Why buying CDs is a gift to myself this Christmas
Looking back on a year that changed us all, Kofo Ajala explains how music has gotten her through – and why she’s going back to buying CDs as a result.
23 Dec 2020
After a year like 2020, what do you ask for this Christmas? I’m still trying to figure that out.
In the grand scheme of things, this might seem like a pretty trivial thing to dedicate so much of my time to thinking about. But between protesting and lockdown purgatory, 2020 has been one long financial and emotional beat down. We not only endured the blows but made it to the end of a really hard year. And, for that alone, why can’t I fantasise about getting a “2020 didn’t break me” gift?
But that is easier said than done. Of course, thankfully, 2020 didn’t break all of us, but I think we can all agree that it changed us. We aren’t the people we were when 2019 ended. When I think about the gifts I want to receive and the things that I believe the universe owes me, all I really want is the chance to recalibrate and become better in tune with the person that 2020 has made out of me. But you can’t exactly wrap those things in a bow to be waiting for you under a Christmas tree. Or can you?
“With everything that has been thrown at me this year, music has gotten me through it”
With everything that has been thrown at me this year, music has gotten me through it. It’s reminded me of better times and had me daydreaming about those to come. Some of my favourite artists have helped me laugh and cry my way through this pandemic. But even though music has felt like a never-ending comfort to me, the music industry has been gripped in a debilitating choke hold by Covid-19. With live music coming to a complete stop, most artists have lost their main flow of income, relying on the tiny percentages they make from streaming. And with Brexit on the horizon, this might only get worse for British artists. I would love the chance to give back to those that have reminded me of who I am. So, I think I want to start collecting CDs.
I’m not going to pretend that I was a big CD collector back in the day. The only two CDs I ever owned were a bootleg Bratz CD which bizarrely had ‘I Will Survive’ by Diana Ross on it, and another with Janet Jackson’s greatest hits. But I remember what it meant to own them. I remember the gospel songs stacked high by the stereo in our living room. At the time it seemed like the pile was tall enough to collapse on you.
“CDs gave music a material existence that seemed like an extension of the time and place you received them”
I remember when we would go to Nigerian weddings and CDs of pirated love songs would be given out as parting gifts with the bride and grooms’ faces on them. Without sounding too romantic, CDs gave music a material existence that seemed like an extension of the time and place you received them.
Music wasn’t just something connected to time in your life, but to the shelves in your rooms and the space on your wall. And while songs and artists may get lost in the never-ending ether of “Discover” pages on streaming apps, CDs are a reminder of a time when music was such an important part of you that you just had to physically own it. After a year like 2020, a physical copy of your favourite album might just be the thing you need to remind you of who you are and what you’ve been through. And I am here to campaign for their ultimate revival.
The only CD I’ve ever gone out of my way to own was Janet Jackson’s 2009 The Best CD. The first time I saw the TV advert for it, I just knew that I had to have it. And I made sure that my dad knew it too – I don’t think I’ve campaigned for anything so hard before. I was a straight-up menace for weeks, looking up at my dad with huge googly eyes every time I saw it on the TV. To this day I don’t really know why. It wasn’t like 10-year-old me was a die-hard Janet stan. The first thing that always comes to mind is that advert. I remember the word JANET, written bold and bright in red, with a black and white photo of Janet as the focal point of the packaging.
I remember playing ‘The Best Things in Life are Free’ over and over again. Maybe part of the beauty of CDs was that all it took was one song to have you convinced that it was something worth spending money on.
“CDs are a reminder of a time when music was such an important part of you that you just had to physically own it”
From the moment I received that CD it was all I would play. I remember “MC-ing” my sister’s fifth birthday and playing Janet on repeat. At a time in my life when things would get tossed and thrown, I don’t think there was anything I looked after better than that CD. I couldn’t afford a single scratch. Thinking about it now, I think my 10-year-old self would be so disappointed in me for losing that CD. It would probably shock her to find out that I remember hardly any of the songs. She might even go as far as to resent me for not even being able to recall the day I lost it.
I sometimes wonder how my relationship to music and CDs may have changed if I held on to it. Maybe I would have become that die-hard Janet stan, or have a stack of CDs so high it was a hazard. It breaks my heart to think that such an important part of me feels lost, leaving me only with the memory of holding it in my hand or dancing a round in a recollection that now seems muted.
After a year as defining in my life as 2020, the music that got me through deserves to be memorialised.