This morning I was scrolling through my insta feed and saw a post of Egon (Now Again) stating “we live in what has to be the golden era of reissues”. Possibly. Of course there are many types of reissues going on, from nasty bootlegs to very well taken care of and good sounding – music passion fuelled – lovely pressed vinyl. The latter being an on point description of the way I’d define Kalita Records. I found out about Kalita this year through the IWABO repress (2017), a 1985 reggae twelve with a very nice disco or boogie type of touch. I started following the label and throughout 2018 it’s been nothing but super great stuff being reissued, always accompanied by great liner notes. I decided it would be nice to give the brain behind Kalita some liner notes himself. Meet Chris Webb, who was so kind to answer my questions regarding his awesome label!
Could you introduce yourself shortly?
Sure. My name’s Chris Webb, and I run Kalita Records, based in London. I’m originally from Dorset, in the South West of England. I moved to Bristol for my undergraduate degree in 2012, and then to London for a postgraduate in 2015. Bristol was where I started to get properly into music, which was pretty easy as the city’s full to the brim with clubs, record shops etc. However, it was once I moved to London that it became a bit of an obsession, especially after working at the Love Vinyl record shop in Hoxton every Saturday as a break from my studies.
With Kalita Records you release gems from a specific musical spectrum. How would you define the vibe of Kalita and how did you get into this yourself / how did the label come to existence?
Everything that I release on Kalita is pretty much an expression of what I’m in love with music-wise. For me personally, that’s broadly speaking music from approximately the mid-70s to the mid-to-late-80s. Primarily disco, boogie and soul, not just from the US, but also from the Caribbean or West Africa, in particular Nigeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. When it comes to the West African or Caribbean side of things, I’m particularly fascinated by the fusion of different sounds, where the music often retained that rawer-sounding feel/quality of production or the traditional rhythms or deepness of e.g. highlife, soukous etc, but which are also infused with the later dancefloor-focused disco and funk sounds that had arrived over from the US.
I guess I’ve hinted at it in my first answer, but I first got into the disco and boogie kinds of sounds, or black music in general, when I lived in Bristol. The city has some great record shops that I used to visit and scour for interesting music that I hadn’t heard before, and also has a regular record fair with very knowledgeable dealers that I got to know quite well (shoutouts to Andy and Des). Once I moved to London, I started working at Love Vinyl with Roual Galloway, Zaf Choudry, Dave Jarvis and Jake Holloway, who all have their own formidable love and knowledge of black music. It was like going to school once a week, and I tried my hardest to absorb as much as I could. After finishing my studies I then started working at Juno who were kind enough to help me start up the label, and it went from there!
This is a bit more of a serious question, but it’s something I’m very interested in. There are a lot of bootleg labels out there, especially in this niche. Kalita releases are licensed to the rightful owners which i really embrace. You also put a lot of time into adding extra material…interviews, photo’s, you name it…What is your vision on the current situation regarding reissue culture?
One of the main reasons I started Kalita was because I saw a lot of records that I loved being reissued, but the reissue didn’t tell me anything more about the artist or the record than what I knew before. Rather than plain paper sleeves, I wanted a proper artwork sleeve with photos and liner notes, so that I could find out how this music that I loved was actually made, and who these mythical artists were and where they were from. There were already other labels specialising in African music that put a lot of effort into telling these stories, such as Strut, Soundway, Analog Africa etc, but I wanted to take this approach and apply it not only to West African sounds, but also US and Caribbean disco and boogie as well.
I see the reissue culture at the moment going from strength to strength, but also becoming a lot more diluted. There are a lot of new players joining (including of course myself), so the game has changed quite a bit, but as long as the artists’ stories are being told then that’s the main thing for me.
When push comes to shove….I’m going to sketch a very disastrous situation here. The room where you store all your records seems to have caught fire and you are only able to save one album and one 45. Which ones are you escaping to safety with?
Now that is a tough question. For the album, I’d have to say Papa Yankson’s ‘Party Time’. It’s the best highlife/Afrofunk album I’ve ever heard, every track is a winner, and it’s sadly pretty much impossible to find. I’m pleased to say that that will be changing next year, though!
In terms of the 45, again a tough one. I think I’d have to go with The Singing Tornados ‘Travelling Through The Land’. This super rare single out of Greenville, South Carolina is one of the best gospel disco 45s I know, or at least the one that resonates with me the most. It has that raw sound that I love, but also the pounding disco beat that makes me wanna dance as well. It was on the top of my want list for a long time, but now safely in the box!
“I’m particularly fascinated by the fusion of different sounds”. This is something I – if done well/subtle of course – recognise myself in taste wise, it’s actually how I came across Kalita in the first place. I stumbled upon Iwabo checking for Disco/Reggae vibes. You said it almost felt as if you were going to school at one point, absorbing as much information as you can. Perhaps it’s nice to turn the beat around now and let you teach us something…Could you think of a song you love that is a peculiar or just great example of different sounds/genres fusing?
The fusing of different musical traditions is what particularly interests me; whether it’s when reggae meets disco, highlife meets electronica or anything inbetween. There are so many instances to choose from, but recently I’ve been getting very much into burger highlife, which emerged when Ghanaian musicians moved to Europe or the US in the 1980’s due to the military curfew, with highlife blending with the western electronic sounds of disco and boogie prevalent at the time. The Nana Tuffour ‘Sikyi Medley’ reissue that I released with CC:DISCO! in October is one example. Another that I’m in love with at the moment is Aban’s ‘Efie Nnye’
It seems like there’s an unending source of music we can still dig our way through, freshly discovered old gems keep on surfacing. In a way, running a reissue label, you are somewhat close to being an archaeologist. Do you think the well will run dry at some point? Is there any specific place on earth you would like to go to for some proper exploring?
It’s an interesting question, and something I think about often. Sometimes for a very short moment I feel like you’re starting to know more and more of the stuff that’s out there, but then that feeling is always instantly forgotten when you find out about a new record or artist about five minutes later! I’m constantly reminding myself that there’s a whole world of music out there still to be uncovered and explored and artists whose stories need to be told. We’ve been constantly finding amazing music for many years past and I’m pretty confident (touch wood!) that we will in the future as well.
Columbia would be an interesting place to visit for record digging. They imported a lot of African music over there back in the day, and now that it’s becoming a more stable country, maybe it’s worth a visit!
Could you point out one of your fave record sleeves?
Sure, check this! Took a while for me to find a copy. Bought it half for the track ‘Jaque Mate Rey Dos’ and half for the sleeve! What a mad design.
Finally, could you share some inspiring words for those who decided to spend their lives collecting records, or music for that matter? Or even those who’d like to start their own label?
I guess respect for not following the crowd and deciding to find your own sound. If you want to start your own label, whether it be releasing new material or as a reissue platform, good luck. It’s not easy, but it’s fun as hell and I wouldn’t change it for the world.