Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM (Recordings from 1909-1960s)
Dust-To-Digital CD 22
112 page book with 4 CDs, dozens of full-color images from the era, the CDs feature 100 never-before-reissued recordings from the 1920s-1960s. Compiled by Jonathan Ward.
by Jonathan Ward
It is truly astonishing to consider the tremendous variety of music that was pressed to shellac discs on the continent of Africa. Popular songs, topical songs, work songs, comic songs, songs of worship, ritual, dance, and praise—the sheer range of musical styles resists any easy categorization. Further, African geography itself resists boundaries. The boundaries of cultures and languages are often far more complex than political boundaries. Complicating things further, entire countries seem to have been skipped over by both commercial 78 rpm record companies and ethnographers during the 78 rpm era. No doubt it was the same with many cultures. But that doesn’t mean that 78s weren’t everywhere, even in remote parts of the continent. By the mid-1960s, 78s were still a popular if not preferred medium in much of Africa, as a significant amount of the population still used wind-up gramophone players.
I have created this compilation with one simple goal in mind: to showcase a diverse amount of long-forgotten music from Africa that transports me as a listener. It is one person’s offering of music that is wholly unavailable except in its original elusive and fragile format. While it is not definitive, nor am I attempting to construct or invent a narrative, there are important connections to be made. Around one musical corner is another corner, and another. Within these 100 tracks, traditional music stands side by side with popular music as traditional culture coexists with so-called modernity. As a non-African, I offer this set as an example of the riches that lay in waiting when considering the tens of thousands of phenomenal African 78 rpm discs that were issued, played, dispersed, and in large part, forgotten.
“Opika Pende,” is a saying in the Lingala language that means “be strong” or “stand firm.” It can also mean “resist.”