Discover: Vampisoul

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 04.18.13 in Collections

For Vampisoul founder Iñigo Pastor, it all began as a fanzine that mutated into a label with global aspirations. At age 15, Pastor began publishing La Herencia de los Munster (The Legend of the Munsters) from his home in Spain’s Basque region. Following flexidisks featuring Spanish garage bands, Pastor’s first vinyl release on his Munster label was an EP containing one track by Spacemen 3 and “two Spanish bands nobody outside of Spain knows.” Although it was essentially a label devoted to singles and albums from the fringes of punk, DIY and psych-rock culture, Munster’s most successful release turned out to be what Pastor believes to be the world’s first compilation of tracks by mildly raunchy R&B diva — and short-term Miles spouse — Betty Davis.

By 2002, Iñigo had traveled and listened widely enough to realize the need for a parallel label for his new international enthusiasms. “My musical friends made me listen to stuff and enlarged my spectrum. I got into Latin music, black American music, African music, everywhere’s music.” Assisted by his widening network of contacts, “We built up a nice catalog in a short period of time,” he says. Vampisoul’s first release was Back to Peru, a mixture of underground rock and tropical tracks from the 1960s and ’70s. Vampi slipped under the wire and managed to cut a deal to reissue classic albums by Joe Bataan, Joe Cuba, Pete Rodriguez and Ray Barretto shortly before the legendary Fania salsa label was sold again (and then once again). “It was kind of a dodgy label,” he recalls, “but you could somehow get a license from someone in New York City.” Releases of Nigerian afrobeat and highlife, Italian library music, vintage jazz from the Czech Republic, and Iranian underground rock soon followed.

Hits from the Vampisoul catalog include afrobeat co-founder Tony Allen’s albums with Nigeria ’70 and Latin boogaloo star Joe Bataan’s 2003 comeback, Call My Name. The latter, written and produced by the Phenomenal Handclap Band’s Daniel Collas, was one of the first Daptone studio projects and has the 1967 vibe to prove it. Other reissues include Peruvian cumbia from the Amazon, aka chicha, reconstituted from labels that haven’t existed for more than thirty years (which makes royalty payments difficult). Vampisoul has even spawned its own protégé label, Light in the Attic. Matt Sullivan, its founder, interned with Pastor while studying in Spain. “We became very good friends,” Pastor says. “He took the concept back to the United States, where he has surpassed us in many ways because his releases are so fantastic. Now he handles the Betty Davis stuff.”

Here’s Iñigo Pastor on some of his favorite, and odder, Vampisoul and Munster releases.

Los Pirañas,Toma Tu Jabón Kapax

Toma Tu Jabón Kapax

Los Pirañas

These three young guys from Bogotá had the same backround as I did in rock, punk and DIY, and they decided to bring back cumbia in their own manner. They recorded this live studio album in a very free, experimental way. When their recordings came into the office, we had to figure out how to tag them for distributors: Basically, it sounds like Krautrockers playing experimental cumbia on bass, guitar, and drums with no overdubs. Their main sound is cumbia, but it's a natural sort of fusion that really works. Their other bands are Frente Cumbiero and the Meridian Brothers.

Cumbia Beat, volumes 1 & 2

We did this in collaboration with a good Peruvian friend who turned me on to his country’s music. He brought all his records to Europe and played me stuff every time I was at his place. This Amazonic psychedelic stuff was totally unheard and really vibrant. He said, “Let’s put them out. No one else is and I know the labels and musicians. I saw some of these bands with my father as a kid. On Sundays we’d go to a park and drink beer, eat food, and dance.”

Back to Peru, volumes 1 & 2

When you open a music book in the occident, it says things like, “In the ’60s, rock ‘n’ roll turned into the British invasion, then psychedelia, then progressive and then blah blah blah.” Peru has a similar progression but it’s not so clearly defined: It’s very mellow and mixed and special. Back to Peru is provides a general introduction to Peruvian music of the ’60s and ’70s. There’s some dance music, like the Gozalo compilations, but there’s a lot that’s moodier, midtempo and more psychedelic, like good Badfinger or late Beatles. They’re also good with melodies, like the Brazilians; maybe it has to do with their weather, food and education. Most of them are self-taught but were serious about making it sound good in the studio. You can find stuff like We All Together or Telegraph Avenue, who make a terrific sound comparable to any American band of the time.

¡Gózalo!, volumes 1 & 2

Gozalo means “enjoy” in Spanish, and these compilations focus on tropical dance music for partying and good times. Like Colombia, Peru is like a little continent unto itself. So much was happening there in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’80s, before the military took over in South America and everything turned a bit grayer. Listening to this music makes me jealous of anyone who lived there during that time because it was very open.

¡Saoco! The Bomba and Plena Explosion in Puerto Rico 1954-1966

We got in touch with Yannis Ruel, a French journalist. His wife is Puerto Rican, so he spent a lot of time there and found out about all this music. It was like when we started reissuing Fania stuff: You could find it in markets on cheaply done CDs with no liner notes. He thought it should be done right, and very few albums in Puerto Rico are like it. He wrote an incredible essay that reads like a sociological and musicological dissertation. We're at work on volumes two and three.

Rangarang: Pre-Revolutionary Iranian Pop

A guy based in Washington, D.C., claimed to be the grandson of the guy who recorded these tracks. His grandfather was killed by the Iranian revolutionaries. He sent us a bunch of material to select and compile. It was very difficult. We couldn't find much information about some of the artists. We went by the music rather than by famous names or big hits. It's fascinating to think about this music in the context of where it was being made and what came before it — a musical explosion in a strange social moment.

Bola Johnson, Man No Die

The guy representing Nigeria's Premiere label sent us a batch of 1960s and '70s material this trumpeter and bandleader recorded for Phillips. We learned that Bola has even more recordings out, but we don't know how many because even though he's on Facebook, he never replied to us for information or pictures or anything. He's still playing but doesn't seem to care. The world may seem much smaller these days, but there are still big holes everywhere. Bola's a complete performer who can play all kinds of African music. This compilation has everything from soft highlife to hard funk like Fela Kuti's, who influenced him.

Flipper Psychout

This was compiled by Alessandro Casella, a record collector and DJ who runs Rome's Micca Club. He got deep into Italian library music and was hired by Flipper to go into its vaults and find material to offer to labels. Mainly, it's music done for publicity, films and television in the early '70s, and the number of different moods and styles was endless. Alessandro came to us with tracks that are psychedelic, sexy and quite incredible. That kind of music was being produced in Britain, of course, but it was also being done in southern Europe — France, Italy and even Spain. There's a lot more on the way. We're working on a project with the Spanish library music of Warner Chappell, which has something like 15,000 recordings. But it's too much. You need an expert or else you'll spend half your life on it.

Los Saicos, ¡Demolición! The Complete Recordings

This is the most significant Munster release at the moment for me. Los Saicos recorded six singles in 1964 and '65, but no albums at all. It was very mysterious. I used to play them for all my friends. I'd put the needle down and they'd say, "What is this?!" The band only played its own stuff, no covers. Their themes were a bit sinister: cemeteries, jails, executions, bombings and demolition. They even had their own Peruvian TV show. They were stars, and then they split up, quit and didn't play any more music. The bandmember we got in touch with lives a very wealthy life in Washington, D.C., where he works for NASA. He became an engineer. We've gotten many licensing requests for them. I'm very proud of this because we may never see anything as unique as Los Saicos again.

Lyres, Lyres, Lyres

I really worshipped the Lyres during my formative years when I was doing the fanzine, and I saw them live a few times. A gap opened between the punk explosion and grunge, and the Lyres were one of the more interesting bands to appear. It was not easy to deal with Jeff Connolly; he's a bit of a perfectionist [laughs]. But it's very good music and I'm glad we did it. No one else had reissued them except for Matador more than 15 years ago. I'm happy we've made them wider-known.