On my way out of the city, I asked the taxi driver if he had a tape instead of listening to the radio. Not only did he have a tape, he had a huge shopping bag of mix tapes and a veritable doctoral thesis on African music.
The best music in all of Africa, he said, is in Mali. He's from Ghana himself, but even the Ghanaians have to admit Mali is the best. The tape we had in at the moment was a mix of tracks by Toumani DiabatÈ and Ballake Sissoko. DiabatÈ is the "prince of the kora, a 21-string harp/lute combo. (His father, Sidiki DiabatÈ is the king of the kora and Sissoko's father Djelimadi is also a kora master.) New Ancient Strings is a collaboration of these two sons.
I'm in the backseat, frantically taking notes on my computer-printed boarding pass while this professor of afropop explains the nuances and development of afropop music. I'll add more when I get back in front of my own computer, but the encounter rekindled a project I'd begun several years ago but abandoned: TaxiMusic.net. (It started as taximusic.org, but then I let the domain expire.)
I'd been in the habit of asking taxi drivers wherever I went if they had a tape we could listen to. The response was almost always the same: "you don't want to listen to it; it's ______ (Punjabi, Urdu, Island, Ethiopian) music," followed by my standard reply, "But where else can I hear ______ music, except in a taxi?" Then the floodgates would open on an enthusiastic explanation of what the music means. ("She loves the boy but cannot meet him." "This is the Koran; it's a prayer." etc.) Somewhere in our storage unit is a shopping bag of my own, full of tapes I bought from taxi drivers over the years before weblogs and winamp.
Well, I'm back in the habit again. So if anyone has an easy solution for ripping cassette-to-mp3, please let me know, because it seems like high time to build some bridges with the guy in the front seat and share some great music. Happy new year.
[update: even with my kumbaya ending, thanks for all your comments and suggestions. I'm going to take this project back from the lazyweb as soon as I get back from this goofball cruise I'm on.]