March 2012. We find serene lodging in the Mabera section of Sokoto, not far from the place where the two foreigners were executed in a botched rescue just a week prior – a slight stain on an otherwise spotless city. Unsurprisingly, few people mention it, either suspecting we know, and this is exactly what brought us, or that we’re just two blissfully unaware idiots.
The first stop is ‘Visible Sounds Studio’ run by a young man named Khadir. We cram inside the music studio, separated from the main room by wood and plexiglass, bathed in a blue alien light. Khadir assembles his studio workspace, his Yamaha keyboard set beside his computer. He begins to assemble a song for us to observe the method of production. His hands dance over shortcuts and mouse clicks, triggering new tracks, dropping effects and rearranging the numerous multicolored wav-forms. A melody is seemingly plucked out of the air, a bass line is added, followed by crash of synthetic drums that unfold into a frenetic beat in a few minutes of rapid fire work. The instrumental finished, he sets the Yamaha aside, and the singers enter the soundbooth in a revolving succession, recording vocal tracks that are overdubbed twice to create harmony and then dropped into Antares autotune. They have no woman vocalist on staff, so one of the male singers sings in a ridiculously high pitch. Post-autotune, it sounds convincing.
Suraj Sound Studio is larger and more professional. A poster on the street advertises the services of sound and film: a comedian in signature red hat striking an exaggerated silly face flanks a beautiful girl in headphones standing before a microphone. The studio is a bit larger then the others, and more professional. Naturally, the work moves a bit slower. After a flurry of introductions, shaking hands with dozens of actors, comedians, and musicians, the engineer beings to work. Two singers sit on the floor with intense focus. They ask us our names as they pen the lyrics, occasionally humming a tune. The dedication of the engineer and vocalists is exhausting – even for the crowd, that eventually thins out. They finally climb into the soundbooth for a series of unrelenting takes until the seemingly perfect phrasing. Of course, neither Warren or myself speak Hausa and wouldn’t recognize the small differences. In the final audio, the only things we can identify are the names that we asked them to include: “Sahel Sounds” and “Little Axe.”