Miles Cleret spinning as part of Turning Point with A Man Called Warwick at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West), Saturday (March 12), 10 pm. $10, before 11 pm $5. 416-531- 4635. Rating: NNNNN
If archival reissues were left up to major labels to compile, we'd see little more than variations on the basic hit tune repackaging characteristic of million-selling artists like the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
Most of the really exciting, informative and historically important archival projects in recent memory have been produced independently by resourceful vinyl junkies - people like Billy Miller and Miriam Linna of Norton Records, Egon Alapatt of Stones Throw, Light in the Attic's Matt Sullivan and Soundway's Miles Cleret - who want to present their favourite music to a wider audience.
They aren't the typical dollar-driven record dealer types interested in turning a quick buck, but the sort of people who who just a few years ago were making killer compilation tapes for friends and spinning their latest garage-sale finds at parties. They've just taken the next logical step and formed labels to continue their commendable work on a larger scale.
Someone like the Brighton-based Cleret was never content to just rummage around at local second-hand shops and record shows. When he caught the African music bug, he had to go to the source.
"While I was a student in Manchester and spinnng at a friend's club, my DJ sets were always quite diverse because I was listening to a lot of jazz, funk, reggae and Brazilian music, apart from Detroit-style techno. So when I happened to hear Fela Kuti's Upside Down, the keyboard sound was oddly similar to that on some Carl Craig stuff I was into. I had to hear more, so I went to Honest Jon's and found a whole crate of original Fela records. That's how it started.
"My interest in Ghanaian music goes back to a West African vacation with my wife about four years ago. We went to Ghana, where I became acquainted with the Ghanaian-style of Afrobeat. The records I picked up along the way on that trip led to the first Ghana Soundz compilation."
Since that first amazing Ghana Soundz (Soundway) comp, Cleret has gone on to release a second stellar volume, the Afro Baby (Soundway) collection of obscure Nigerian funk and fusion, as well as the recent career-spanning survey of Benin's T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo (Soundway), which focuses on the wildly prolific Afrobeat and Afro-Latin jams from the 70s.
As you might imagine, many of the original master tapes have long since vanished, and just tracking down clean vinyl copies of the recordings can be difficult, even for someone with dealer hookups in the downtown markets of Accra and Kumasi. But that's only part of the challenge for anyone trying to assemble a legitimate historical document of Ghanaian music - you also need to locate the artists involved to get their stories. And when you're dealing with musicians who haven't been active for 30 years, you've got some serious detective work in store. Or so you'd think.
"Ghana is a relatively small country, and the music community there is really tight and well connected. Many of the people involved in the industry during the 60s and 70s are still there and remain friends to this day. Once I found a couple of artists, it was really no problem at all to find the others.
"It's funny - when I began looking for C.K. Mann, I went to Takaradi and asked the first taxi driver I saw if he'd heard of Mann. He drove me straight to his home. Everyone knows everybody else there.
"Most of the artists I found were totally amazed that someone from another country was interested in reissuing their music. Ebo Taylor knew that the fusion music he was making back in the 70s was different yet still valid, even though it wasn't really appreciated at the time. Appearing on Ghana Soundz has had an empowering effect on him. He's now writing music and recording again, which is a wonderful thing."
For Cleret, the next phase for Soundway - after the collection of funky Venezuelan descargas and a series of Caribbean and West African 12-inch singles - will be recording and releasing new original work. The first project is an album from Ethiopian Afro-Latin groove maestro Mulatu Astatke, who'll be featured in the next issue of Wax Poetics.
"We're planning a trip to Ethiopia in September," says Cleret. "Will 'Quantic' Holland is producing the sessions and playing bass along with drummer Max Weissenfeldt from the Poets of Rhythm and baritone saxophonist Showboy from Fela's Egypt 80 band. There's a lot of preparation still to be done, but it'll be a great project."