An interview with Awesome Tapes From Africa’s Brian Shimkovitz
by Nobo McManus
Brian Shimkovitz has been sharing his collection of rare tapes and vinyl from all over the world for a few years now (totally free online) but he also DJ’s them live all over the world, whether it’s in Brooklyn, Paris, or Ghana. He does it all simply because he wants more people to hear all this incredible music he scours the earth for, and he’s good at it. I found out about Awesome Tapes From Africa from a guy who had just spent the last three months living in a cave in the middle of the Arizona desert. Seriously. If you’ve got some funky Afrobeat you think is rare, send it his way. But odds are he’s already got it. I caught Brian while he was on tour in Europe and got to ask him some questions.
Record Pressing: So for those who don’t know, what is awesometapesfromafrica.blogspot.com?
Brian Shimkovitz: Awesome Tapes from Africa is a place to listen to and download interesting music you might not hear elsewhere.
RP: Very cool, and how did it all begin, what led you to global crate digging?
BS: I started doing the blog as a way to share the bizarre and fascinating music I picked up while living and studying in Ghana on two separate trips a few years ago. Since then I have been finding tapes around NYC and Paris and people have been sending them to me. I search all over Brooklyn for tapes, but in West Africa shops are all over the place. It’s a lot of fun talking to the men selling music because they let you listen whatever you want.
RP: Do you remember the first vinyl you got from Africa?
BS: I found a bunch of Nigerian Juju records for cheap when I was in college just visiting record stores here in NYC. They were dusty but amazing.
RP: So what does your vinyl collection look like today?
BS: I mostly collect and listen to disco and early house and techno 12″s.
RP: How does the sound quality of all these recordings compare from a cassette or CD to a vinyl?
BS: Some of the cassettes sound great, others are poorly duplicated or were taped from a record (so you can often hear the needle crackle). When I DJ this music it definitely sounds different from someone DJ’ing using super clean vinyl or CDs.
RP: What’s the perception on vinyl out there? Is it an exhausted medium, or are artists still pressing them today?
BS: There aren’t any record pressing plants in West Africa any more, to my knowledge. There used to be a big music industry with most of the major labels running businesses there, but several factors contributed to their ultimate failure, including the rise of cassettes as a medium. Piracy is rampant in Africa.
RP: I heard you brought tons of American records to Ghana to trade, what was the idea behind that and how did it go?
BS: Well, I didn’t bring tons but I brought a few stacks and it was good fun sharing them with dudes I hung out with there. I traded some for African records because more younger guys are figuring out some foreigners are into collecting them. I traded a Nas record for an old super trashed Fela album I don’t have.
RP: Is there any vinyl out there that you’re still dying to get your hands on?
BS: I would love to find some vinyl of Boubacar Traore’s recordings.
RP: So to wrap things up, when’s your next trip?
BS: I hope to visit West Africa again in September. But who knows! It’s a long expensive journey.