In 2010, after returning from extensive travel in Mali and Mauritania, Chris Kirkley from Sahel Sounds presented Music from Saharan Cellphones, a collection of underground music from the Saharan region which was circulated almost exclusively from cellphone to cellphone via bluetooth bumps.
He found that in much of West Africa, cellphones are used as all purpose multimedia devices. Without access to personal computers and high speed Internet, music fans resorted to trading songs housed on the only portable music library available — their cell phones.
The original cassette was put out by Mississippi Records and can be found as digital downloads: Volume 1 / Volume 2.
A Kickstarter campaign was recently funded to raise enough money to press the songs to vinyl.
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 — Fruityloops, home studios, synthesizers, and Autotune.
In 2010, returning to the states, I released a handful of cassettes. Many of the songs were unlabeled, giving no insight to their mysterious origins. But in the past year I sent out hundreds of emails and calls across six different countries and even returned to West Africa. I've tracked down enough artists and I've got their approval to collaborate on a commercial release.
The cassette has been featured in the The Guardian, BBC Worldservice, The Fader, Pitchfork, as well as countless other music blogs, but has never had an official release. The vinyl release will allow the artists on the compilation to get paid and be properly credited for their tunes. The record will be accompanied by liner notes with a short bio of each musician and group.
Recently, the folks at Boomarm Nation have spearheaded a remix project called Music FOR Saharan Cellphones, which features Brainfeeder/Leaving/dublab artist Matthewdavid's remix called “Stealing Sahara.” The seventeen-song album is streaming on bandcamp and can be purchased at a pay-what-you-want price.
A limited edition 7″ single of Mdou Moctar's autotune wonder “Tahoultine” b/w a Gulls remix, will be co-released by Boomarm Nation and Sahel Sounds soon, followed by a 12″ LP of Music from Saharan Cellphones by Sahel Sounds.