Brian Shimkovitz is the Indiana Jones of African cassettes. He may not own a lasso or have a deep knowledge of ancient civilizations, but he would look dangerously handsome in a Harrison Ford fedora; poring over sub-Saharan TDKs with a magnifying glass. Brian spends his life writing about life-changing songs on his awesome Awesome Tapes From Africa blog; which you should visit.
Shimkovitz devotes his time to excavating Africa's diverse musical territories. All in the name of precious artefacts: fresh to death tapes. So I caught up with him to talk all things music from the motherland.
Did you expect it to do this well?
Raw collage and daring colour are what stick out to me in African cassette art. I like how the majority are portraits of the artist, sometimes in surprising poses or contexts. Always looking sharp. These cover designs are full of motion and often look like something from the distant past (even when it’s a Tanzanian bongo flava tape from 2003).
I think there are challenges that prevent the same kind of DIY approach of helping underground artists bubble up to the mainstream as efficiently as we have seen in the West. People have to pay to get their songs played on the radio. While it’s become easier to self-produce a record, it’s even more competitive to get the music heard outside one’s neighbourhood. Touring is almost impossible because of cost and logistics; and piracy is still making it hard for artists to see money from recordings.