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Bryan Ling recounts his trip to Johannesburg record shop Afrosynth Records and revisits a few choice selections from store owner DJ Okapi.
We only had a couple free days in Johannesburg when I traveled to South Africa for the first time in 2018. Headed there as part of the Global Citizen Festival, in advance friends urged me to check out Cape Town, which is about 900 miles southwest.
Fashion is striking in Johannesburg — it’s the first thing you notice. So many incredible colors and patterns, intricate and vibrant shapes and schemes. The scene’s a lot like how I’d describe the music I discovered at Afrosynth Records in Johannesburg. I would have gladly worn any outfit, regardless of male or female, that I came across.
We’d been cruising aimlessly before we landed inside Afrosynth. It’s a small shop, and I struck up a conversation with the owner, who performs as DJ Okapi (some people call him Dave). Okapi has been releasing new records and reissuing classics from all over South Africa on his label, also called Afrosynth. On Facebook he lists himself as “Politician.”
I walked out of the shop with a stack of records, a bunch of them I never would have found were it not for DJ Okapi’s tips. Recently, I shot him an email to reintroduce myself and get the lowdown on some of the records he turned me onto. I asked him to give me a bit more context on the artists and albums. His words below…
Burnin’ Beat – It’s Hot
The first reissue on Afrosynth Records. The original is incredibly rare. I’ve never owned a copy and only found out about it after being sent links to DJ Harvey sets — who knows how he found it? Fortunately, I know the two guys who composed it and we were able to find the master tapes. When it was first released in 1979, the record was apparently such a flop that it barely made it into record shops, so it could be a rare example of a reissue outselling the original. Sadly, the singer Olive Masinga died in 1990, shortly before she was supposed to leave for the US.
Letta Mbulu – In The Music The Village Never Ends
A classic album from one of South Africa’s greatest singers, In the Music the Village Never Ends was originally released in 1983 during Mbulu’s long exile in New York City. Every song offers something special and they’re all winners: ‘Nomalizo’, ‘Down by the River’, ‘The Village’, ‘Sweet Juju’, etc. A must-have for any DJ’s record bag and a great reissue on Be With Records in the UK.
Abdullah Ibrahim – Soweto
Like Letta Mbulu, Hugh Masekela and many others, Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand) lived in exile from the early 60s until the end of apartheid in the 90s. While living in New York In the 70s, he returned to SA briefly, recording a few albums in Joburg with producer and record store owner Rashid Vally on his As-Shams label (recently revived here: https://as-shams-org.blogspot.com/). This was released as African Herbs in SA, and as Soweto in other parts of the world.
Felix Laband – 4/4 Down the Stairs
Felix was at the centre of an exciting electronic scene in Cape Town revolving around African Dope Records. He put out his debut, Thin Shoes in June, in 2001 and the following year released 4/4 Down the Stairs. Then he disappeared for nearly a decade. Known for oddball samples and unique, downtempo sound, 4/4 Down the Stairs also features (arguably) his one and only banger. Called “Donkey Rattle,” it was released on vinyl for the first time in 2018 by Roastin’ Records in Cape Town.