There is a special experience in flipping through stacks of vinyl records, stumbling on a rare disc, and laying it on a turntable as the stylus produces a crackling sound almost as an introduction to the music.
Vinyl enthusiasts in Kenya will be part of the global community that celebrates the record store culture during an event on Saturday.
Record Store Day, an annual event held every third Saturday of April to celebrate the culture of independent record stores started in the US in 2007.
The occasion has since spread around the world due to the revival of vinyl and the popularity of the format among music fans of different ages.
Here in Kenya, the event is being marked for the fifth consecutive year as collectors, artists, and record store owners gather for a festival of vinyl records spanning different genres and generations.
“Last year, we had guests from no less than 17 countries attending,” recalls James Rugami who hosts the event at his Jimmy’s Record Store in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market.
“This year will be even bigger with DJs playing different genres of music throughout the day and a chance to expand the network of vinyl lovers.”
Mr Rugami who has operated the record store since 1989 owns an estimated 10,000 records in his collection comprising Long Play (LP) and singles (45rpm) records, which have been built up over years of buying music both in Kenya and elsewhere.
“Thanks to the internet and social media, I don’t have to travel as much as I once did hunting for records as far as South Africa and Ethiopia,” says Rugami.
In fact, South Africa is one of the biggest markets for vinyl records in Africa with several music stores in Johannesburg.
Mr Vinyl is one of the city’s best-stocked music stores with a vintage design of racks of vinyl, listening booths, and a comfortable couch to chill.
“We stock both new and pre-owned records of all genres, rock to classic, jazz and kwaito,” says Junior Skosana.
“There is a huge interest in vinyl and buyers are looking for the older stuff, some are very rare like unique South African jazz, but there is also contemporary hip hop and pop as you can see with the Jay Z and Taylor Swift records,” he says.
“We ship vinyl both within South Africa and elsewhere in the continent so even vinyl fans in Kenya can get on to our website and check out the collection,” says Skosana.
The oldest surviving record shop in Nairobi is Melodica Music Store which sells music from its old stock and newly released vinyl.
“Our repertoire consists of everything from the pop hits to Indian film music, rumba to the Zilizopendwa classics of the 60s and 70s and even classical music,” says Abdul Karim, whose father opened the store in 1971.
As he shows us around the iconic store, there are two men at the counter listening to records on headphones.
“They came here looking for some music and even though they didn’t know the titles, we were able to identify the songs for them. The customer leaves the shop satisfied having found the music they were looking for.”
Thanks to technology, Melodica operates both a physical store and a website, catering to buyers who are not able to visit the store in person, including international customers.
“I upload audio snippets online so that people can sample and select the music to buy,” says Karim.
He explains that the prices of the records vary depending on the rarity of the vinyl and the condition of the disc.
“It could be anything from $5 to $100 (Sh676 to Sh13,520), plus of course the cost of shipping depending on where the buyer is.”
Once a purchase is made online then the record is packed securely to prevent any damage and then shipped off using a courier service.
The record store also deals in accessories like turntables, selling new playback devices and repairing those that are spoilt.
“Sometimes people bring record players that are not functioning and we discover that perhaps the motor is spoilt and we can’t get the spares or the stylus is damaged and getting a replacement is a challenge.”
According to him, the newer models of turntables that are manufactured in China are of high quality and spares are easily available.
Music collector, George “JoJo” Ouma, who curated the successful Muziki Santuri vinyl exhibition in February has been invited to play a benga genre set during the Record Store Day event.
“There was such a huge response to the exhibition from people across different generations who have an interest in vinyl so we now have a chance to get together and celebrate this timeless format.”
Soul and disco lovers will groove to a set by DJ Kareez who was among the top DJs in the city’s popular discos in the 1980s and 90s.
“I have kept some of the very popular dance hits especially the house, funk and R&B that are still very popular with fans,’ says Kareez.
Sales of vinyl records in 2022 surpassed those of CDs in the US for the first time since 1987, which Rugami says, is another proof of its continued renaissance.
“People still want to enjoy music in a physical format and vinyl will remain relevant for a long time to come,” he says, confidently.