Category Archives: mauritania

i sing the desert electric (download)

Recorded over the past three years “I Sing the Desert Electric” is a short film I’ve pieced together from video that I hastily shot while documenting music. Final Cut, a little post production, and voila. From fuzzy electric guitars of Mauritania to raucous electro-street parties of Bamako, public performance has become louder over the past 40 years (from what I’m told). Amplifiers, speakers, microphones, and megaphones have joined the more or less traditional repertoire of instruments. But these impromptu parties are still such an integral part of music in the West Africa – and easy to find if you’ve got some time to wander around the neighborhoods of the capitals or the villages of the Sahel.

You can download it for free at the following Vimeo link. The film runs about 19 minutes. Download it and share it and enjoy. If you’d like a higher quality copy for screening purposes, please email me at ckirkley at gmail.com. Any contributions for screening will be greatly appreciated.

Vimeo link

l’orchestre national de mauritanie, revisted

Finally wrapped up an album that has been in production for over three years – which is not saying much, considering that the music had been sitting, locked away for over four decades. I first encountered the L’Orchestre National on Youtube, via a badly degraded pinkish hued clip of a very funky Mauritanian anthem (previously). Luckily I was in Mauritania at the time and was quickly able to learn the source of the “mystery video” and meet with Hadrami and a number of the musicians over the following years.

The National Orchestra of Mauritania (L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie) was formed in the post-colonial years as the official band of the young country. National Orchestras were common throughout West Africa. Probably the Malian Orchestras are the best known, but the practice began in Guinea under president Sekou Touré. A dictator with a questionable record of human rights, Touré nevertheless provided support for the arts, with music groups competing for the title. Mauritania sought to replicate this model, and in 1967 fourteen musicians from various ethnicities were sent to Conakry to learn how to become a National Orchestra.

They returned the next year to Mauritania as the pride of the country. Their songs were often political (“La Mone” for example, praising the new national currency), but sometimes folk inspired (“Seinam Moussa”). However, in every case, they were composed to be both traditional and modern – an ideal that came directly from the government of Mauritania, borne of this desire to create an independent nation that would shake out the shackles of colonialism and invoke the strength of its history. Unfortunately the hopeful government of Daddah did eventually fail, and with it went the National Orchestra.

The search for the recordings of the Orchestra have spanned multiple trips to Mauritania and many years. Young music vendors have no context for the group and older vendors simply grow quite with a nostalgic glint in their eyes. The music is nowhere to be found. While the recordings of the group were never outright banned, they had effectively vanished. The only official release was 500 copies of a 7″ vinyl record of a live performance, pressed in Beirut in 1973. What little remains of the archives of the the radio was salvaged by an engineer working in the station during the 1978 coup d’etat who absconded with the reels as soldiers ambushed the station, under orders to burn everything (the National Radio of Mauritania is one of the first places to be taken over during a coup – it is heavily guarded even today, giving it a certain air of impenetrability). These reels were stored in his home in Cinquième, one of the popular neighborhoods of Nouakchott, subject to intermittent flooding, where they remain today (along with the entire recorded history of the country from 1960 until the coup d’etat).

The selections of the record are all from the Orchestre National featuring Hadrami Ould Meidah between the years of 1968 and 1975. It’s available now on vinyl, in collaboration with Mississippi Records – and CD, of the latter, primarily to get it back to Mauritania where it can breathe again. Incidentally, on the back of the 7″ vinyl record from 1973 is some text in Arabic. Hadrami told me that it says to “look for the upcoming full album of L’Orchestre National de Mauritanie.” I like to think that we’ve finally fulfilled the promise, just a bit later than planned.

Bandcamp here.

Vinyl here ($12 + S/H) – or wherever records are sold:





in the mix

Troubling news in Northern Mali right now with former colonizer France bombarding the North – that’s the sh*t I don’t like. For some of the globalization that we do like, here are a few recent mixes I compiled for Okayafrica and Dublab Radio. Keep on keeping on.

OKAYAFRICA’s “Africa in Your Earbuds #34” — various Malian, Nigerien, and Mauritanian club bangers.
direct link mp3

DUBLAB “Music from Saharan Cellphones mix” – from cellphones, mp3 markets, and scavenged mp3s from odd corners of internet, to some field recordings and talk about political crises and pop music.
direct link mp3

don’t silence your cellphones.





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Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 is finally on vinyl! The album draws from material from both of the first two cassettes – from hi-energy Moroccan Raï, desert ishumar guitar, Sonrai rap from Northern Mali, to yet to be named genres like “Tuareg Autotune”. Production of the release was an effort in itself, involving tracking down the artists via Facebook, Youtube, and trips back to the Sahel (see previously), followed by a kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing costs.

The music on the disc was originally collected in Kidal in 2010, tunes circulating on the unofficial “cellphone network” of Bluetooth exchanges and mp3 trades. Since then, many speculated that internet would wash over the desert rendering the peer to peer transfers of cellphone exchanges inútil. Instead, a more sinister force of religious of extremists have spelled an end to cellphone music – banning any non-Koranic mp3s on cellphones. Northerners are holding their breath waiting for the sandstorm to pass.

In the meantime, and with a big F-U to the extremists up North, we’re celebrating Saharan Cellphone music with two LP release parties. First, in Portland, Oregon this Saturday, Jan. 5th @ Sengatera Ethiopian Restaurant – joining forces with the super-team of Gulls, E3, and Monkeytek. Then, next week on Jan. 10th, Sahel Sounds will be in Los Angeles at Ooga Booga, with an armful of records and a dj set!

Portland Release Party, Jan. 5th @ Sengatera

Los Angeles Release, Jan. 10th @ Ooga Booga

Though the record wont be dropping until this weekend, you can buy the vinyl direct from me via Paypal, here! Selling for low price of $12 (for stores looking for multiple copies, check your favorite distro). Digital downloads are available at bandcamp.





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