Nairobi's Kenyatta Market Offers A Scene Right Out Of 'High Fidelity'

Apr 4, 2017
Originally published on April 4, 2017 7:00 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's travel to a record store. And it's going to be a long trip. Even though old-style vinyl records are considered hip again in the United States, vinyl record stores in this country are far more rare than they used to be. NPR's Eyder Peralta found one though in the sprawling Kenyatta Market in Nairobi, Kenya.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: When you enter Kenyatta Market, there is a struggle by a bunch of butchers to get you to try their meat.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Swahili).

PERALTA: But then you make a left and hit stall number 570 and you find James Rugami. He's in a black beret, surrounded by vinyl records. And he's correcting one of his customers about a musician's origins.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I thought he was a Kenyan for a long time.

JAMES RUGAMI: No, they were not Kenyans. Wilson Peter Kinyonga was not a Kenyan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Really?

PERALTA: Rugami has sold records here for almost 30 years. He's outlived eight-tracks and tapes and CDs. And he's become the keeper of what's arguably the best collection of African rhumba records in Nairobi. The music is tropical and traveled from Latin America. A customer picks up an album by Les Wanyika.

RUGAMI: Unfortunately, he chose the most expensive.

(LAUGHTER)

PERALTA: Shalom Shungula is undeterred.

SHALOM SHUNGULA: This mzee is a joking man.

PERALTA: He places the album on the turntable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PENZI NI DAMU")

LES WANYIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Suddenly he's a kid again, watching his parents as they dance in the living room.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PENZI NI DAMU")

WANYIKA: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Rugami says his store is his temple. This place, these conversations make him happy. He points to a shelf right above his head. That's the stuff he doesn't sell. Ah, is that your stash right there?

RUGAMI: That's my stash. Nobody touches that. No one touches that.

PERALTA: (Laughter).

RUGAMI: I'd like you to listen to this. Simba Wanyika is a Tanzanian group.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIMBA WANYIKA SONG)

PERALTA: This is what Rugami does every day - plays music he loves for the entire market. And the thing he loves the most is when someone comes up to him full of wonder and asks, who is that?

RUGAMI: It feels good.

PERALTA: That's your mission?

RUGAMI: That's my, well, I don't know what.

PERALTA: That's your life's work.

(LAUGHTER)

RUGAMI: Ten to six daily.

PERALTA: Ten to six daily.

(SOUNDBITE OF LES WANYIKA SONG, "PAMELA")

PERALTA: Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.