Check out his first official release, Na Hawa Doumbia’s La Grande Cantatrice Mailenne Vol.3 CD. We’ll have limited edition tapes available on the site this week.
We had the chance to catch up with Brian aka Awesome Tapes and got to know what he was doing a little better…
What brought you to Africa initially?
I was studying ethnomusicology and wanted to have the chance to check out popular music in an urban setting somewhere far away. I had never traveled outside America before so going to Ghana was really eye-opening. I was astounded by all the different musical movements in the capital Accra–hiplife, gospel, neo-traditional music.
How’d you get started collecting tapes from Africa?
When I first visited in 2002 there were not a lot of CDs. In the process of picking up music that people told me about or that I heard on the radio, I mostly found cassettes. I wanted to hear a lot of music so I spent a lot of time digging through the market stalls and talking to the guy in the small kiosks selling music. People were using cassettes everywhere at the time, and many still use them today. In the time since my last visit in 2005 the CD has taken hold, along with MP3s, and people are using their mobile phones to trade music. But still, almost every record that comes out is available on cassette.
Where do you get the tapes? Do they come mainly from your time in Africa or have you gotten more outside of Africa?
At first my collection was limited to what I picked up while in West Africa. Ever since I started the blog people have been sending me tapes from their travels. I find cassettes in African groceries and various shops around Bedstuy and Flatbush. I have been lucky enough to absorb a few large collections of others who wanted to get rid of their boxes. Now I have a storage space filled with tapes.
Was it a natural progression for you to start Awesome Tapes From Africa or were there some outside forces that lead to its existence?
I was feeling like I needed something to do when I wasn’t working at my job in NYC. So I wanted to share some of the more bizarre and wonderful tapes I had sitting in a box under my bed. They needed to be heard! One day I just decided I was going to start a blog called Awesome Tapes From Africa.
The majority of what you post on the blog seems to stay away from the Highlife and Nigerian funk that has seen a lot of exposure lately. Is this intentional or just a coincidence?
The blog is meant to shed light on stuff that isn’t covered by the excellent funk and afro-rock and afro-psychedelic releases that have been coming out, as well as what’s typically available at Amazon. I feel like there’s so much crazy fascinating stuff out there that people could get into.
What was your experience like tracking down Na Hawa Doumbia? Have you tried get in touch with anyone else just off of the information on a tape insert?
The biggest challenge of evolving the blog into a label has been tracking down the artists. Nahawa Doumbia was relatively easy since she’s well known. Language differences was another thing all together. I have spent many hours trying to find other artists by looking at whatever details I can find on the tape label and online (which is usually slim). Some of my biggest dream projects probably won’t happen because I can’t find the artist.
Are there any other projects in the works?
The next release coming out on Awesome Tapes From Africa the label is by Bola, an artist from Northern Ghana. He plays the kologo (a two-stringed lute) and just jams super hard over these crushing beats and idiosyncratic keyboards. Bola’s record will be out on vinyl, CD, mp3 and limited edition cassette in early April.
You talk about finding the mother lode of Nigerian Fuji tapes on the podcast. Do you have any other unusual digging stories?
I got an offer from a long time collector and fellow African music nerd to grab his entire collection (hundred and hundreds of tapes) not too long ago. That pretty much changed my life. I had to rent an SUV and drive down to DC to get them. Not as intrepid as searching endless dusty lanes in Tamale, Ghana looking for a specific Dagomba praise singer’s recordings but it took a lot of effort.
Are a lot of promoters surprised when you show up with tape decks? What has the audience’s response been like?
DJing cassettes has surprised and amused some people, especially tech personnel at gigs. It’s absolutely hilarious watching people do a double-take when they see what I’m doing. The actual technique of mixing using two tape decks keeps me busy but there are a lot of questions from people while I am doing it. It always seems fun and weird to the audience.
How have people in Africa reacted to what you are doing?
I get emails and blog comments from a lot of Africans living outside Africa. There’s definitely some excitement when people come across something they have not heard since their childhood back home. I unfortunately don’t hear from tons of Africans in Africa because I think most people aren’t checking out less mainstream foreign music blogs like Awesome Tapes. I see form the traffic that a few people across the continent are visiting, and I have never received any negative feedback from them.
what were you like in high school?
In high school I was that band nerd who knew all the kids who sold drugs.
favorite places to eat
Mitchell’s Fish & Chips
Big Wong King
5 top listening songs / albums
Virgo Four Resurrection
Lil B 6 Kiss
Kourosh Back From The Brink: Pre-Revolution Psychedelic Rock from Iran
Magic Touch Clubhouse
word on the street is you like asian girls, true?
I like all kinds of girls but my all-time favorite is my Persian girlfriend.