Posted by Mikael Ohlin
What we do with our free time is generally up to us, that’s why it’s called free time. Music publicist Brian Shimkovitz spends some of his loading up more or less obscure tapes from Africa on his blog. A good thing it is, since some of them are awesome. The name of the blog? Well, Awesome tapes from Africa, of course. A musical omnivore from Brooklyn that got into African music in high school, Shimkovitz’ ambition is just to put the music out there, for more people to enjoy. On this blog you won’t find essays on the definitions of Tsonga Disco or learn why your life isn’t worth living until you’ve heard Senegalese sabar drums pound out drum n’ bass rhythms. Instead there is just a short description of the tape in question and maybe a related link or Brian’s latest DJ dates. As you will find out when you listen to the music, that’s enough.
How did you get started?
I first went to Ghana when I was a studying ethnomusicology at university for a study abroad trip and when I came to Accra I learned about hiplife, the local rap music, and the music industry in general. I decided to try to go back, so I got a Fulbright research grant to go back for one year and study the hiplife movement. I went so deep into hiplife and learned so much, but I didn’t really want to just write a few articles for a few ethnomusicologists to look at. I wanted to do something more, in terms of getting the music out there and sharing it with people. So one day I was sitting in my house in Brooklyn and decided to start this blog. I kept it going pretty consistently for a while and almost immediately people from different music scenes and backgrounds were interested in it, which gave me a lot of encouragement.
What do you want to do with your blog?
A jumping off point for part of my mission is that nobody is really the expert on anything. Yet everybody has the capacity be an expert with the help of the Internet and so far as they try. So I just want to make it really open to everybody. Like a really approachable unpretentious way to check out some music from far away places. I’m not an expert, I just have music from maybe 15 to 20 countries on the blog, but that’s just scratching the surface. That’s a very, very, very small percentage of what’s out there, in terms of talent. Sometimes I find myself in an awkward position, because I don’t know everything about this music and I can’t claim to, yet because of how long I’ve been doing the blog and how much stuff is up there, people sometimes think I’m a walking encyclopedia.
And what about the DJ-ing?
It is just a very nice thing to do on the weekend, it’s been a really fun thing DJ-ing more in New York the last couple of years, just to meet people, do stuff, be a part of a something. I don’t want to be a professional DJ, just doing that. I have other things I rather do, it’s just like: it’s fun to bring the blog to life and let people, you know, interact with it. I play off of cassettes and MP3s of the cassettes. Every single thing I play is available on the blog, which is a really fun thing, I think. Because most of these blog are fun and interesting but you just kind of look at them at the web and then you turn it off. But people want to hear this music live and people like dancing. Here in Brooklyn a lot of musicians are influenced by the music, so they come out to check it out the music and they seem really into it so it’s exciting
What’s your favorite tape on the blog?
My favorite tape it has to still be Ata Kak, the very first tape that I posted on there. It’s the whole reason why I needed to bring this stuff out, because it’s just too fucking weird and interesting to just let sit in a box in my room. I knew nothing about Ata Kak and I still know very, very little about this guy, but the music is insane. If you’re in to early house music, it conjures up a lot of that very lo-fi synthesized sound with a great dance beat and people love that music. I didn’t know if anybody else was going to like it, but I like it. I’m music nerd and I like weird shit, so I posted it up there and since it has become a sensation, people all over the world are emailing me about this guy, Ata Kak. I play the music anywhere I go and people are like tearing the roof off.
What are your plans with the blog next?
Keep doing it. I don’t have any major plans, I have some ideas for some things, but it’s all to early to discuss. I really just enjoy playing the music and watching people get excited about these otherwise hard-to-find sounds.