Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Kipsigis woman
24" x 18", oil on canvas, 2011
Record collecting is not what it used to be. Collecting itself has lost its integrity in our Post-modern era in which the very idea of original is suspect. Through the World Wide Web you can download, copy, and order about anything that exists in this world, all from your comfy chair at home. Then there are still some fools like me that will waste a lot of time going through stacks of vinyl that are 90% trash, finally find something worthwhile and pay a lot more for it than the free download on the web which probably would sound better too. Lost an afternoon and $10.

Here’s an anecdote that explains why I am such a fool:
Just the other day after a half an hour browsing through some stacks at a local record store my eyes caught a 10” record of some African music. It looked old (50’s, early 60’s maybe) and I am a sucker for old world music recordings, so I picked it up. It said Music of Africa Series No. 2 Kenya. Nothing wrong with that, when I look further my heart starts to beat a little faster: Collected and Introduced by Hugh Tracey. 

Hugh Tracey to me is what Dick Tracey may be for some others. Hugh Tracey is the African Alan Lomax. For the sake of the preservation of disappearing cultures he founded an institution and would collect, record, and document cultural life in Africa. From the 1930’s on he recorded extensively in the field to capture the music of many cultures that are now extinct in their traditional form. Tracey first recorded many an African superstar. Tracey also introduced the world to the music of pygmy societies. Since Tracey’s death a few years ago many of his recordings were released but can only be purchased if you buy all 16 of them. That is too much for me, I did however copy every single Tracey recording I could find at the local library, and these have been standard fare of my Top 100 in the last years.
Next I took the vinyl out of its jacket to check for scratches (I would have bought it anyway) and to look at the titles. I got even more exited; Chemirocha sung by a Kipsigis woman is one of the titles. The track was already part of this year’s list, as well as last year’s! I didn’t know it was Tracey who recorded it (my copy of it came from an unaccredited anthology of world music, this one was obviously the original issue). I put away the few records that I had kept aside as maybes, paid my $4, and headed home.

Of course I aim the needle of my turntable on Chemirocha, and I.m surprised to hear Hugh Tracey introduce the song himself:
“It was only a few years ago that the Kipsigis heard their first gramophone. There were no records in their own language of course, but the one that took their fancy was this one guitar solo by a well know cowboy singer named Jimmy Rodgers, What a magnificent chipkong player, said a girl. The man of the district said that maybe he’s a new dancer touring the countryside, but the girl said that this is no ordinary man; this is a faun, half man, and half antelope. They pronounced his name as Chemirocha. So they sang this song of welcome for 'Chemirocha,' inviting him to come and dance with them. Who could refuse such an invitation?”

The above text was written in 2005 to accompany a painting for the Top 100 2004 of the same Kipsigis woman (and from the same photo) as the one above. Chemirocha has now entered the Top again while the song also entered the list of all time favorites, counting since 1983.

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