Tag Archives: Hailu Mergia

The Best Albums of Winter 2018

quarterly report

The first three months of the year have already given us an abundance of great records—arguably more than one roundup can possibly include. The 25 albums on this list contain a whole universe of sounds, from pummelling drone to rollicking indie rock, from thought-provoking hip-hop to Spanish synthwave. These are the Best Albums of Winter 2018.

Read last year’s edition of “Best Albums of the Winter”

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Man of the Hour: The Resurrection of Jazz Legend Hailu Mergia

Hailu Mergia

Photo by Barka Fabianova

Leave it to Hailu Mergia, a musician of high aptitude and unflinching self-belief, to make an album like Lala Belu, a freewheeling odyssey of accordion solos, anthemic sing-alongs, and acoustic piano pieces. Throughout the album, the Ethiopian virtuoso combines a host of musical interests with both vibrancy and skill.

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Philophon Records’ “Local Raw Soul”: Reinvigoration, Not Reissues


Y Bayani and Baby Naa.

Listening through the catalogue of Berlin-based Philophon Records feels more like unearthing a rare batch of vintage African jazz-funk than the focused recreation of that well-loved genre. Philophon may be influenced by labels like Awesome Tapes From Africa and Buda Musique, but they take their restoration efforts a step further, creating new tracks and re-recording old ones in their own style. Label founder Max Weissenfeldt, formerly of acclaimed funk group Poets of Rhythm, describes Philophon’s sound as a “digital-analog hybrid.”

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A Guide to Awesome Tapes From Africa’s DIY Cassette Culture

DJ Katapila

DJ Katapila

Back in 2002, Awesome Tapes from Africa label founder Brian Shimkovitz was studying ethnomusicology when his research sent him to Ghana. “I was collecting a lot of music, and all during this time, it was a cassette-based music economy,” he says. “As a music freak grabbing lots of stuff for research, I was dealing with tapes out of necessity to begin with—as there were hardly any CDs, and they were expensive.”

The DIY cassette culture had exploded across West Africa in the early 1980s to fill the gaps in music distribution across the region. “The cassette format made it possible for smaller music groups to have something they could distribute and sell to their fellow language speakers across the region,” Shimkovitz says. “At the same time, it made it possible for them to get the music abroad quickly and cheaply.”

That resulted in thousands of DIY tapes being sold at markets and roadside stalls across the region. “Right up until the mid 2000s, the cassette was still on sale everywhere, and I was collecting all the time,” Shimkovitz says. “When I got back to New York, I had stacks of tapes and I wanted to share all this incredible music with other nerds. And I thought a blog was a good way to share the music with the world.”

He called the blog Awesome Tapes from Africa. “As soon as I started posting the music,” he recalls, “I got a bunch of responses so that really made me enthusiastic to make this music available for people outside of Africa.” The first tape he posted was one by a mysterious Ghanaian singer and producer by the name of Ata Kak. “The music on that tape was so surprising,” he says. “It kind of became my manifesto for the project—in terms of tracking down the artists and working with them on a deeper level.” Recorded in 1994, Ata Kak’s Obaa Sima LP is now available on cassette, CD, and vinyl on the Awesome Tapes from Africa label, alongside other releases of music that has appeared on the ever popular blog.

The blog and the label have become even more important as digital and mobile phone technology have revolutionized the African music industry. “When I cruise around different countries now, the tapes are really hard to find, and a lot of the music hasn’t been reissued on CD or vinyl, so there is a real danger of it being lost,” Shimkovitz says. “So I hope Awesome Tapes in Africa is creating avenues to grab listeners to appreciate all this incredible music. And as the records sell across the world—thanks to platforms like Bandcamp—and we start to book shows for these artists, we are hoping to make real progress in advancing their careers.” Here’s a guide to the label’s essential releases.

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