Published on
Updated on 

Aki Abe and Cosmos Records


Let's discover Cosmos Records, Toronto's unique vinyl store opened by Aki Abe in 1998, focusing on funk, soul, hip-hop, and Japanese City Pop. Abe's early ventures in the U.S. record scene inspired Cosmos' creation, positioning it as a community hub and a haven for rare finds.

Aki, what inspired you to open Cosmos Records, and how did you envision its role in the city's music scene?

In the early 1990's my friend who owned a record shop called DMR in Japan asked if I can be a translator for him when he goes on buying trips to the United States. Without phones or internet they needed someone who can be resourceful looking for spots to find records. We drove to pretty much every city in the States looking for vintage records and this is how I learned the trade. At that time used record stores did not curate whatsoever a shop was just a pile of general records.

View post on Instagram

When I opened Cosmos Records in 1998 we incorporated a listening booth to encourage digging and envisioned finding the right sound for each of our customers at every stop at our shop. The DJ scene in Toronto was booming at the time and we were able to supply the tools they needed.

You've been referred to as the "Elder Sage of the Funk." Could you share what initially attracted you to genres such as funk, soul, hip-hop, and Japanese City Pop, and why you decided to focus on these within your store?

I had no idea people think of us like that it's very humbling. Disco, soul, and funk were the music sampled during the era of Acid Jazz so naturally I leaned towards finding more of it and unearthing at each trip to the States. Anything I didn't recognize I made sure to listen to it and over 30 years I learned a lot. Japanese City Pop for us was what we all listened to in high school we call it 'seishun ongaku' equivalent to Culture Club and Wham in the 80's for Westerners. Since we are an all Japanese staffed shop we just always stocked it, we had no idea it would become so popular. For a small shop like ours we had to focus on lesser known genres to compete with larger retail record shops. We don't have the budget to go head to head with bigger stores so finding a niche came out of necessity. Over time we found that to be known for something was key to our survival. Hype is the worst thing for retail so we try not to be trendy as much as possible for our longevity.

Cosmos Records is noted for being more than a mere retail space, evolving into a vibrant community hub. How have you managed to foster this sense of community within the store, and why do you think it's crucial for Cosmos Records to maintain this aspect?

I consider our shop to be my second apartment it has all my junk and toys I've collected over the years. It's a comfort space and we hope that translates to the community being able to think of our space for anything related to life, music, and records being in your living room. We've had local artists use the space for mini sets and concerts to customers sleeping over with their sleeping bags simply because they wanted to be around records. We want to be part of what's going on in the streets, I think that's what a community is founded on.

Can you explain your process for curating such a diverse and exceptional inventory, particularly when it comes to securing rare finds and original pressings?

I used to drive around cities in the US looking for records for the shop. This usually took around 2 weeks so at the beginning we would close every month for a couple of weeks looking for inventory. Eventually this was not sustainable so we set up a permanent digging spot in Ohio managed by my business partner. We focused on the rust belt since it had a wealth of blue collar art that was mostly undiscovered. We love the music that came out of workmanship, hard fought pride, truth without ego.

Basically music made before being incorporated or money driven. Those are rare and we consider them artifacts which was what drove us to seek out the music we carry at the shop now, jazz, soul, latin, brazilian, and psych rock. In northern Ohio we are everywhere where there are records to be found on the daily. You just have to love it to be relentless.

Do you have any unforgettable stories or experiences related to securing a rare or highly coveted record for Cosmos Records that you could share with us?

For the last 25 years we've bought approximately two to 3 collections every week so the math says over 4000 record collections. We've never sold on the internet since we didn't have the option back then and we don't like to change what's not broken so we're an off the grid shop. So all the collections we bought are through flyers, door handles, advertisement in shops and restaurants.

My partner Mazi is a real sociologist he understood that music has a link between socio ethnicity and economics in America especially in the mid west. Based on this about 20 years ago we started advertising in the black muslim restaurants, laundry mats and coffee shops in targeted districts. One call we got was from a Mosque that had jazz records. The person living there called us to say that they have a record collection they would like to sell. One thing we like to do when we see a collection is be on time. When you're late you lose the leverage when negotiating. The collection was beautiful and full of Pharoah Sanders, Black Jazz and black islamic records.

View post on Instagram

That was when we discovered Black Unity Trio. It was a record we've never seen and the label had the Islamic Crescent Moon symbol on it which struck our interest. Documentation of the album was little to nothing at the time but when we asked around we found this was the first recording of Abdul Wadud under the born name Ron DeVaughn. For jazz enthusiasts it was a big deal at the time since Wadud was a genius celloist. There are many short stories we can share about the collections we bought but one thing for sure we were always punctual.

For someone new to vinyl collecting, what advice would you give them to start their collection, and how can Cosmos Records assist in their journey?

For someone starting a record collection I would say don't worry too much about the rarity of the object. I say object because music only has material value when it's an object. If the music is good it doesn't really matter how much it's worth. It only matters how much it's worth to you. Whatever you love about record collecting whether you enjoy the social aspect of it with your friends or diving deep into the unknown we guarantee it will add something positive to your life.

View post on Instagram

Cosmos Records profile: