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by Eastsider
posted 15/09/2017

WALKING FISH: AFRO CATCHES

No stranger to Eastside Radio after guesting many times on programs like Vibez Brasil and The Vinyl Frontier, Alex Barry has an insatiable record collecting habit. Part of the Afrobrasiliana DJ collective – where he’s known as Walking Fish –  when not playing records or trawling for more, Barry is immersed in the world of filmmaking. Below he tells us about combining both loves on a recent trip with a National Geographic film crew to Benin in West Africa, and shares five of his best catches. No doubt you’ll hear him spinning a few of them at Global Rhythms Festival on Sunday September 24th.

Alex Barry Walking Fish Afrobrasiliana

“In 2016 I spent four months in Benin filming a documentary series about a medical charity. It was full on work that left me virtually no time to hunt for records, but I did manage to take two whole days off and undertake a whirlwind guided tour of the small handful of collectors and shops still selling vinyl in Benin. My guide was a Ghanaian guy called Augustin, who I am eternally indebted to. I would have been lost without him. I came home with about seventy LPs and thirty 45s. I love every single record, but here are 5 of the best.”

Fela and Afrika 70 ALBUM: Sorrow Tears and Blood LABEL - Kalakuta Records 1977, Nigeria

Fela and Afrika 70 –  ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’ (Kalakuta Records, 1977 Nigeria)
Finding original Fela records in good condition in Africa is tough. European and American collectors have been cleaning out the continent for decades. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a collector who had the motherlode. ‘Big Joe’ in Porto Novo hosted me in his home for a very long and hot, and rather overwhelming, day and night of manic digging. He had thousands and thousands of records. It was about 40 degrees. Local moonshine and pure joints were passed around on a seemingly endless rotation. It was hard to focus. After several hours I had selected about thirty LPs and ten 45s. There were some gems in there like William Onyeabor, Lijadu Sisters, African Brothers International, but no Fela. We negotiated a price for the lot and celebrated with a shot of moonshine and yet another joint. Then Joe disappeared to his bedroom and came back with a stack of near mint Fela records. I had already spent the budget I’d allowed myself. By the time I left I had doubled it. The motorbike ride home, sitting behind two other passengers with my head tilted sideways to catch the breeze, clutching a cement bag filled with the records of my dreams, was up there with the most stoned journeys I’ve ever experienced.”

Guem et Zaka Percussion ALBUM: Percussions LABEL - Le Chante du Monde 1978

Guem et Zaka Percussion – ‘Percussions’ (Le Chante du Monde, 1978 France)
“This isn’t a particularly rare record but it’s one of my all-time faves, mostly because of the track ‘Le Serpent’. It’s five and a half minutes of the grooviest percussion I’ve ever heard. Because the drums (congas, darbouka, dun dun, bongoes, blocks) are all tonal, it creates this incredible combination of rhythm and melody. I’ve never met a dance floor that didn’t go wild to this track. Found the record in near mint condition in a private collection in Ouidah, Benin. Guem is originally from Ghana but recorded most of his music in Paris, where Zaka Percussion are based.”

Onyeka ALBUM: One Love LABEL - Ayollo Records 1986, Nigeria

Onyeka – ‘One Love’ (Ayollo Records, 1986 Nigeria)
“I’d never heard of this record but it was one of those covers that just grabbed me. I was expecting something deep and soulful and I wasn’t too far off the mark, at least with one track called ‘Where Have You Been’. This song just makes me melt. It’s a kind of classic pop ballad you might hear in an ’80s Hollywood love story but with the earthy Afro twist of traditional percussion and Ibo spiritual backing vocals that rescue it from the cheese trap. It’s a deeply sensual song, full of longing. Reminds me of ‘Normalizo’ by Letta Mbulu. I found this record in what was, as far as I could tell, the last shop in Cotonou, Benin selling any vinyl. They were stacked on the top shelf and covered in dust, but at least safe from damp.”

Ama Maïga ALBUM: Une Fleche Malienne LABEL - Disques Sonique Mali

Ama Maïga – ‘Une Fleche Malienne’ (Disques Sonique, Mali)
“This is a more sought-after record, although I didn’t know it at the time. A near mint copy like I found in Porto-Novo, Benin will go for about $200 on Discogs. It only has four tracks – one reggae, two Afrofunk, and a kind of Malian pop ballad. Most people rave about the afrofunk tracks but I love the reggae track ‘Keleya’. It features beautiful kora playing and a vocal that has that stirring mix of the eastern minor key and west African Bambara brightness. One of the remarkable things about all the songs on this record is how reminiscent they are of Sydney West African band Keyim Ba, whose songwriters come from Mali and Guinea. Perhaps it was an early influence.”

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou ALBUM: Trop Parler C'Est Maladie LABEL - Albarika Store 1978, Benin

T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou – ‘Trop Parler C’Est Maladie’ (Albarika Store, 1978 Benin)
This is by no means the rarest record of Benin’s super group T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou, but it’s my favourite of all because the title track is just the most irresistibly joyful 16 minutes you’ll ever hear. It’s a proper jumping sparkling 146 bpm soukous express. I got this record straight from the source – former Poly-Rythmo lead singer Vincent Ahehehinnou – who still lived in Cotonou at the time. I also got a much-coveted original copy of ‘Best Woman’ on the Nigerian Hasbanalau label, recorded in 1978 after Vincent had left Poly-Rythmo. That’s pretty good too.”

Tickets to Sunday September 24th’s Global Rhythms Festival available here
$40 / $10 (teens) / $Free (<12 )

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