Nori-san, pictured here, though the same age as me, knows more about music now than I could ever know even with 2 entire lifetimes. Though initially, we didn’t exchange so many words, I could sense by his attentive and discerning curiosity of me, a lightness but directness in his voice, along with a sensibly understated style, details of which were jumping out at me (tucked-in-to-slim-navy chinos, a “Tunnel Records Shirt San Francisco” Tee, western leather belt and eastern neighborhood sandals, distinctive eyeglass frames and an inconspicuous black-on-black Ralph Lauren cap) that there was probably much more to Nori that even met the eye. Then produced an obscure “Singer’s and Players” reggae and dub record off the 99 Records Label which he, astonished I didn’t know, insisted I must. 

So 99 Records I would later find out was a New York indie label from the early 80s, home to musicians in the no-wave, post-punk, post-disco, and avant-garde scenes. Designer Gina Franklyn sold British fashions out of her shop “99”, located at 99 MacDougal Street in New York’s Greenwich Village and began dating Ed Bahlman, who sold independent singles out of the store. During trips to England, they brought back suitcases of indie punk, funk, and reggae music, particularly from Rough Trade. The store’s arty appeal was described as “a milieu with a very creative atmosphere.” Ed recruited his brother Bill Bahlman to work at 99. Bill was an in-house DJ in many NYC clubs, including Hurrah, Danceteria, and The Anvil, all famous for Rock-Disco, New Wave …and debauchery, frequented by every NYC artist from Basquiat to the Beastie Boys. 99 Records only ever released a handful of titles including Singers & Players, a reggae collective made up of a rotating cast of vocalists and musicians associated with Dub Pioneer, Adrian Sherwood.

After Nori gave me an abbreviated version of the explanation above, he next asked if I knew “On-U Records” which is yet another completely different, yet adjacent rabbit hole to down – Let me get my head around 99 first, Nori, then I’ll tap your, no doubt, endless wellspring of musical knowledge and appreciation for the next mental download. Finally, I had to ask if Nori was a giant Dub head or if it was just one of many musical genres he loves, which of course was his response. I asked him how many records he had – “About 5000”, he replied. Wow. 

I like to think I’m about as curious, discerning, and appreciative about music as they come, but then I meet somebody like Nori and I’m just blown away. There is about the art of making music, and then there’s something about the art of knowing or loving music, and sometimes, I’m just as inspired by somebody’s appreciation and ability to share music, as I am by somebody’s ability to make it. So with that, I’ll say thank you to Nori for not only for introducing me to Singers & Players and to 99 Records, or for giving me a better picture of NYC early 80’s New Wave / No Wave scene, but for inspiring me simply to know more, to reach further, and to appreciate more deeply. Thanks, Nori.

More Tokyo Record Style on the way…

PS. After meeting Nori san at General Store in Shimokitazawa, I bumped the very next day a Face Records in Miyashita Park! Small world! And he was sporting some different Ralph Lauren. Though I haven’t owned any RL in years, I’m a huge fan of the brand and said so to Nori. He said, “Ah, Ralph Lauren matches you well.” Awe shucks. Someday, I’ll shop there again.

Singers & Players – War Of Words
Label: 99 Records – 99-002LP
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album
Country: US
Released: Sep 1981
Genre: Reggae
Style: Reggae, Dub

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