Music From Saharan Cellphones


A couple weeks back, we visited the UC Davis radio station, KDVS 90.3FM for an on air acoustic performance. Not only was it a super awesome visit in general, but we were able to browse the library that they have there. One record that caught my eye in particular , was a project called ‘Music From Saharan Cellphones’. This is what the description of the project was:

In much of West Africa, cellphones are are used as all purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, the knockoff cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tinny built in speakers, and swap files in a very literal peer to peer Bluetooth wireless transfer. 

The songs chosen for the compilation were some of the highlights — music that is immensely popular on the unofficial mp3/cellphone 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. 

In 2010, various versions of saharan cellphone music were released on cassette. Many of the songs were unlabeled, giving no insight to their mysterious origins. In the past year, the artists have been tracked down to collaborate on a commercial release. As such, 60% of the proceeds go directly to the artists.

The description also goes on to explain that if you travel the desert-town market places of North Africa, and you hear someone playing a song you like off their cell phone, they will gladly Bluetooth, or swap you, the song, free of charge. Imagine if The Pirate Bay wasn’t just a website, but a group of actual people sitting around drinking tea, talking, and going about their daily business. Talk about the coolest communal musical experience ever. I was instantly hooked on this idea. Our friend, and KDVS veteran, Zuha, told me I could check it out in one of the listening rooms. And listen I did. It’s a great record, and totally out of the box for what we get here in America. Definitely check this record out in the widget below: