For eight years, Awesome Tapes From Africa founder Brian Shimkovitz embarked on a quest to find Ata Kak after he came across the artist’s 1993 casette tape, Obaa Sima, while he was living and studying music in Ghana. Enamored by its “frenetic leftfield rap madness,” Shimkovitz helped develop a cult-like internet fandom for the musician named Yaw Atta-Owuse. Ultimately, Shimkovitz’s determination led him to Ata Kak, rekindled the dance icon’s interest in writing music, and resulted in the documentary that can be viewed below.
Shimkovitz recently spoke with Noisey, in which he explains why Ata Kak never followed up his debut casette, and how the artist remained an enigma for so long.
“The record didn’t sell anything, and he came back to Ghana in 1996 or so and needed to make money,” Shimkovitz says. “He bought a bore-hole drilling machine to drill wells, and then the machinery broke and was unfixable. He had been unemployed for many, many years. Me and the super-brilliant booking agent in the U.K. spent an enormous amount of effort getting him visas. One reason you don’t see West African musicians performing in North America is because it’s almost impossible to get them visas. In the U.K. it’s a little easier but not much. You have to be making a lot of money and have a lot of shows booked.”
Check out one of Ata Kak’s defining tracks: