Founders of Radio Martiko, a unique label & DJ Collective from Ghent, talk to Entropia, reveal digging stories & deliver an exclusive mix of Greek instrumental Tsifteteli rockers, Laika – Shake and early Skiladika songs, selected from their recent 7″ finds in Athens.
– How did it all start for your label / dj collective and what does Radio Martiko name stands for?
It started in 2012 when I gathered a bunch of passionate Dj’s and record collectors from my city Ghent in Belgium. The philosophy of Radio Martiko “which stands for ‘organ grinder’s monkeys’ or ‘ugly looking guys'” was putting global vintage dance music under one banner and playing this for an audience without compromises in styles or trends. From 2013 the party was on and we collaborated with Edo Bouman from Vintage Voudou Records Amsterdam to play 12h vinyl dj sets for 4 days in a row at the great Roskilde festival in Denmark. We had so many records with us that people thought we were a record shop. I have collector’s blood. It’s a family thing. I have grown up between walls of records from my dad. Also my hunger for vinyl is insatiable. Apart from connecting with sellers & collectors online, I travel on a regular basis to find old records and make part of the ‘Gold Rush’. Most of the time I’m assisted by my compagnon Mechiel Vanbelle or my wife, who’s also not afraid to exile the sunlight and crawl in dusty corners to check old records. “As absolute starters in the so called ‘diggers’ scene, we decided not to go to Africa or Latin America in the first place. Why not book a cheap flight to Greece, Morocco, Egypt and explore the Mediterranean? It made sense as we were playing oriental and gypsy records while other vinyl Dj’s in Brussels were playing funk, soul and latin music. The reactions to our selections have always been very mixed. The launching of a record label became inevitable after we were faced with the big oriental exotica crossover tune “Habibi Twist” by The Latins in 2013. It took us more than a year to license the track from Sony Music. The song was recorded in 1962 and is now still a monster tune for any dancefloor and a true bridge between musical styles with different roots. We found it as stunning and important as Voodoo Funk. Nowadays we’re meeting and dealing with many artists and record labels such as Minos EMI Greece and Sono Cairo to be able to revive forgotten music legends and old music catalogs.
– What brought your attention to Greek music?
I have loved Rebetika music since I was in my 20’s. I was not aware of these killer Laika sounds until about 5-6 years ago, when I bought my first Greek 45 “Den sou elipe tipota” by Stelios Kazandzidis. I found it via the net from a Turkish seller on a Turkish Odeon pressing. I thought I stumbled on something truly unique. I was surprised and almost paralysed by the sound of the electrified bouzouki and the buzzing organ of Vassiliadis, from who I had never heard until then. Only later I found out that Kazandzidis was the number one Laika singer and this song was a big hit in Greece in the late 60’s. More than 100.000 copies were pressed of it in Greece. Shortly after we discovered the shake instrumental ‘Alba’s Shake’ by the Greek jazzman Aris Karantanis. Like many guys of our generation my soulmate Mechiel Vanbelle discovered it on youtube while exploring channels with greek music. We tracked down the son of the long passed away rock’n’roll legend and we licensed the track to serve as the flipside for our first release ‘Habibi Twist’. One funny detail: I paid more for the original 45, which is extremely rare, than for the non-exclusive licence deal to press 500 7″ re-issue records.
– How difficult was to get the rights for your Vassiliadis & Perpiniadis recent 7inch? What is the story behind this unique release?
The licence deal came with the agreement we signed with Minos EMI Greece for a compilation of greek 60’s popular dance music. We will release it somewhere next year after a few other releases. We planned it earlier but due to circumstances we had to postpone it. Therefore we launched the Vassiliadis/Perpiniadis 7″ as a teaser for the more serious work. Both of the tracks are very special and hard to find on the original 45 rpm format, which is generally preferred by Dj’s. We worked almost 2 years on the contract with Minos. The reason why we got it, is simply because we didn’t give up on the negotiations. Weekly phonecalls and emails were part of the game. They were always very polite and cooperating on the phone but we just couldn’t get the paperwork done. I guess we had to cope with the typical phenomenon of bureaucratic inertia of major label companies. Anyway, our journey finished in the lobby of the Minos headquarters in Athens. A very young female employee brought the papers down for signature. This was a day of victory.
– When was the first time you came across to an original copy of Abdou El Omari’s “Nuits D’ Été”? Where was that?
I never owned an original copy of the Lp. I had the testpressing that came with the licence deal and the colourful cover. After we re-issued it I gave the cover away to Jannis ‘Habibi Funk’ Stürtz who owned the record without the cover. I’m sure I will get the original one some day. I know a place in Morocco that hides a copy, but it’s not reachable now. And if I find it,I’m not sure to keep it, ’cause I could use the dollars it’s worth. Unfortunately I’m not born wealthy.
– As a DJ Collective you offer several different set ups, one of them includes…a Bellydancer?
Yes, we have a (belly) dancer and it’s the same person who digs out the crates with me from time to time. So you can imagine that she’s of a different kind than the stereotypical oriental dancer you might have in mind, no offense meant. Lately we’re working on a show that stays far away from modern belly dancing and can easily reflect influences from Asia, Bollywood as well as Variété or Burlesque. Our dancer designs the costumes herself and combines vintage couture with more traditional and regional folkloric elements, corresponding the leading music. Don’t hesitate to fly over to Geneva on 18th November to see her live in action.
– How interested is European audience in Eastern sound and tradition?
They LOVE it!!! Only when you’re at the wrong place with the wrong audience, the reactions can be quite provoking and aggressive. We are used to comments like: “Should I wear a veil now”, “When does the prayer start” or simply “You have to stop playing this music NOW or I will call the cops!” But more often than not, people are melting for the sweet sound of a Turkish voice or arabic violin. We have been playing eastern sounds for years and started to build up a certain reputation. More and more we get requests for oriental music during our sets. We don’t want to bring Eastern tradition to a European audience. I like to play a mix of musical styles that I personally like and select for a mixed audience, because that’s the world we live in. People who are not used to share the table with people from different origins, have generally more problems with foreign music. Also you don’t have to be an exotist to appreciate oriental music. It’s per definition a part of our culture now. The perception of ‘traditional music’ is often very wrong. Origin and tradition are two very different things. Most of the music we play from eastern countries is not traditional but arranged popular music from the past and dancefloor ready. It’s meant to serve as pure entertainment. The lyrics mainly talk about daily life experiences, love and heartbreak. If there is some kind of ambiguity, it would be mostly sexual or political. It happens that we play traditional music and only later come upon the meaning or tradition behind it. I think imagination is important and it’s a fact that groovy music plays with the senses of the body.
– Casablanca? Cairo? Athens? Which is the most exciting city for you to go record digging? What makes it special?
Every trip is different and so adventurous. The first time you go to a city you must try to find out where the interesting areas and spots are to search for old vinyl records. If you want to get a glimpse of the city’s heart, where real life goes on, it’s the best way to find it. Of course, you can find some info about treasure hunting on the internet or through other connections, but a serious digger will not only follow the beaten path. In big cities like Cairo or Casablanca a stock or collection of old vinyl records can pop up in any place. Especially nowadays even in those countries merchants and antique dealers know the value of old records and save them for being thrown away. They buy from private collectors and radio stations or old record label owners, who are not always easy to track down. In very few cases an old record label still has a business running. In Casablanca there is the renowned Boulevard Lalla Yacout with Koutoubiaphone/Tichkaphone and Boulevard de Paris where the old Boujema Gam (Disques Gam) still opens his dusty store almost every day from 10 am until 6-7 pm. On one of my latest trips to Casa I visited him and he explained that he considers his shop as a museum. He enjoys it when people pass by to look at the records in the shop window and the numerous records hanging around on nylon ropes inside the store like fetishes. One of my favourite places to dig for records is Athens. Although it’s impossible as a foreigner to find hidden stocks that nobody touched before you. The Greeks are the craziest record people I met in my life. Athens has a huge scene of collectors, sellers, archivists and musicologists. In Greece, pretty much every generation buys records. Monasteraki square and its tiny streets around is the place to be on Sundays. The market for books, antiques and old records starts at 3-4 in the morning and all the collectors and Dj’s, coming straight from their gigs, are hanging out and searching for their holy grails. Apart from this exciting event, the city offers an unclear number of record shops in Monasteraki, Psiri and the center. Following the unstoppable resto and bar culture in Greece, new concept stores that sell vinyl records arise in other neighbourhoods too. What makes digging in Athens so special for me? The amount of records, especially 45’s, being pressed in Greece. From the mid sixties to early 70’s, Greece counted around 500 record labels and numerous pressing plants. The giant Columbia factory in Athens was the biggest and most productive pressing plant in the Mediterranean area. Besides pressing records for Greece, they made records for export to the Middle East and African countries. It’s no secret anymore that I have a weakness for greek 60’s laika music and this made me hop on and off to Athens during the last 3 years. I collected hundreds of very desirable 45’s, rare ones and others that are pressed by the tens of thousands. And still I have the feeling that I’ve just started!
– Being active in selling and trading second hand records, how do you decide what to keep and what to sell out of your finds?
That’s always a dilemma. It needs time to decide if you want to keep a record or not and we don’t always have this luxury. Sometimes we need to sell records to pay for all our expenses. The profit we make as a young and small record label is enough to finance the next releases, but it hardly pays off the bills. It happens that I sell a record, then regretting it afterwards. Musical taste and appreciation changes constantly. Buying records is so much more fun than selling them. If I wouldn’t need the money, I would never sell a record, but rather give them away to friends or trade them with other collectors. By the way, next month Radio Martiko will be present at the international mega cd & record fair in Utrecht, The Netherlands, where we sell our own releases and second hand records.
– What’s next to follow from your label? Rumors talk about a previously unknown banger from Egypt!
The rumor is steadily becoming reality. We’re waiting for the factory’s supply details to fix the release date of Hany Mehanna’s “Miracles of the 7 Dances”. In March this year we met Mr Mehanna, an Egyptian musician and composer, in Cairo to ask for his approval to re-issue his first solo album. Hany played as a very young talented organ player next to stars like Oum Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. He was a member of Ahmed Fouad Hassan’s Al Massiya Orchestra (The Diamond Orchestra), one of the finest orchestras Egypt has ever known. This experimental belly dance lp is an obscure album, recorded for Sout El Hob and pressed by Sono Cairo in 1973. It contains 7 seductive instrumentals for a dancer in modern style. The music doesn’t have the typical Arabic orchestra sound, cause it’s played by a limited formation of musicians. Hany’s organ magic and funky guitar riffs overrule the album. The rhythm is killing and atypical instruments like kaval and cornet are the salt ‘n pepper. We are glad to make this jewel shine again!