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Vicarious West African Travel

We’ve fast-forwarded directly from summer to winter here in Western Mass, skipping autumn entirely. Or perhaps I just missed it while on the road. I’ve been home ten days now, and it’s snowed three of them – not enough to accumulate, but enough to remind you that the cold is coming, and soon. The wood is stacked, the sweaters are out of the attic, and the weather report threatens another sprinkling of snow tonight.

Which may explain why I’m surfing the blogs of folks visiting West Africa. My friend Jan Chipchase is leading one of his legendary anthropological expeditions to Accra, Ghana, looking for interesting and creative local uses for technology for his colleagues at Nokia (and, fortunately, for anyone who reads his excellent blog.) So far, he’s found the mysteries of West African video compression, the world’s least expensive razor, and the wonders of West African standard time. Can’t wait to see what his eyes turn up next encountering this country for the first time.

A more seasoned pair of outsider eyes belongs to Frank in Conakry, the author of Voodoo Funk, an amazing blog about vinyl archeology in West Africa. According to his profile, Frank’s a DJ who decided to go to the roots of obscure funk tracks – record stores, recording studios and living rooms around West Africa where local collectors have been willing to sell him some of their gems. Frank is digitizing these old recordings and releasing mixes, usually recorded on CD-R and mailed to friends in Europe to post from higher bandwidth locations.

The mixes are hot as hell and should be required listening for anyone who has a thing for funk, Fela or strange corners of Africa folk. (For a good intro to what his interests are all about, check out the three tracks in this post.) But his photos and stories leave me longing for a life where I can visit Cotonou, put an ad on the local radio station, invite people to come share a beer with me at the local hotel while spinning their old records on a portable turntable…

Which, of course, raises the issue: why not?

1 thought on “Vicarious West African Travel”

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