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Musical Archeology

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There’s always an innate sense of exploration while sifting through the bins and shelves of a record store. They usually have an abstruse range of artists and genres to navigate through. And, while you’re bound to come across a familiar sight, there’s usually a music-savvy person in staff to guide you in case you get lost. In the end, odds are that you’ll come across something that tickles your fancy, making the whole experience worthwhile for the average Joe. However, for music collectors and audiophiles, a record shop stop is more of an obligation. It offers them a chance to dig deeper into music.

“It’s a bit of a vice,” points out María José Salguero, a Salvadorian woman who’s been running a record store in Guatemala City alongside her husband for the past four months. “It’s not a bad vice, however. It’s not something that will consume you, but it will certainly consume your money. But, in the long run, if you take good care of them and want to sell them, it’s more of an investment. They don’t lose value.”

A man looks through the records at a store in Guatemala City. Photo: Juan L. Toledo Wurmser/Comvite

Mrs. Salguero and her husband, Rubén Rangel, have been collecting music for a long time. Eventually, their collection grew so large that they began selling some of their records. “It was mainly to get more money to keep buying more records for ourselves,” explains Mr. Rangel, who is originally from México. This led them to set up a store in Rangel’s native country.

Ruben Rangel has always had a penchant for collecting unknown music. “I’ve always looked beyond all genres. I began with Mexican bands, looking for recordings done by private or unknown labels,” he says. His career as a music festival promoter then led him to develop a taste for digging out old Jamaican music. Eventually, his wife’s fondness for 1960s and 1970s pop music from Central America rubbed off on him, which mixed nicely with his thing for collecting records. “When I was just starting, I would go visit her in El Salvador. I began looking for records, and I would find very interesting bands. From singles to LPs. And I started coming across things that weren’t documented in magazines or in the internet,” he continues.

He knew that he had just come across something special. And so, the couple started a seven-year journey through Central America to track down the region’s unknown music, taking the store with them wherever they go. “It’s a lot of research work. It’s musical archeology,” he says.

A man reads an album cover at a record store in Guatemala City. Photo: Juan L. Toledo Wurmser/Comvite

Their research begins by asking locals about the different artists of days past, and referring to old newspapers from the country in which they’re currently in. For instance, when they were in El Salvador, they spent nearly five months frequenting the national library to check every newspaper from 1964 to 1971. “Every day, each of us would cover about three or four months out of a single year,” Mr. Rangel recalls. “It takes us about six months to go through seven years of newspapers.”

The couple also checks the storage rooms of old radio stations. Back in the days before YouTube and streaming services were a thing, garage bands trying to make it big would send singles to radio stations to see if they would get some airplay. According to Mr. Rangel, a lot of these singles were made for promotion purposes only, so many of them never even hit the stores, and were thrown in the storage rooms of radio stations across the region.

A man sets up a single to be played on a turntable. Photo: Juan L. Toledo Wurmser/Comvite

After identifying the artists and finding their music, the couple begins selecting the most interesting music that they found during their scavenger hunt. “Afterwards, we look up the artists or their family,” Mr. Rangel continues. “We are looking to get all the licenses to edit them with a record label in Barcelona. So, we track them down and negotiate the rights and royalties to be able to legally release the music in Spain.”

Their research labour has proved fruitful so far: the couple has found between 600 and 700 singles and LPs from across Central America, and are now preparing to release their first album. “It’s all music by a man named Emilio Aparicio,” explains Mr. Rangel. “He was the forefather of electronic music in Central America. Possibly, of all Latin America.”

The couple will remain in Guatemala for the next five or six months before taking their shop back to Mexico. Though their task is arduous, the need to give proper recognition to the talented artists of days past is what motivates them to keep on keeping on. “A lot of these musicians did some pretty interesting stuff back in their day,” he concludes. “They may not have accomplished a whole lot in terms of fame or success, so their work’s almost completely lost. If they didn’t get the recognition they deserved back then, it’s less likely to happen now that nobody knows who they were. So, for us, it’s an interesting task. It’s completely worth it.”

Ruben Rangel and María José Salguero’s record store, Discodelic, in zone 1 of Guatemala City. Photo: Juan L. Toledo Wurmser/Comvite

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