Reactor

Music from the Sahara’s Cellphone Music Scene

by An Xiao on January 28, 2013

sahelsounds

LOS ANGELES — In places like the US and Korea, it can be easy to rely entirely on the internet. Upload something to Dropbox, download it to your server, let it live on the cloud. But in many parts of the world with unreliable or censored internets, people rely on USB sticks and SD cards to transfer information.

That includes music. Which is why I was excited to learn about a new release from Sahel Sounds:

Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 is finally on vinyl! The album draws from material from both of the first two cassettes – from hi-energy Moroccan Raï, desert ishumar guitar, Sonrai rap from Northern Mali, to yet to be named genres like “Tuareg Autotune.”

Transferred to vinyl, the music was originally stored as mp3s on phones. It’s fun to imagine the files transferring from phone to phone, computer to computer, via Bluetooth and USB cords, on a digital journey through the desert.

As a Guardian article on the Saharan musical phenomenon explains:

“The cellphone is such a fixture of west Africa. Everyone has a phone even in villages lacking reception,” explained [Christopher] Kirkley, who collected MP3 memory cards in the Tuareg city of Kidal in northern Mali. “They’re not just phones, they’re all purpose media devices. In the West we maintain a repository of data on hard drives, in Sahel, the cellphone does the same thing.”

What does contemporary music from the Sahara sound like?  You can get the digital album on Sahel Sounds’ website. They have this to say:

Collected in Northern Mali in 2010 (since taken over by extremists who’ve banned music on cellphones) the second volume expands into new sonic territory — from dreamy Niger guitar ballads, Bamako club juke, to hi energy Moroccan child Raï — with a focus on the Autotuned DIY creations circulating the desert.

It’s a fabulous peek into a creative world that spreads over very high tech (phones) and low tech (physical transfer) channels.

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