Walking into The Jazzhole is a reprieve from the Lagos heat. The familiar warmth emanating from the piercing staccato of John Coltrane or Brymo’s angst filled croon wafting through the speakers are telltale signs that you have arrived. The books and vinyl records – some browned with age and pregnant with history – sit thigh high, proudly on the marble floor of the shop. At first glance, The Jazzhole is a hybrid of a bookstore and a record shop. After a few visits, it quickly becomes a place of solace. If appreciated in its entirety, The Jazzhole is a wealth of knowledge.
Founded by Kunle Tejuoso 25 years ago, The Jazzhole was born in Obalende, Lagos. The name Jazzhole spoke literally to the store’s hole like physique in front of the Dodan Barracks in Obalende. The same barracks that less than 20 years before the existence of Tejuoso’s hole in the wall, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti carried his mother’s coffin to chanting “waka, waka, waka” in order to display it to then General Olusegun Obasanjo whose orders had resulted in her death.
“It was a tiny space, but it stood out,” said Tejuoso.
Born out of the need to make available African music and music from the “Black diaspora,” The Jazzhole is the result of Tejuoso’s urge to create a comprehensive collection of music that spoke to the Black experience globally. His collection ranges from music by Congolese artists like Abeti Masikini to Tchico Tchicaya.
“I was very heavy into traditional jazz and African music and I wanted to create a one-stop in Lagos, a place where you could listen to music from all parts of the continent and the Afro-diaspora.”
“There’s a philosophy behind Jazzhole,” said Tejuoso as he leaned into a wooden chair.
“I basically curate the store the way I want it. From my book selections to the music on display, there’s always a reason why I do what I do. The Jazzhole is not a shop where you will find just Sunny Ade and Fela. You can walk in and find music from Morocco and Mali.”
As much as Tejuoso’s amalgamation of music and literature is inspired by the world, his upbringing in Lagos played a crucial role in the formation of the philosophy behind Jazzhole. Growing up in Glendora, the book and stationery shop operated by his mother which Tejuoso currently runs, books were an integral part of Tejuoso’s childhood. As for music, the Jazzhole curator has always considered himself “music mad”, which resulted in him building a music collection from as early as 9 years old. According to Tejuoso, his access to literature and music was inextricably linked to growing up in a city full of promise.
“Growing up, I lived in a Lagos that was functional at one time. I lived in a Nigeria that was rich at one time,” said Tejuoso.
“When we were growing up, there was music everywhere in Lagos. There were street parties and Owambe’s everywhere. All the music that is currently on vinyl was live and you could absorb so much. There were also record shops everywhere. We didn’t have the internet, but we had record shops all over. We listened to soul, reggae and all the phases of music I experienced is what makes up the stocklist of Jazzhole.”
Tejuoso’s days consists of curating, selecting and sampling his extensive collection. When customers push through the thick door looking for music, they don’t need to be convinced, they need direction and they come to The Jazzhole because they know that Tejuoso is the man to lead them.
I walked into to Jazzhole as Tejuoso stood behind his makeshift fortress of vinyl records and books. Curtis Mayfield’s smooth falsetto filled the room but was quickly replaced by Asa’s throaty register. Behind the register, Tejuoso sampled the dreadlocked singer as well as Brymo for a customer who was interested in purchasing both records. Tejuoso assured the man the record playing was the artist’s latest release.
Although the Jazzhole is synonymous with jazz and afrobeat from Tejuoso’s past, he is not averse to the music of the present.
“I like music. To me, it’s not about what genre of music. I like anything that sounds good,” said Tejuoso.
But for Tejuoso, the term good music comes with a responsibility.
“I’m a very conscious person, so I feel the music must be saying something. It’s either technically correct or there’s a conscious message. Music as an art form should be meaningful, so even if you’re playing around it has to be some direction.”
When asked about how he would rate the music of today, Tejuosho seemed indifferent to the new crop of Afrobeat-inspired Nigerian artists dominating today’s airwaves.
“There’s no direction in regards to where our local sound is going. I think it’s heavily influenced by the West. Also, considering our mass as a country, I don’t see any innovation in terms of the music. It’s just random. There’s so much creative energy, but in which direction is it moving in?”
Tejuosho alludes the inability of today’s artists to look to the work that preceded them and study it.
“I would expect the kids of today to be at Jazzhole trying to dig in as much as possible not thinking they know it all. I don’t know it all! There’s joy in discovering.”
At The Jazzhole, Tejuoso’s charge isn’t to simply house African music, but to also facilitate its production. In the early 90’s when Tejuosho started importing records for The Jazzhole, he often traveled to London and Paris to buy records from other African countries.
“When I would go to London and Paris to buy these records, they would snicker. They were thinking why are these people coming all the way here to buy this music, we should be going to them.”
“I came back and decided to gather some of my guys and see what we could produce here on the ground.”
In 1995, Jazzhole records were born. Alongside artists and producers like Fatai Rolling Dollar and Afrologic, Tejuosho launched a music publishing imprint called Jazzhole Records.
“I wanted to send something back to the West, something that we had produced and had control over. I wanted to show that we had something.”
This same desire to self-publish and create content also inspired the creation of the Glendora Review, which was an arts and culture journal that operated under the name of the Glendora Bookstores. These journals featured writing from the renowned poet, Niyi Osundare and former Daily Times editor, Dapo Adeniyi.
Like relics, copies of the review are tucked into the bookshelves at the Jazzhole. Although the review stopped publication in 2004, Tejuoso is keen on reviving both the journal and the record company, the only question is in what format.
“I want to produce things that people can collect and cherish. Of course, I’m going to make things digitally, but my priority is producing things in the physical format,” said Tejuoso.
“We can’t afford not to have collections, we can’t afford not to archive our work. They have collections, our work is in their collections. We must begin to make our work, engage with it and collect it.”
Currently, the Jazzhole is tucked neatly alongside the long stretch of road that is Awolowo in Ikoyi. The cavernous rectangle of a room is stretched far enough to contain a coffee shop and a room of archived books and records. What started out as a former parking lot has become a cultural institution for many. Famed artists extol it and undiscovered ones find refuge in it. While Tejuoso knelt sifting through a stack of records for a customer, I fingered a copy of Marcia Griffiths Sweet Butter Love record left unattended on the counter. The baby blue vinyl looked age at the corners and was inscribed with the phrase “Baaadass!!” in deep blue ink.
“At The Jazzhole, we are aggressive about music and books,” said Tejuoso.
“We cherish them, we keep them and we know that the people that come in here feel the same way.”
Originally published on Akomanet.com