The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Awesome Tapes From Africa? Yes, Please!

By Margaret Eby

  • Print
  • Share Share

Where do you go if you want to find Tanzanian bongo music? What about Tsongi disco? South African synth-pop? Unless you happen to be an ethnomusicologist or visiting Africa, the answer is likely the website Awesome Tapes from Africa.

Brian Shimkovitz, aka DJ Awesome Tapes from Africa, an ethnomusicology scholar and avid music collector, started the minimalist blog after returning to the U.S. after a year in Ghana. During his time studying the origins of hip-hop in Africa, Shimkovitz — who will be performing August 2 at the 92YTribeca along with Jeremiah Lockwood and The Sway Machinery — accumulated a sizable array of cassettes, still the main medium of most African musicians. “I was picking up things I knew you couldn’t hear at home, some weird stuff and some things that were straight ahead.” Shimkovitz said. “I just knew I wanted to share it.” As Shimkovitz once posted, “Maybe globalization ain’t that bad.”

The format of Awesome Tapes is simple: a scan of the tape’s often vividly odd artwork, a track listing if Shimkovitz can find one, and a sentence or two on why he recommends it. The site swiftly gained a cult following, and with it dozens of African music enthusiast commenters who added tidbits of information on the artist or musical genre. His first posts offered more description of the music, now “Often I know hardly anything about the music, aside from what’s there,” Shimkovitz said. “It’s wholly unacademic, but it’s still a major learning process.”

The popularity of the site led to Shimkovitz taking his cassettes on the road, spinning Malian dance jams and Senegalses rap at festivals and clubs. Shimkovitz’ appeal as a DJ is partly the obscurity of his sources, but also their analog format. “People have been very interested and supportive of tapes, particularly the experimental and noise music community,” Shimkovitz said. His original stockpile of tapes has been supplemented by fans who send him things in the mail, or point him towards different sources. Shimkovitz regularly goes trolling through African grocery stores in New York and picks up new tapes whenever he travels, based on their artwork or through other hints.

Shimkovitz’ next step is an Awesome Tapes record label, from which he hopes to distribute some of the artists he’s gotten to know through cassettes. But the hunt for more musical treasures is ongoing. “One of the most joyous things is when you find an artist or musical movement that has absolutely no results on Google,” Shimkovitz laughed. “Ungoogleable in 2011 is a real feat.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Margaret Eby, Brian Shimkovitz, Awesome Tapes From Africa, African Music

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.