Art/Culture  •  Playlist

Maft Sai Talks Vinyl in the Digital Age

As the apocalypse for all forms of recorded music you can touch draws near, Maft Sai, Bangkok’s resident record junkie, recalls the golden era of London’s vinyl district and tells all about his analog addiction.

December 08, 2016
Most old records are destroyed. People don’t care about the value of them

In the 90s, Soho’s Berwick Street was lined with more than 20 independent stores and dubbed the Graceland of record shopping by collectors. The street even crossed over to pop chronicles when it was featured on the cover of Oasis album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. But a combination of inflated rents and the MP3 boom turned a once-happening community into a ghost town.

Such swinging trumpets, crooners and tambourines get thrown into cellars worldwide and forgotten about until someone like Maft Sai comes along and digs them up. But without people like Sai, what happens to such cultural artefacts?

“Most old records are destroyed,” says Sai. “People don’t care about the value of them, not in terms of just money but in terms of their cultural capital. Sometimes they just burn them. It’s shameful.”

This is shown all too well in Take Me Away Fast, a documentary directed by fellow vinyl junkie and Berlin DJ Frank Gossner, screened by Sai at Opposite in Bangkok recently. The film follows Gossner journeying through West Africa to save one-off presses of funk and soul records from the 1970s before they meet their fate in a crackling fire fuelled by black wax.

When Maft Sai first started digging for records 15 years ago, he was mostly into funk, jazz, afro music and reggae. The more he heard, the more interested he became in the origins of the sounds. His search eventually led him to Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries. When he started delving into Ethiopian and Malinese sounds, he noticed similarities between them and the Thai country music genre, molam.

Seven years ago on, returning from Paris to Thailand, Sai started hitting the streets of Chinatown and discovered Soi Saphan Lek where record stores had stood for over 40 years. From there he began visiting different parts of Thailand; to the border, to Isarn.

Maft Sai says he has lost track of the size of his ever-growing collection. His ballpark estimate: about 8,000 LPs and 15,000 7-inch vinyls. That’s not including what he has in his store, ZudRangMa Records in Bangkok, where he says there are about 5,000 uncategorised LPs he has been organising for sale for about three months.

“Collecting music is a bad addiction,” he confesses. “It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made. You will spend it. I have ten to 50 copies of some records because I know if I didn’t pick them up, [the shop owner] would have just melted them all down,” says Sai.

Even during his vacations he scours for records. “Whenever I travel, the first thing I will do in a new place is to try and find vinyl. Through this searching you meet people. If you come to Bangkok to search for records, you wouldn’t see the gold palaces. You’ll pass by them, and instead end up in a back street where an old Chinese guy might open a cellar for you. Inside, you’ll dig for records in a dusty crate with a couple of rats running around. But you’ll get to experience the real culture and meet real people. Sometimes it’s not so fun, but you’ll see the local point of view.”

ZudRangMa Records, his Bangkok shop situated in a Sukhumvit 51 nook, makes up the third essential pilllar of Thonglor’s hip triad – his shop, Opposite and WTF Gallery & Bar. The cosy space is filled with old sounds of vintage Thailand, eclectic funk albums from Africa, Jazz and all kinds of other genres he accumulated over the years before the concept of the store was even conceived.

It’s hard to imagine that he could decipher a handful of favourites from the towers of records he owns, but here he shares with 2magazine his most prized possessions.


Band: Angkana Kuhn Chai
Album: Fan Ja Ya Leum, 1973
“They used a 10 piece molam band for the album. In the early 80s, the sound changed because of the introduction of Molam Sing, where you don’t need a full band, just a pin, drum machine, keyboard and singer. It usually only takes two people to produce it.”

Band: Le Super Djata Band Du Mali
Album: En Super Forme Vol. 1, 1982
“I love the strong vocals and the back up rhythms are very similar to those of Thailand’s molam music.”

Band: Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari
Album: Tales of Mozambique, 1973
“I can imagine myself listening to this when I’m really old. It’s just nice; that’s all.”