Label Focus

Awesome Tapes From Africa

Since 2006, Brian Shimkovitz's Awesome Tapes From Africa blog has been shedding light on obscure and wonderful sounds from across the continent. As a DJ he brings the blog to life with 2-3 hour sets blending folkloric pop, left-field dancefloor gems and hip-hop bangers he's collected on African marketplace finds. Travelling from club to festival to DIY space, Awesome Tapes From Africa DJ sets celebrate the music and musicians whose cassettes Shimkovitz has collected over the years.

In 2011 ATFA developed into a critically acclaimed vinyl label, re-releasing records by African artists including Bola, Dur-Dur Band, Hailu Mergia and Penny Penny. The label plays an essential role in furthering Brian's mission to build an international audience for African music through touring and re-issues.

Drawing on his vast African cassette archive—which includes highlife, fuji, benga, tsonga disco, soukous, hip-hop, rhumba and ethio-soul, among countless other genres—his role now combines that of educator, promoter and selector, finding him DJ across the world. HIs DJ sets on twin tape decks explore deep, regional sounds using analog-anchored agility not heard/seen anywhere else.

Five Minutes with Brian Shimkovitz

Brian Shimkovitz, owner and operator of Awesome Tapes From Africa

How did Awesome Tapes from Africa begin?

Awesome Tapes From Africa got started after I had been running this blog of the same name for several years. I was sharing complete cassettes of music you can’t find easily and trying to show what variety there is out there if go outside the typical world music releases we get over here.

What were the biggest challenges you faced starting a record label?

For this label the hardest thing is located the artists who want to work with. Some of them are very difficult to track down and even once we do they may not be interested in working with us. There are many, many fun ideas for releases that may never get done because of the difficulty in locating usable music in terms of audio source and/or attaining the rights.

Can you tell us a little about one of your most recent projects?

The newest release on the label is by Hailu Mergia who pays the keyboard and accordion in an Ethiopian jazz trio setting. He has been playing for many decades and this new recording is his first new set of songs in a while. It took a couple years to get it together because of recording challenges. Hailu finished it off by himself in DC after initial recording in London and delivered something so special. It’s getting great feedback from his fans because it sounds like how he plays live, I think. The band features Tony Buck on drums and Mike Majkowski on bass. The album cover is really lovely, it was drawn live on an iPad during one of his show in Stockholm by Jenny Soep.

Tough one here - can you pick out five albums or pieces of music that you feel define the label?

Ata Kak “Obaa Sima"—First tape we posted on the blog and the most well known release we’ve done. Also the hardest artist to locate.
Dur-Dur Band “Vol. 5”—Very special funky band from Somalia who made so many incredible songs back in the day
Om Alec Khaoli—Soulful dancefloor jammers from 1980s South Africa that never get old for me
SK Kakraba “Songs of Paapieye”—Beautiful and deep instrumental solo recording by this xylophone master from Northern Ghana
Aby Ngana Diop “Liital”—Absolutely one of my all time favorite recordings of any kind of music, the female vocalist runs through traditional songs with a heavy drum ensemble and chorus of backing singers.

What can we expect from Awesome Tapes from Africa in 2018 and beyond?

In 2018 we have some more releases ready to share, including South Africa electronic mbaqanga from the 1980s and an album of country-folk music from Ivory Coast.