An important dimension to the proliferation of cell phones across much of Africa is the sheer use to which people put them to. Mobile banking, fishermen keeping in touch on their cell phones to assess demand in their local fish market whilst they are at sea are just snippets of what folks use cell phones for. But hang on! Let your imagination run wild for a moment or two. Think music. Think about musicians without a hint of hope of having their music formally published. Think about musicians to whom the phrase “record contract” is as alien as, well aliens and you’d be able to guess where I am going with this! Yes, you probably guessed it, collecting music on memory cards of cell phones.
Here is how Sahel Sounds describes this unique practice:
Music from Saharan cellphones is a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Saharan desert. 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.
There is more here from Christpher Kirkley of Sahel Sounds who is described as a musicologist.
Below are two sets of compilations definitely worth listening to.