Monday, October 17, 2005

Mr. Mafa's Record Store

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.


jackdaw said...

That's a very sad story. I wish Mr. Mafa a better life.

Alan said...

that is one sad story.

Mr. Mafa sounds like a character.

Alan said...

Yes indeed , this one sad story ... but it seems to be the same story all over Africa ... ok, all african counrties are not as "rich" in natural resources as Guniea but I'd think that it's the same in 99% of the mother land ... one exception being South Africa ... but hey the poeple are not richer there either !!! Only the Afrikaners and foreigners are rich ... ain't it ??
Look at Zaire (or democratic republic of congo as it is called now) geologist say it is a geological accident because it's soil is so rich ... and the result of this is that it is one of the poorest and over-corrupted country ... hmmm makes you think doesn't it ...
I Grew up in Abidjan (during the 70's and lived about 10 years in Bamako (during the 90's) ... bamako being one of the poorest country in the world is still present in my hart and soul and I would love to go back there !
Anyway, thanks for charing you're experiences, the music , the pictures and the stories, all are excellent ! Please do keep this blog online as long as possible ... even if it's not updated anymore ... it's a gold mine ;-)
Take care and have a great time under the sun !


Ahmeda said...

Hi there! I just discovered your blog and I LOVE it! I am especially pleased by how much music I have to listen to for the next few months, one stop shop 4 my Afro-fix ;-)
Thanks for digging and sharing!!

A quick point I wanted to make to your entry is to correct the misconception that "International Cooperations take advantage of corrupt governments". As an African working in development on the non governmental side, I can tell you for certain that Cooperations and Western governments created the blueprint 4 corrupt governments... and as luck will have it, they are powerful enough to use the "democratic" process to put just the right people in power to ensure their steady stream of the big cargo ships u speak of.. For some they willingly become tools to help perpetrate and feed the wests and now east's insatiable need to consume. Hell, they get paid for it too and Yes Big Shame on them!! For others, they wake up on the other side of the campaign trail only to see just how badly screwed up reality is with iron clad agreements and so-called Aid designed to screw u and ur people over, again and again and again... You might find the book Confessions of an Economic hitman a good read.. and if u are interested there are many other good factual accounts extremely accessible from all over the world detailing just how far these corporations backed by their governments will go to make money and keep indigenous people 4ever poor, 4ever starving, 4ever dying..

Its a sad story, BUT! the tide is changing, from Guinea to South Africa and in between.. just like it is changing in South America.. It is reason to listen to the music u put up here and smile in the knowledge of the creativity that is sure to resurface as Africa makes strides to look after her own, and gets rid of corrupt governments and their puppeteer-ing corrupting western friends, once and 4 all ;-)