When producer Morgan Greenstreet was in Nigeria in January 2017, he met up with Temitope Kogbe, a record collector and label owner, at his home in Lagos. They started talking about Temi's new label, Odion Livingstone, the only vinyl reissue label based in Nigeria.
Morgan Greenstreet: Where did the idea to start Odion Livingstone come from?
Temi: Well, I collect music, I still collect and trade music, so it came from an interest in the kind of music that we reissue. How did it come about? One thing leads to another, there’s no master plan, you know it’s just, let’s do this thing and let's do it, just do it. And when we had the idea we spoke to a couple of friends, and they were like, “What! Let's do it now, let’s do it yesterday!” They just opened the doors up. Quintin Scott, an old friend from London, he works with K7. He basically started the whole reissue thing with Nigeria 70. That came out on Strut, that’s his label. So, he said, “Yeah, I would give you a contract, a distribution contract.” I said, “Let’s see it!” And, you know, he's been great, it’s been great working with him, he has loads of experience, loads of good contacts, and he’s great guy!
Tell me about your partner in the label…
O.K., my partner is Odion Iruoje, who needs no introduction! You know, master producer in the ‘70s, of the whole Afro-funk, Afro-rock sound, he kind of evolved that sound. He came from electronics and he used to work in a phonetics lab, and he did some postgraduate course at Imperial College in London and EMI was hiring people for Africa and they kind of interviewed him and thought he could do the job. He had several offers and he took that. So he comes from a sound engineer kind of background. It was like a godsend, he just met his destiny because he had that rigorous, scientific knowledge of the studio. But he was also an artist, he could bring out all sorts of things from you other artists and create help them create a sound, a song, create an arrangement, in ways that other producers couldn’t. So he was one of the first modern producers in Nigeria, probably one of the first, and he became the major, the major…He worked with Paul McCartney, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Geraldo Pino, S-Job, and all the obscure boogie funk bands in the ‘70s. His thing was to infuse all that music with some Afro. He worked on the first BLO album, an amazing rock album. Artists started looking for him, when they started hearing his recordings, he was like a magnet, he started attracting a lot of people. And if you look at his discography, you notice a lot of the more edgy bands, he produced them, a lot of the more interesting musicians.
In Odion Livingstone, obviously he’s a partner, but he's mainly a guy that I go back to, to talk about my ideas with. But he has no clue about the reissue market, because that’s a new thing. What we do is reissue, you know, lost musical gems, and that came about from my collecting music, and then becoming a trader, trading music, getting people from Europe asking about that record, this record, this musician, that musician. That’s where I got my education from.
Afropop is based in Brooklyn, so we see a lot of reissued records from Africa, and about 90 percent of the producers, or the people who are involved in the business are European or American and very few of them are of West African descent. So, I’m interested in what led you to get into this “old” music, and vinyl, to get to the point of collecting and being a trader?
To be honest, it’s just how life works. My 9 to 5 was in downstream, oil and gas, I used to trade cargoes. And now we had a crisis, we couldn't open LLCs, the oil price dropped, so we had a scarcity of dollars. And it coincided with a period where I was getting a lot of requests from people for records and they were paying me in dollars, so, you know [Laughs].
It’s just life, I always say it's just God, because it is just divine, somehow everything just worked out, seamlessly. I've always had an interest in the music. I used to collect music when I lived in London, in the ‘90s, I used to collect music, mainly broken-beat jazz-soul records. And then when I came here, I left all my records in Paris, I didn’t want to get into records. I had Quintin coming over and other people I knew, talking about records, but I didn’t want to get involved in records, because I just felt-- been there done that, you know? But somehow I got dragged into it, you know how it is! [Laughs] And everything happened very fast: I met good diggers and they just kept bringing me the records, you know, what people said “You’ll never find this record, we haven't seen this record in 20 years,” I kept finding those kind of records. I started getting attention from people outside, and then I started selling stuff to them. I got reissuers coming to say, “Do you have a clean copy of this record?” Or, “Can you help us license this record from the musician?” And so I did a couple of those.
Can you talk about those projects?
Uh…I’d rather not…. They are projects that are out there already.
Basically, somebody said, “Why you bother doing these things for other people? Why don’t you set up a label and do it yourself?” That’s a DJ friend called Javi Bayo, in Madrid. So Javi hooked me up with a guy called Iñigo Pastor, who runs a label called Vampi Soul.
Yeah, they’re great!
They’re great. Quintin heard about the deal, and he said, “Oh, we can get you a better deal.” So I still have an arrangement with Vampi Soul, I'm just waiting for the right scheduling and the right music to come through. I have the ideas, but we just need to sign with the owners of the music.
It was easier to go with Quinton because he had the whole boogie disco thing down, you know. K7, they already do compilations of dance music, so it was easier to go with, because we already had a lot of those kind of projects already signed. So we just went with K7/Strut, and we have interesting projects in the pipeline.
We’re releasing Friday Night, by Livy Ekemezie, which is an amazing record, and that drops March. We have another project with another record label that was based in Lagos called Duomo Sounds Limited, and Duomo had Michael Umoh, Bindigo, Christy Ogba, Bassey Black, you know. They had this pop thing, Eunice Mokus, they were kinda middle of the road, but they had this funky soul thing going on, so yeah, we’re going to do a compilation on their back catalog.
And then we have some some stuff I don't really want to talk about yet, I just want to surprise people, because they are these amazing records from the early days of EMI records, very interesting boogie rock music, you know. So we have all sorts of stuff, very interesting stuff lined up.
Cool. You’re starting a vinyl reissue label in 2017: Who do you imagine your audience is?
There's a lot of movement in vinyl, not just old people, it’s young people. Who listens to this music? Basically, DJs who only want exclusives, they were the ones buying West African music. And that’s why West African music, especially the boogie records, were going for thousands of dollars, you know, because they wanted this record that they would play and people go “Oh my God!” you know, and they couldn't find. And then other people who were into the DJ culture thing knew about the records but couldn’t afford them, so they were begging us to reissue them, they were like “Please reissue this album!”
I found the box of Livy Ekemezie’s Friday Night, mint, sealed, most of them, and the least I sold it for was hundreds of dollars each… I don't want to say…but it's ridiculous. Come on, man, I'm all out for DJs having that, but it’s music I believe should meet an audience.
So I went to look for the guy, found the guy, I said, “Look let's do this.” And he said, “Cool.” So we negotiated, we agreed on a figure, I paid him, we signed the contract, and you know, we’re bringing it to the masses!
Is there a Nigerian vinyl culture? Are there other collectors that you know, locally, are there local consumers? Are there new vinyl reissues that are geared toward the Nigerian market?
There’s no scene in Lagos that I'm aware of for this music, but I used to play at a hotel called Bogobiri a few years ago, I had people kind of interested, you know, vaguely. Lagos is a big city, so it's big city sounds, and the big city sound right now is Afrobeats. They want to play what’s on the radio, they want to dance to that. I'm aware of radio shows on highlife, like very early highlife. Now is there an audience, a young audience, into this? I get the occasional one or two guys coming up and really showing interest and asking where they can get records, but it's not a majority thing, it’s not even enough for you to play out every two weeks, you know, but I have a few people around Lagos who are genuinely interested in the sound.
So, where is the market for your reissues?
My market is entirely the U.S., Europe…I mean the Nigerian boogie stuff is very big in France…I was looking at the figures from our pre-sales for Friday Night and the U.K., there’s a lot of movement there, France, there’s a lot of movement, U.S. and then some Germany, some Central Europe. Yeah, it’s the DJ culture people, people that go to clubs, that are deep into the soul music, deeply into the British underground boogie sounds, two-step soul, those guys that really, really know the finer details of funk history.
And the beauty of the Internet is, you might have five guys here, five guys there, but with the Internet you could have 4,000 people that can connect to you. Where you couldn't see a sustainable market for this kind of product like 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago, right now you can, because it’s the Internet.
So it's just keeping it on an international platform?
Totally, totally. Which is a bit sad, but, you know… The first time I spoke to Livy Emekezie, who put out the record Friday Night, he couldn’t understand, he thought that I was a kidnapper, he thought I was just trying to lure him into, you know [Laughs]. He was like, “What are you talking about? Nobody knows that record!” He was like, “What are you talking about? What do you want?”
So he didn't believe that you wanted to pay him?
No, he didn’t! It took months!
He lives in Lagos?
He lives in Port Harcourt, and he's not a musician. And back to the reissue thing, he's been on the top five, that album, of ones to reissue by a lot of reissue labels, who came up before I did, but because he's not a musician… Normally you go into a town, and you ask the musicians, “Do you know this musician?” And then one guy says, “Oh yeah, I don’t know, him, but ask that other guy, I think he knows him.” And then you find the other guy, and he goes, “Yeah, yeah, I know him,” and takes you to the musician. But because he’s not a musician, he kind of fell out of that whole system. So the guys were coming to town, and they couldn't find him, because they couldn't find him, they couldn’t locate him.
So how did I find him? I went to his village, and I found his family. His family gave one of my partners his number, and then we called him a few times, and he just kept cutting the line. So I sent him a long text, like, “Look, I have this music,” and I described the music, and I explained why the music had to meet an audience, because it didn’t meet an audience the first time, and he was kinda cool with that, and he said, “Talk to my lawyer.” [Laughs] He just sent me his lawyer’s number. [Laughs] So, the lawyer was more accessible and after a few discussions we got a deal done.
How did you convince him? What did you say about his music, why should it meet a wider audience?
I still have the text message on my phone… I just told him he needed to kind of honor that investment he did when he was younger. I mean, it was a bit of emotional blackmail, a bit, I wanted to grab his attention somewhat, and just throwing mud at the wall and hoping something would stick! So he, at a point in his life, that album meant a lot to him: He had just came out of secondary school, he wasn’t in university yet, he was going to go to university, but he told his parents he wanted to try this musical thing, and they just felt, are you serious about it?
O.K., I just found the text message, I’ll read it to you:
“Dear sir, you have created a thing of rare musical beauty that withstands time. Only few career musicians manage this feat, but somehow, by dint of hard work and divine inspiration you’ve managed it. It deserves to be reissued, to vindicate your former self for the investment put into this work, to show him that somewhere in this busy world, a restless tribe found in this rare gem something worthy of love, respect and recognition.” It's quite good! [Laughs] And he says, “O.K., speak with Barrister…”
You got him!
That’s the beauty of poetry, boys! [Laughs]
How do you set your work apart from the work of other reissue labels operating in Nigeria?
A lot of these lost musical gems are so important that the way they reissued should matter, you understand. Because there was an initial period, where people were just grabbing stuff, but now, I think that lately, there is a bit of knowledge that people like Uchenna Ikonne, who have real knowledge, serious level knowledge about the history of this music and there is no excuse really now to be doing things blindly. So I think that’s another reason we said, “Look let’s curate the music, to the stuff SQ rate the music plus the liner notes properly, let's put out serious work, stuff we would like to buy, stuff we would be proud to buy.
And Soundway, I have to say, showed us the way, excuse the pun. They’ve been very, very consistent and Miles is a serious guy, he pays people correctly, he remits royalties, and that's consistent with his love of the music. I can understand how people who love the music act like they don't care about the artists who made the music that they love. That’s very contradictory. How can you love music and not care about the people who made the music?
What advantages and disadvantages do you feel that you have as a Nigerian doing this work versus somebody coming from the outside?
One is perception: Strut is really happy, and I see them, you know, reiterating it all over the place that this is a Lagos-based label. I’m the only label doing reissuing from Nigeria, which is weird, because there's a lot of Nigerian music being reissued. It’s interesting from the perspective of, “O.K., let’s see what he’s going to do, what records is he going to put out?” With that comes a bit of a responsibility to do it properly, and not just do what people expect you to do, but to try to introduce some other stuff, some other sounds, apart from the straight disco boogie stuff.
There are some records I'm dying to reissue, there are some that PMG got there first, you know, like Head Sounds' Hard World, that’s one of my favorite albums ever, and they signed it first. And, you know, I'm very sad [Laughs].
I want to put out stuff that I’m genuinely interested in. Everything I put out I have a genuine interest in that record, but I also want to introduce sounds that maybe people don't know in Nigerian music. So, yeah, we’re just trying to put our stamp on the reissue market, in a different way.
How do you see the reissue market on a global scale? Do you think it's growing?
I think is growing, I honestly believe is growing, that's why people like PMG can come in and throw a lot of money at it, because they know that they will recoup the money in the end, somehow. There are soundtracks, there's all sorts of sources of revenue. It's an original sound that only DJs have access to because the prices of the music, the prices of records, but now, you’re opening it up to a whole bunch of people, and that is very exciting.
For sure! Thank you Temi.