Living the Hiplife
Awesome Tapes from Africa gives unheard music a second life
By Thomas Fawcett,
3:16PM, Thu. Apr. 10, 2008
“Like a warped Prince protégé from Africa by way of 1986 Chicago.” That’s how Brooklyn blogger Brian Shimkovitz introduces Ata Kak, the Ghanaian rapper/singer who has become a cult favorite on his audio blog, Awesome Tapes from Africa. Many audio blogs aim to spread the word about unknown musicians while simply parroting the alpha-bloggers and tastemakers of the moment. Not Shimkovitz. This is the real deal.
Mining through the archives I stumbled across a few familiar names: Hugh Masekela, King Sunny Ade, and Ali Farka Touré. But the bulk is cassette curio you won’t find on Waterloo's world music rack. Ghanaian gospel, Ethiopian funk, Kenyan hip-hop, and hyperlocal genres like hiplife, a fusion of Nigerian highlife and hip-hop.
The cover art is nearly as fascinating as the music. A tape from Faiza Ahmed is graced with the photo of a presumably Egyptian woman looking remarkably like Dolly Parton while Ouedraogo Iassaka from Burkina Faso is decked out in a headdress stitched together from the local currency. That’s ballin’!
The music has been digitized from cassette tapes, most of which were purchased from street vendors throughout Africa, and are available either as individual tracks or entire sides. Warning: This site will eat up many hours of your day and megabytes on your hard drive.