The digital revolution has been fantastic at providing a platform for niche interests to snowball into global events.
Take for instance Brian Shimkovitz’s little known blog The Hiplife Complex. Hiplife began ten years ago as a forum for Shimkovitz to feature recordings he had accumulated while travelling in Africa. His most beguiling find was perhaps an old cassette called Obaa Sima by a Ghanaian rapper named Ata Kak. Ata Kak’s music registered with Shimkovitz because it was unlike anything he’d heard before, yet distinctly shared structural styles of US rap music of the ‘90s. Ata Kak’s music is a fusion of traditional Ghanaian highlife sounds meshed with North American go-go influences, in turn, becoming what is now referred to as hiplife.
Shimkovitz’s bedroom project took on a new life once he returned home to New York City and realised that The Hiplife Complex was ready to become something even greater. The blog had enough avid followers demanding high quality reissues of the low bitrate cassette recordings Shimkovitz was uploading. Thus Shimkovitz began Awesome Tapes From Africa, a label that has evolved from its blogging origins into a proper distributor of high quality world music.
After a global effort, Shimkovitz strangely enough tracked Ata Kak down in Toronto, his home for the last twenty-five years. His real name being Yaw Atta-Owusu, Ata Kak had been playing in highlife bands in Germany before relocating to Canada.
Shimkovitz’s labour of love paid off duly as Ata Kak, surprised by the cult following his record courted, agreed to provide the DAT mixes so that the newly appointed mastering engineer, Jessica Thompson, could upgrade battered old recordings without compromising Obaa Sima’s rough and raw edges that aficionados desperately wanted preserved.
Hiplife has, in a way, gone seriously global in 2015 as tracks from Obaa Sima are even being played on some commercial British radio stations. What started as an esoteric music culture has, for a moment, gone international. It seems fairly obvious why that is because so many of Ata Kak’s tracks could easily find their place in the DJ set of a warehouse club in Chicago or played at a hipster underground event in London. Ata Kak’s music is swinging worldwide because it’s enormously cool yet also atypical. In short, it’s just great music.