "real" businesses are destined to be built and so he tore down his place himself before anybody else could. "Real" businesses by the way sell Grade-C imports from China shipped in via Dubai to ensure that even the small traditional handicraft businesses like taylors, shoomakers and the like are having a hard time trying to survive. After he lost his store, Mr. Mafa became one of my best resources for vinyl in Guinea, he now proudly calls himself the "ambassadeur des disques" and is constantly finding new records for me.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Oct. 17th 2005