Once I have distilled those tracks down, then begins the process of finding the musicians themselves and perhaps if there were producers behind the songs. Sometimes those albums were privately recorded by the musicians themselves. Sometimes there was a production company or record label back in the day that produced these records.

In Somalia, all this music was produced under Siad Barre who oversaw a Socialist, authoritarian regime. He nationalized the music industry. He nationalized the art. So there were absolutely no private record labels. There were some private bands but most of the music was owned by the government, it was produced by the national radio, which was owned by the government. It was performed in the national theater, which was owned by the government.

We spoke to former poets and playwrights and people who worked for the cultural department of the government. They said, “Well, in Somalia, we recognize the singers. The singers are the people we tend to idolize and lionize, and these are the people that we think you should be getting the copyrights from. They are the ones who we believe have the ownership.” So it’s a very fluid kind of approach to the copyright. It’s just about making sure that you have a good sense of fairness and making sure that the right people get their due rewards.

Cape Verdean singer, Tchiss Lopes, performing.
Cape Verdean singer, Tchiss Lopes, performing.
Image: Courtesy/Ostinato Records

Ostinato Records has produced two albums so far. How did they fare in the market?

My Haitian compilation got really great reviews but the tracks didn’t sell as I would have liked because I was a newcomer to the market. But because I think Cape Verde is such a cross-cultural hub taking influences from every part of the Atlantic, it’s very easy for that music to resonate with almost anyone who has grown up in the last 30 years. I am happy to say the Cape Verdean compilation did so well. It actually sold out to the point that I had to produce more copies to meet demand.

What can people do to preserve and pass on these music artifacts? 

I would say if you have these cassettes lying around, try to contact people who work in archiving. Or even the radio stations who themselves are trying to preserve their own archives. Try and give it to them because they will make the effort, in alliance with people like myself, to make sure those records are digitized or kept safe—or even perhaps commercially released again, where they can start generating some kind of income for these musicians.

This interview was edited for length and clarity

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