London-based independent record label Kalita is known for specialising in unearthing and re-releasing great music that deserves to be heard by all. They focus mainly on soul, disco, and West African sounds from around the world that they love and believe others will love as well. Kalita Records prides itself on two things: the quality of its musical output, and its focus on the musicians behind each release. Alongside a beautifully presented outer sleeve, their releases are often accompanied by liner notes, photographs and interviews with the artists, thus creating a far more interesting package all around.
Some of our personal highlights from the label’s impressive back catalogue include ‘If You Need Me, Call Me’ by Emerson, ‘Looking Up: The Complete Works’ by Carrie Cleveland, and ‘Getting Next To You’ by Randolph Baker to name just three. You can check out the full collection here.
We got in touch with Kalita’s founder, Chris Webb, to see if he would be interested in putting together a mix for our Off The Record series – one that showcases the overall “sound of Kalita”. Be sure to check out his vibrant, one-hour-long recording below. There is also an in-depth interview for you to tuck into. Enjoy!
Hey Chris, great to have you onboard for our Off The Record Mix Series, can you tell us about where the inspiration for the mix came from?
Thanks so much for the invite! The mix is inspired by what’s currently playing on our turntables at Kalita HQ. It features some upcoming (and previous) Kalita releases (think South African boogie, kwaito and Ghanaian burger highlife gems), as well as straight-up disco heaters we’re in love with at the moment.
Can you tell us a bit about Kalita and what you guys are all about?
Kalita is a London-based record label established by myself (Chris Webb) in the summer of 2016, specialising in unearthing and re-releasing lost and lesser-known disco, boogie and West African sounds for everyone to dance to once again.
What was it that initially made you want to start a label of your own?
I set up Kalita out of a love and a curiosity for black music, in particular disco and boogie. I kept discovering amazing records that I loved, but I knew nothing about these artists whose music I adored, or anything else about their creation. Often I would see records be reissued, but with a plain white inner sleeve that didn’t satisfy my need to know as much as I could about the release. So I decided to try to track down the musicians myself and work with them, not only to re-release their music but to put a greater emphasis on telling their story as well.
As a back story, I’ve had an interest in dance music since moving to Bristol in 2012 for my undergraduate degree. By 2016 I had moved to London to continue my studies, and I concurrently began working in the Love Vinyl record store in Hoxton, where I was able to soak up endless knowledge from the four owners who were all extremely knowledgeable in their field. At the same time, I also realised that I wanted to run my own business in some way, and starting Kalita seemed like a natural progression and fusing of my interests.
It’s a lot of work, with releases often taking years to progress from the initial idea stage to the shop shelves, but it’s all worth it on release day!
Here at Phonica we have noticed a huge rise in the popularity in reissues and represses over the past few years. Why do you think this is?
I think the answer to this is very multi-faceted, but certainly includes music lovers wanting to hear something authentic, made with traditional production techniques that aren’t followed as much anymore. Reissues offer them the sound that they’re looking for.
But I think it’s also about discovery too – the unearthing of a ‘lost’ treasure that has been hidden away until now is always exciting, regardless of whether it’s an animal, a tomb, or a sought-after record!
Are any of the records in this mix recent discoveries? If so, where did you stumble across them and what drew you to them?
The final two tracks in the mix (Obibini Takyi’s ‘Aburokyiri Abrabo’ and D.J. Lawyer Okyere’s ‘Ohia Kan Nye Ya (Medley)’) I’ve known of for a long while but only in the past year or two have I managed to track down copies purely due to their scarcity. These records just never come up.
Both records belong to the ‘Burger highlife’ camp, a movement in the 1980s and 1990s that saw Ghanaian musicians fusing traditional West African highlife melodies with electronic synths and contemporary disco and boogie styles to create Westernised dance music for the Ghanaian diaspora in Europe, the US and back home.
They’re both exciting sounds to me, and a musical movement that no one has really looked at much yet (watch this space!)
What else do you and the label have in store for us in 2021 and the early part of 2022?
We’ve just had the pleasure of re-releasing a four-track exposition of the Jamaican-Canadian musician Desmond Chambers, celebrating his sought-after reggae disco/boogie recordings ‘Haly Gully’ and ‘The Morning Show’ (accompanied by a mind-bending remix from Toby Tobias created using the original multi-track stems).
For the remainder of this year, we have Wilson Boateng’s 1988 recordings ‘Asew Watchman’ and ‘Mabre Agu’, two pieces of lost Ghanaian burger highlife perfect for the dance floor (and made even more so with two remixes courtesy of Mendel, again from the multi-track tapes).
Then the start of 2022 sees us visiting South Africa for some masterpieces in kwaito and boogie, as well as a US disco, funk and soul album grail and then our first in a multi-volume series of compilations focussing, you guessed it, on burger highlife!
We can’t wait! Hopefully the mix is enough to whet your appetite for now.