Musical Tourism (part 1)

It’s always a challenge getting back on the plane with a bulky record bag and a shoulder that aches for days, but when traveling, one of my favorite ways to dip in to the culture is via the local record store. Like a good used book store, you can really get a feel for a new place by flipping through the bins and meeting the staff behind the counter. Although the vinyl revival has led to grocery stores stocking reissues of records that never needed to reappear, an authentic record store is an organic experience, which cannot be easily replicated. It usually takes just a few minutes to get a sense of a good store — although many brick and mortar record stores have disappeared in recent decades, there are still some stores hanging on, which honestly don’t need to stick around — the same plastic dividers between the aging copies of Big Rock from decades past, intermixed with high-priced reissues of the same artists. A great record store is often well-curated, helping you reach beyond the borders of your usual realm of listening. And any self-respecting vinyl shop has a couple of turntables set up for you to check out the material before buying — it doesn’t count for the guy behind the counter to offer to play anything you want. Traveling around the US and elsewhere, I always feel fortunate for some of the fantastic record stores we have at home in Portland — Mississippi, Beacon Sound, Little Axe, Green Noise, to name a few — we are truly spoiled.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Bongo Joe records in Geneva, Switzerland.

I was familiar with the label, through their excellent Jesse Mae Hemphill compilation, released in conjunction with Mississippi Records. I didn’t realize until I was in Geneva, that there was a physical store in addition to the label. Apparently, the store’s founder had worked in the past with Mississippi Records at their Portland store, and this relationship is evident in a similar ethos guiding the store. It is a lovely physical space, with big windows opening on to a little terrace overlooking a tidy square. The main floor holds a good supply of vinyl as well as a small counter for drinks. A steep ladder leads up to a little attic with extra stacks of vinyl. I had a good chat with the fellow running the store that day, Mathieu, about the history and philosophy of the store, and also gathered a lot of suggestions for new music.

I picked up a couple of their label releases, including their recent LP by Altin Gün — a “third generation” Turkish band, reinterpreting older Turkish songs, recorded in analog.  A great record:

They also have a nice collection of various African LPs, including Juju, Soukous, Congolese Rumba, some of which I’ll be bringing back to play on Freeform:

  

The only challenge with buying vinyl on a trip is that you’ve got to wait till you get home to play it…