Apr 20, 2011
Digging For African Funk Records – Meet Frank Gossner
There is a special kind of excitement that comes with the unearthing of a rare record. This excitement is probably the reason why we can spend hours digging through crates at our local record shop or search the internet for hours looking for that special record.
This is a dedication to vinyl records that most of us understand and share. However, there are few that can match the dedication Frank Gossner has to vinyl and music, and especially African music.
Since the 90’s Frank Gossner had been a successful DJ, running popular parties both in New York, know as the Vampyros Lesbos’ party, and later the Soul Explosion party in Berlin, but his interest, fascination and curiosity for African Funk records were growing and growing. In 2005 he decided to give up his DJ gig and apartment in Berlin and move to Conakry, the capitol of Guinea, and spend the next three years on a quest to find the rarest records in Guinea and other West African countries like Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and Mali and get as close as possible to the heart and roots of it all.
First of all how did you get into African funk?
As a DJ I have started in Berlin in 1994 with funky European Soundtracks, French 60s Pop, Library Funk and Hammond Organ Grooves. While I lived in NYC in the late 90s, I got deeply into rare and obscure Funk 45s. From there I began exploring African Funk music and Afrobeat. Mainly it was my natural curiosity that lead me. But I guess this also makes sense as I began with music that I could find easily on flea markets and in second hand record stores and from there I just started digging deeper and deeper in ever more remote places while getting closer to the heart of the matter.
There was of course a big influence of American Funk and Soul music on the African music scene of the 70s, you can find James Brown records everywhere in Africa. Jimmy Smith also was hugely popular. Santana and Jimmy Hendrix also were widely known and respected. French Jerk like Jaques Dutronc or Nino Ferrer were also an influence in Francophone countries like Ivory Coast or Benin.
But the important truth is that there would have never been any Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B or Funk music without African music. All these rhythms, including Salsa and other Latin music originate in Africa. This means that there was no “Western music” influencing African musicians, this was the homecoming of African music that had evolved to something new on a foreign continent but has still remained African at heart. People who say that Afrobeat or Afro Funk are less “African” than traditional African music played on native instruments in my eyes are completely missing the point.
Being heavily into African Funk is one thing, but to decide to move to Guinea and spend three years in pursuit of African Funk Records, that’s… some thing else. What made you do this?
You can’t really build up a significant collection of Afro Funk without going there yourself. Traveling forth and back from Europe to Africa would have been extremely costly and also much less efficient than just staying down there for an extended amount of time. Alone the money I saved on rent by giving up my apartment in Berlin was much more than what I needed for my daily life in Africa.
Did you have a clear plan for what you were going to do there, or was it more the case of jumping on a plane and see what would happen?
My plan was to travel around as much as possible and to establish networks of record buyers in every bigger city so people would look up records for me during my absence. The finer methods how to do this I figured out while doing so.
And how did you go about finding records?
I put ads in local newspapers. I paid radio stations to air pre-recorded clips or visited radio djs who allowed me to play some old records on the air and give out my phone number. I also made hundreds and thousands of xeroxed posters and flyers which I had pasted up all over town.
Your travels took you through many countries in the West African region, is it possible to compare the satisfaction you got from finding records with the experiences you made while being on the road?
I love hanging out with people, drinking beer while listening to a live band just as much as I like to buy records. Traveling itself can be a whole lot of fun. I loved every aspect of the time I spent in Africa and I’m sure I’ll go back soon…
The filmmaker Leigh Iacobucci followed you on some of your travels and is now making a documentary about it. Could you tell us a bit about this?
This was a fun experience. Leigh had contacted me vie email and I had never met her in person before. We met in Accra at the airport and immediately got along great. I think we had a really great time together and we also got lucky to meet a lot of very interesting people on our trip through Ghana, Togo and Benin. We are still close friends and I can’t wait for her movie to be finished which will probably be sometime in the summer of 2009.
The documentary also wants to raise “complex issues regarding exploitation versus fair exchange and challenge an audience to consider what is lost or gained when a Westerner purchases an undervalued resource in Africa.” Was this something you thought a lot about on your travels? And how did you deal with it?
Of course this always was an issue. Although I wouldn’t call records an undervalued resource but rather objects that carry a different monetary value depending on where you are. In Africa, old records are an old medium. Most of them got destroyed a long time ago, some got kept, most of them were handled in a way that left them baldy damaged and unusable.
In Europe and in the US on the other hand, there are collectors and Djs who pay large amounts of money for these records. You could buy records in Africa for less than a dollar and then resell them in the US for $100 or $200 or in some cases for even more.
I always paid good money for records. I didn’t pay $100 or $200 (except in a few exceptional cases) but you also have to realize that I often spent days looking for records and not finding anything and every day you have to rent a car or a moped, buy fuel, pay your guides etc. Whenever I bought a record, I didn’t only pay the owner, I also paid the middle-man who took me to him. Sometimes there were two or three middlemen. Sometimes the records were badly scratched and I bought them just as a reference or to not look bad. I probably paid an average of $20 for each record and I can honestly shttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifay that I consider this to be fair. If I’d sell everything I found on today’s collector market, on eBay or at record fairs, I would probably make all my invested money back but not much more. Definitely not if I’d also want to get paid for three years worth of work but it wasn’t work really, it was the most fun I ever had in my life.
Top five records of all time?
1. Pax Nicholas & the Nettey Family “Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef”
2. Marijata first two LPs
3. Orchestre Poly Rythmo debut LP with “Gbeti Madjiro” and “Kou Tche Kposo”
4. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley ”Simigwa”
5. Cutlass band ”Obiara Wondo”