Brian Shimkovitz of Awesome Tapes from Africa live at HHV Store

Ethnomusicologist Brian Shimkovitz has been searching for new and exciting sounds from the African continent for 20 years. With his label and blog Awesome Tapes from Africa he brings this music into our homes. And sometimes he even does the DJing himself, with the help of tapes, of course, like on 16 May 2024 at the HHV store in Berlin.

»I’m a white guy from America,« says Brian Shimkovitz. »That’s why the African artists are my boss.« As the founder of Awesome Tapes From Africa, he should be saying such things. That Shimkovitz takes them as seriously as his beard (which is very seriously!) is important. After all, it could come across as funny—the Berlin-based gringo with a suitcase full of highlife tunes from Cameroon and Niger and almost all the other 52 countries in Africa.

Shimkovitz is one of the good guys. And his label is one of the best for good music that doesn’t sound like Eurovision Europe. Why is that? Shimkovitz knows his stuff. He has a degree in ethnomusicology. In his mid-20s, he also spent time in Ghana, where he researched the hip-hop scene and, in 2006, started the blog he’s known for: Awesome Tapes from Africa.

The blog became a label in 2011. The 50th release is about to come out. With the previous 49, Shimkovitz had already set out to create a »new paradigm«, replacing the shady deals of the music industry’s past with fair, transparent pay. Keeping the rights with the artists. And telling their stories. In short, to be decent and respectful overall—you can read all about it on his website.

Power struggle with the balance of power

»I don’t want to pretend that I’m able to represent Africa,« says Shimkovitz cautiously. »I am very aware of the balance of power between me from the global North and the artists from the South.« Because, in retrospect, »I try to use my privileges in the so-called First World to give others access to the global music market«.

A glance at the back catalogue of Awesome Tapes From Africa shows just what that looks like: there are many re-releases, but also new, surprising ones like those from DJ Black Low. According to Shimkovitz, his album was one of the first amapiano releases on vinyl. There are other reasons why Shimkovitz prefers to play cassettes when he DJs. »I have over 5,000 of them. Besides, you really have to get to grips with the music you play.«

Brian Shimkovitz explains in this post how he mixes with cassettes