‘M. Records keeps Kenya’s last vinyl music store alive

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Probably the last record store still in operation in the country and which today benefits from the growing interest of music lovers who wish to go beyond the refined digital offers and rediscover the pleasure of browsing in search of a classic find.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Tucked away in a bustling market in Kenya’s capital is arguably the country’s last record store.

“Real Vinyl Guru” has been around for 28 years and is now enjoying growing interest from music lovers who want to look beyond the sleek digital offerings and rediscover the thrill of browsing through a classic African vinyl find.

Former disc jockey James “Jimmy” Rugami is in his shop every morning from 6 a.m., sorting through his latest discoveries. As many record stores closed with the shift from music to digital and with the rise of piracy, he patiently curated and collected stock from stores that were closing.

His love of vinyl saw his collection multiply by the thousands and earned him the nickname “Mr. Records.

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“Every time I knew someone was closing down and they had records, I couldn’t stop the urge to buy one, including even crossing borders,” he said .

Hundreds of collectors now flock to his store in Nairobi, and he has caught the eye of other vinyl fans overseas.

The producers of the Grammy-nominated Somali album “Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa”, taken from popular music of the 1970s and 1980s, gave him a copy.

“That’s it,” Rugami said with a smile as he pulled the record out of his collection.

Neighboring Somalia has been chaotic since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, and the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab now carries out frequent attacks, even crossing into northern Kenya.

“Something good from Somalia, a country that has been on the boil for all these years and found out by someone. But too bad it was foreigners and they actually had an ear to know it was good sound,” Rugami said. “Well, that’s okay.”

Its clientele now includes tourists in search of other pearls of African music.

“Finding a vinyl store in Nairobi was quite an exciting thing,” said Firouz Khairoullaev, who was from Turkey. “I think vinyl is back. Basically, it’s something cool and it’s something that unites and it’s like a hobby.

The shop’s popularity after years of gloomy vinyl predictions means Rugami can now afford to employ five staff.

“It’s not once or twice that I’ve been called crazy, very often,” he said. “Guys actually ask me, ‘It was like 10 years ago, what do you do with this kind of stuff, we’re going up but you’re going down, what’s the reason?’

“Well, I couldn’t stop.”

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