The Internet’s Ode To Music From Saharan Mobile Phones

Constant access to Wi-Fi and LTE make it supremely easy for us to swap songs with each other. More often than that, we swap URLs. In parts of Saharan Africa where service is scarce, Bluetooth does the trick — which means that a booming culture of peer-to-peer MP3 sharing has sprung up, contained on the memory cards alone.

In 2009, Portland musicologist Christopher Kirkley traveled through West Africa taking field recordings — in the form of tracks swapped over Bluetooth. He turned the MP3s he brought back into a cassette tape called Music from Saharan Mobile phones. The tracks ranged from an opening song by the wildly-popular Taureg rock band Tinariwen (which just put out a new album of its own) to unknown works by self-made musicians, as Kirkley explains:

The songs chosen for the compilation were some of the highlights — music that is immensely popular on the unofficial mp3/mobile phone network from Abidjan to Bamako to Algiers, but have limited or no commercial release. They’re also songs that tend towards this new world of self production — Fruity Loops, home studios, synthesizers, and Autotune.

And then, in 2013, came Music From Saharan Mobile phones Volume 2, collected in what Kirkley calls the “crossroad” town of Kidal, in Mali:

While in Kidal I collected memory cards from mobile phones and copied loads of mp3s — ranging from Tamashek guitar, Algerian Raï, Coupé Décalé, Kuduro, Hip Hop, as well as loads of Arabic “Habibe” pop, French ballads, Bollywood hits, and Dire Straits…

Kirkley now runs Sahel Sounds, a label that puts out records from music made in the countries he’s focused on in his work. Both original albums are great, interesting listens. Listen here.