This was one crazy trip.
I arrived in Accra on January 3rd at 8:30 in the morning, was picked up at the airport by a friend and we immediately took off for the Volta region where one of my local agents had sourced a large private collection in the city of Hohoe. On the way we made several stops and staple-gunned our "records wanted!" leaflets around various small towns. I had left the icy and snow-covered streets of NYC the afternoon before and here I was at 11 am under the tropical sun of Ghana's Volta region, stapling flyers onto telephone poles. What a rush!
An Obruni with a crome plated staple gun... you'd really have to get creative to come up with something that would cause more attention. It didn't take long and we were running after the first lead that ended in front of a stack of mostly broken shellac 78s. I'm always torn when finding 78s. They're way too fragile and too heavy to lug them around but at the same time I'm amazed that something this brittle could survive under these conditions and I make sure to tell people to store them well, there might be someone coming around someday who might be willing to pay good money for this stuff.
We decided to let our lead in Hohoe wait and spent two days in Ho where we scored a bunch of cool 45s. I had made arrangements with my friend Eilon, photographer and author of the great Dust & Grooves blog to meet in Hohoe. Once we got there, he called and said he might be a day or so late. We went to see the lead with the collection which proved to be a bust. A few decent titles but everything was way too scratched to be of any real use. Who knows, Afrobrazilero the magician might find them one day and put them on ebay as VG+ (remember, VG is French for "vraiment graté"). We covered the city with our leaflets and found a few nice things here and there but somehow the place didn't feel like there would be much to be found. The net evening we hooked up with Eilon and the next morning we left for Mampong. First we had to get on a bus to Kumasi and then we took a car to Mampong where we found the amazing Video City Hotel.
Video City might sound like a strange name for a hotel but the explanation was easy: There was a gigantic movie theater right next to it which had been used to show VHS tapes on a big video projector. I asked the owner why it wasn't in use anymore and he said that nowadays most people have DVD players and how the markets were being flooded with Bootleg DVDs from Shanghai containing 16, 14 or even more than 30 current movies as well as old classics on one single disc. Nobody wanted to pay money for a projected VHS tape anymore. The whole place was decorated with murals of various Western and Horror movies but also with an image of Jesus Christ since the building also was used as a church. Jesus and a 10' by 6' painting of the "Invasion Of The Blood Farmers" were facing each other from opposing walls. I made a tour through the empty building which included a balcony and second story foyer with a bar and a large "Hills Have Eyes" mural. I feel like an idiot but I have to admitt to not having taken a single picture of the place... I had records on my mind.
I did find some nice records in Mampong but we also really got to enjoy the peacefulness and serenity of this town which was only about an hour and a half outside of the bustling city of Kumasi but it really felt off the beaten path. From here we went to Tamale where we did a series of radio announcements and found a few nice pieces like clean copies of the first two Marijata albums and most importantly the incredibly rare Astronauts Pop Group 45. Eilon had to say his goodbyes by then and Ken and I moved onto Bolgatanga in the far North of Ghana, where we found some really great records, most notably the impossibly hard to find LP by Christie Azumah & The Uppers. The band was based right there in Bolgatanga and their record might be the most elusive Ghanaian Afrobeat album. Interestingly enough I managed to turn up quite some Nigerian records there as well. We also got to meet singer and kologo player Akamdumah Amodoo, who allowed us to film his peformance in front of a local pito bar.
Ken and I had plenty of pito which is a local, home made, millet based beer. This was one of the best days on this entire trip and I learned to cherish such memories at least as much as the records I bring home with me.
Althrough our stay in Bolgatanga, the hotel owner kept mentioning that she had a few stacks of records in one of her back rooms. The key had gone missing but she seemed confident she would find it before our departure. We had a serious lead in Wa, a very remote city in the far North west of the country so unfortunately it became time to leave Bolgatanga behind. The key was still missing and I just hate it to leave behind unfinished business. I asked the hotel owner if she would allow us to call for a carpenter to come and break down the door if we would buy a new lock and pay him to fix it. She agreed and even called her own carpenter who happened to be just around the corner. This was one hour before we were supposed to get on our bus... it took less then 2 minutes and the door was busted open. 45 minutes of high speed digging later and I had gone through the bunch of boxes of 45s, turned up some great stuff and we were running for the bus.
Eventually we made our way back to Accra just to get a new lead from Charlie Sam, an old radio dj I had met years before. Charlie had just received a call from Mr. K. an old colleague and friend with whom he had worked at GBC (Ghana Broadcasting Corporation) back in the 1970s. Mr. K. had told him that his son had just answered to a "Records Wanted" newspaper advert (not mine...) and now he was asking for advice as to how much he should ask for his collection. I had heard about other diggers putting these types of ads into Ghanaian newspapers. Personally I had given up on this method a while back after even large campaigns with several ads per week published in multiple newspapers barely returned their money's worth in records. I had a feeling about who was behind this ad and I knew he was a deadbeat. I immediately called up Mr. K. and asked him about the quality and quantity of his collection. It was mind boggling. He basically claimed to have every single holy grail of Ghanaian Funk and Afrobeat. When asked about condition, he told me that he had never played these records. He explained that he had been purely into Highlife and all the other types of records he received from the local labels he had just boxed up and put them away. Originally he had made plans on reselling them but he somehow never got around to it and then in the mid 80s the music cassette was introduced on the market and nobody wanted to buy records anymore. He still kept them mainly because he never got around to dispose of them either. This is the type of stuff you normally only dream about. I got angry when I heard what little money my competitor had offered for this incredible collection and assured him that I would be able to pay him 10 to 20 times more than that. The only problem was that Mr. K. lived in Dumbai. On a map, Dumbai doesn't appear as being too far away from Accra but it was one hell of a ride. What I found was just incredible. What a score! Given the relatively low outcome before and considering the enormity of the cost and effort invested in this journey, this one single find really turned the whole thing around. Ghana is getting very dry these days. Almost all the records seem to be gone by now and for the most part it's like scraping the bottom of the barrel. But sometimes you can still get lucky...
Back in Accra again, I called up Malek from the Psychedelic Aliens and set up a meeting with him and the rest of the band in an open air bar in Osu so I could present them their new record. Bandleader Ricky Telfer lives in Canada now and we were all sad he couldn't be with us.
Here is a small selection of some of the records that I found on this trip. As with all the pictures on this blog, click on them for an enlarged view:
Go this way for a mix made with the finds from this trip.