Monthly Archives: October 2011

down and out in the mp3 market

marche cheb cheb
Just across from the twin towers of the Saudi Mosque, there is a market colloquially known as “hot point” or “cheb cheb” (Wolof for “thief”). On the streetside, young men huddle in groups, selling old battered cellphones from each hand, Nokia chargers trailing from pockets. Old men crouch in the shade of the market, stacks of rubber banded plastic cards with punch out SIM cards with the corresponding numbers scrawled in black felt marker. The stalls facing the mosque are decorated with the hand painted signs ubiquitous in the pictorial language of the West African marketplace — roughly drawn cellphones and calligraphic text hanging over the heads of Maurish shop owners standing before ceiling high collections of all things cellular. The streetside is crawling with activity, ambiance and confusion.

The market itself is a labyrinthine of stalls, glass display cases filled with “fake” Nokia/Samsung cellphones, sporting two or three SIM cards, cameras, mp3 players, and speakers. Deeper into the market, past the fancier shops, the stalls are simpler. In concrete boxes plastered with glossy hip hop posters and homemade montages, young men lounge behind computers, blasting music from pairs of speakers directed outwards, in an arms race of sonic amplitude. This is Nouakchott’s mp3 market.

ambiance, mp3 market

This is no amateur operation. Every computer trails a variety inputs: USB multipliers, memory card receivers, and microSD adapters. A virus scan is initiated on each new connection. Each PC is running some version of a copy utility to facilitate the process. The price is a standard 40 ougiya per song, about $0.14; like every market, discounts are available for bulk purchases. The music on the computers is dictated by the owners. Hassaniya music is most often carried by young Maurs, Senegalese Mbalax and folk by Pulaar and Wolof kids. While I’m searching for Hausa film music, I’m directed to the sole Hausa man in the market, a vendor from Niamey. I sit with the vendors, scrolling through the songs on VLC, selecting with a nod or a pass, the files copied to a folder, tallied, and transferred to my USB.

No one in the market can tell me when the mp3 market began or where it will go. For the moment, it seems to be thriving, filling the youth’s cellphone and the taxi driver’s USB FM transmitter, a physical version of iTunes. In the free-for-all of digital exchange, the market has taken a demand and created a supply, accepting a meager payment for services rendered — not for the music, which everyone agrees, is a valueless item. After all, it’s so easy to copy, such a futile act to battle against.*

*for more on this, see theorist Marcus Boon’s new column in The Wire.

Secteur A – Baby Boy

Mada Ba – My

Ewlade Leblade – Erza

Bkye – Track05

hamdy, rapper from secteur a


memory cards for africa

Last year Portland producer Gulls (boomarmnation) put together an incredible remix/edit of Mdou Moctar’s track Tahoultine, featured on the “Music from Saharan Cellphones – Vol. 1”. Soon after, Boomarmnation began “Music for Saharan Cellphones,” a project of remixes and reinterpretations of tracks selected from the cassette:

“Drawing on gifted producers and musicians from a variety of stylistic backgrounds and nationalities, each artist selected and re-interpreted a musical moment from the source material. From bass laden sound/clash ventures, abstract re-creations, and even an amazing autotune cover, the end result holds a rich assortment of well informed musical statements. Reflecting the energy and fidelity of its origins, these versions take on their own rare and exciting form. Using the mp3 as the medium, the Music and the Musicians become the diplomacy.”

The project is now complete and the compilation is available for free download at bandcamp, on cassette on Mississippi records, and a split 7″, soon come, featuring Mdou Moctar’s Tahoultine b/w Gulls edit. Lastly, the compilation will also be enjoying a limited release 30 limited hand numbered microSD memory cards, to be mailed back to Kidal, Mali with the intention of getting the music back on cellphones.

See the official project page at Boomarmnation here.