Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s article, we’re checking out a new compilation from sonic archivists Bongo Joe & Sofa Records.
Swiss label Bongo Joe have been producing in-depth, considered compilations of scarce ethnic music for a number of years now and their steady output over the past half-decade has established them as one of a number of notable groups producing such overviews to satiate a growing Western interest. Their latest release, ‘Maghreb K7 Club’, is released in conjunction with French shop and label Sofa Records and offers a selection of deepcuts from various Algerian artists based in France during the mid ’80s to late ’90s. The inherent accessibility of the cassette boom afforded many smaller artists a platform previously enjoyed by only those acts signed to larger, more established labels and it’s cuts from the Algerian-French scene of the era that constitute this informative compilation. Coupling Algeria’s beloved Rai music with the aesthetic trends of the cassette era, this is music at once timeless and fundamentally of a long-gone era. Although Rai’s roots go back to the 1920s, it’s a genre of music derived of local folk tradition and that timelessness comes through in the commanding, soulful vocal performances found throughout ‘Maghreb K7 Club’. More of-its-time is the production, which oscillates between something relatively earthy and something adorned with the era’s prerequisite gated drums and popping basses. It can be an odd – even jarring – combination at first, but give this insightful compilation a chance and it’s likely to work its way under your skin.
French pressing plant MPO are a popular choice amongst those more discerning European indie labels seeking quality and affordability in equal measure, and their output can generally be relied upon to sound great despite not necessarily being entirely above the occasional lacklustre release. Clearly quality-conscious institutions, Bongo Joe and Sofa Records have opted for MPO’s services in pressing the vinyl version of ‘Maghreb K7 Club’ and that turned out to be a wise choice, as this is an excellent pressing with consistently clean surfaces. A visual inspection does reveal fairly dirty surfaces with cloudy markings upon both sides; this has, frustratingly, become the norm with MPO pressings of late. These marks do not affect sound quality in the slightest but are an irritating visual blemish also found on numerous other titles coming from their factory over the last year or two. What’s far more important, of course, is the sound quality and even a cursory listen reveals this to be a great pressing with a low noise floor and tidy playback free of auditory imperfections such as crackle or popping. The sound quality of these pieces is somewhat variable and the low-budget nature of the records precludes audiophile sonics at the best of times but the audio here is surely as good as it could ever be and is certainly still strong enough to make for an enjoyable listen. The record itself is a solid, heavyweight slab of black wax which sits flat on the platter during playback.
With compilations such as ‘Maghreb K7 Club’, the historical and social context of the work is often as interesting as the music itself, which is why extensive liner notes are such a common and much-appreciated addition to this kind of release. Clearly well aware of this, Bongo Joe and Sofa Records have included a high quality, full-sized colour insert with an informative essay available in both English and French – one on each side. That’s the best element of the releases’ presentation, but the cover itself is also nice quality. It’s a standard, non-gatefold sleeve made from mid-weight cardstock but it’s as well made as any other cover of the style and the art direction is distinctive. The record itself is sleeved in a generic, non-polylined inner sleeve which is something of a shame as we always commend releases which provide high-quality polylined inners from new, but the inclusion of a download code providing the album in any file-type of your choice (including lossless) more than makes up for this.
‘Maghreb K7 Club’ provides an intriguing insight into a distinct movement that many potential listeners may be unaware of and the vinyl release provides a great way to discover – or perhaps reacquaint yourself with – this lively, vital music.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!