Out Here Records was set up with a simple purpose: to introduce the world to another side of African music. Since its inception, the Munich based label has promoted and showcased urban music scenes from Dakar to Cape Town which, despite being hugely popular in their native countries, have been totally overlooked outside of Africa. We speak to founder and label head Jay Rutledge about the label’s beginnings, localised global sounds, the state of African urban music and what is to come for Out Here.
RnR: Describe the label’s beginnings and its broad vision.
JR: ‘I started out as a journalist travelling a lot and interviewing a lot of musicians. I realised that what was really happening on a local level in the countries I visited was not reflected in the so-called ‘world music’ that reaches Europe. This was especially true in regards to the globally connected genres of Hip-Hop, Reggae, Dancehall and House with local adaptations like Hiplife or Bongo Flava, that are huge in Africa but literally unknown in the rest of the world. I felt that needed to be changed.
I decided to go to Dakar and put together a compilation (‘Africa Raps‘). I bought all the cassettes from stores in the Sandaga market and called people, met the guys I knew, discussed the releases and started sorting out the stuff I liked. There was a real Hip-Hop boom in those days because young people were listening to rap and the elections were coming up. So many tapes were released commenting on what was going on in the country…really interesting, creative stuff .. exciting.’
Three years after Rutledge put out ‘Africa Raps‘, he went on to found his own imprint and Out Here was born. Seven years and over 20 releases later, the label continues to meticulously research, compile and release a huge range of music from across the African continent and beyond encompassing everything from Nigerian Hip-Hop to Tanzanian Bongo Flava, from African Reggae and Dancehall to Angolan/Brazilian fusion.
RnR: How do you research for the releases?
JR: ‘Well, we travel. We normally meet someone and start getting into a style or the music of a certain country. I.e. For our first South Africa compilation ‘Mzansi music’ we worked with Rage.co.za, a group of journalists from Johannesburg. For lagos stori plenti we travelled to Lagos with Ade Bantu from Cologne. We stumble across something / someone and start getting involved.’
When Rutledge stumbled across the overlooked Malian ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate in Bamako, it led to the release of two of the label’s most critically acclaimed albums, ‘Segu Bleu‘ and ‘I Speak Fula‘, introducing a new star of Malian music to the rest of the world.
RnR: How did the Bassekou Kouyate releases come about?
JR: ‘A coincidence. I was in Mali to do an interview with Toumani Diabate. Lucy Duran, an English producer who I had previously met in Istanbul happened to be there as well. We met at a Pizza place in Bamako where Bassekou Kouyate was playing. It was beautiful. Lucy said: ‘Jay, you should record an album with this guy. He really deserves it.’ I answered: ‘if we do it, lets do it together!’ So, five months later we were back in Bamako to record the first album. A year later the album was awarded Best album of the year 2009 by BBC3. Uuups. When I go to Bamako now and see that this record really changed the life not only of Bassekou, a musical genius, but also that of many people around him – I feel really happy.’
Many of Out Here’s more urban releases have focussed on the appropriation and unique evolution of global styles by local scenes such as African Dancehall and Reggae, and the various incarnations of Hip-Hop across Africa.
RnR: How important is the interplay between the local scene and the global influence on contemporary African urban music?
JR: ‘I think global influences often trigger a new scene. At the beginning there is a lot of copying, then the style gets more local, vernacular languages are used and the scene becomes more and more unique. But there are also styles that don’t really localize and hey, they don’t have to. It only becomes problematic for us when what is an obvious imitation to our ears is seen as real cool locally….For example, we wouldn’t release a mainstream oriented R ‘n’ B act from Sambia: it is a boring imitation. A Hip-Hop head from the Cape Flats called Emile once told us that local Hip-Hop died when at a freestyle jam, some guys started rapping in English. They were not good rappers but the other kids were so impressed by them using English (which they themselves could not speak so well) they just went silent.’
RnR: This interaction has been two-way with genres such as Angolan Kuduro and South African Kwaito influencing international producers, DJs and musicians. Do you feel this interplay will continue?
JR: ‘This is a great time for African urban music. There is a lot of attention nowadays. People are really looking for something new and the direction they are looking is Africa. There is still a lot out there that really deserves to be produced in a way that allows its potential to surface.’
(Interview continues after the jump)
Out Here was recently involved in the Goethe Institute Nairobi’s BLNRB project which brought a group of German producers including Modeselektor, Jahcoozi and Gebrüder Teichmann to Kenya to work with a group of local artists and MCs…
JR: ‘For us, the project was interesting because the Berlin Electro scene came to Kenya with a really cutting edge sound aesthetic: sounds and beats that the Kenyan MCs had never heard before. They thought: ‘what is this, what are these weird cut up beats?’ Kenya is not a place for experimentation: people stick with what they are used to and lean towards internationally successful sounds. BLNRB brought in some fresh sounds and shook things up. In the end the Kenyans were excited and are incorporating these experiences into their own sounds. And the guys from Berlin really got a sense for what music can mean for people in a country like Kenya. They came back and were totally turned on.
I think projects where there the Africans and their traditional music are treated as some kind of holy thing, where it is a sin to change things is boring. It is fun to turn people on to something new and in this case it was better than using beats put together with cheap midi keyboards as is the case with a lot of Kenyan productions.’
RnR: Are the releases available in Africa or are they marketed more towards a foreign audience?
JR: ‘Through our work, over the years we have made strong ties with many of the local stars on the African music circuit. Not the world music guys, but the urban stars. Many people write to us and send us stuff and we have licensed hundreds of tracks from Durban house to Malian Hip Hop, from Ugandan Reggae to East African Bongo Flava. Our releases, like the Bongo Flava compilation, are even pirated in the country of origin. The problem is more that our music is too local, meaning that it is too close to what people actually hear back home and hence maybe not what people around the world expect/want from Africa.’
RnR: Do you think therefore it is often the case that contemporary/popular African music is overlooked by labels exporting more established or traditional styles?
JR: ‘I’d put it this way: World music says a lot about the dreams of music fans in Europe. Urban music from Africa says more about the dreams of young Africans.’
Out Here’s latest release is entitled ‘Yes We Can‘, a compilation featuring diverse artists such as Afrikan Boy and ‘Sapeur’ Martin Pecheur which is based around the theme of migration from Africa to Europe and its impact on the lives of people all across Africa.
RnR: Do you think artists have play a key role in raising awareness and commenting on issues like this?
JR: ‘Sure, the lyrics are really important and influential, but you have to keep in mind that many of the issues that the west is interested in, are sometimes very western topics: peace, racism, women’s liberation etc. These are issues that can occur in songs but are not the main issues. That is why we included styles like Coupé-Décalé from the Ivory Coast, or a track on Sapeurs from Cameroon. Both styles celebrate the consumption of western status symbols: they are dances where people show off their expensive clothes, smoke cigars or spray money about. This is also a reality behind migration: the power of the consumer items from the so called ‘first world’.
We are interested in looking behind the obvious discourses around topics like migration by including a real local perspective. Take the Senegalese rappers on ‘Immigration Candestine’, this freestyle track voices a lot of different opinions on the thousands of young people leaving for Europe. Many blame the corrupt governments at home that do nothing for them and are busy spending the countries money and selling off all its assets on the way. Why stay and live for these people?’
The label’s forthcoming release will focus on the rich underground music scene in Lebanon, only its second non-African release.
RnR: Are Out Here expanding their horizaons?
JR: ‘No, not really – we may be experts in urban African sounds but we are open to all types of music. For me it is often the story that intrigues me. A young band in Guantanamo trying to get heard, or, as is this case for our upcoming release, an emerging scene in Lebanon, a country with a rich history and a vastly diverse music scene, from Palestinian Hip-Hop to hip, rich-kids Electro.’
RnR: What other releases/projects are in the pipeline?
JR: ‘Well, Georg Milz, the other guy here in the label, is off to Nairobi to do a follow up compilation for the BLNRB project. This time it will be local productions from the local stars on the ground. There is also a new Bassekou Kouyate album being planned which it looks like we will start recording towards the end of the year.’
Thanks to Jay Rutledge from Out Here Records for the interview.