Last year, we rolled out Music from Saharan Cellphones, a vinyl compilation of popular music circulating on the unofficial cellphone music exchange networks of West Africa. In the preceding years, I’ve located more artists via internet tools like Facebook profile searches and Youtube comments, as well as my travels back to West Africa (where I met Ami Wassidje, Pheno S., Mouma Bob, and Mdou Moctar). The kickstarter is now underway, with competitively priced pre-orders on the vinyl ($15 w/shipping) as well as some new reward levels (like a cellphone from the Sahara loaded with mp3s or a MicroSD card release). Expected release date is around November.
For mes amis françias, I’m going to be in the country for the next few days. On June 14th and 15th is an international conference on Mobile Phones and Creation, presented by IRCAV Sorbonne Nouvelle. Accompanying a list of some really fascinating speakers, I’ll presenting some of my work on the role of cellular technologies in shaping Tuareg popular music, a perfect opportunity to share some of the digital ephemera that’s circulating through the cellphone network. Expect lots of montage/photoshopped images and 3GP concert recordings. It’ll all going down at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Vasari Room.
I’ll also be doing a DJ sets June 15th at the Lizard Lounge in Paris with Toni Polo, in Marseille on June 18th, where I’ll also be showing a film at a new art space, and Lyon, for guest spot on Sedryk Reaktion’s uncontested Imidiwane radio show. Swing by and an all, we’ll parle Sahel….
After two years, the tracks of popular West African tunes found on cellphones were released, remixed, and now successfully returned to their point of collection Kidal, Mali. (previously) As a rebellion seems to break out days prior to my depart, the 30 microSD memory cards are handed to a truck driver making the perilous journey North. Confirmation comes via a cellphone appropriately that the cards have arrived with a friend and have been distributed about town to the remaining population.
Of all the remixes and reinterpretations, the most well received in the Sahel has undoubtedly been Brainstorm’s “Tahoultine” — a cover of Mdou Moctar’s song of the same name — which has just recently been followed by a digital EP (link) and second cover of “Anar” under the title “Vanessa”.
“Vanessa” West African debut, cellphone on bus outside of Tahoua, Niger:
I journey to Abalak, a town perched along the road to the North of Niger to meet with Mdou. In the ensuing days, we record a plethora of new tracks, travel to his birthplace and write his story. In the meantime, Brainstorm’s tracks jump from my cellphone onto the bluetooth network, instantly popular. Mdou is a local celebrity and his songs are well known — and the novelty of an American band covering the songs in English is not lost in the desert. Mdou speculates: “In just awhile, you’ll find this on cellphones as far away as Bamako…”
We organize a face to face meeting with Mdou and Brainstorm via Skype, commandeering the office of a local NGO after business hours, one of the only places to find internet in the village. Despite the initial difficulties, a brief meeting via video chat is arranged, and while the interplay of live collaboration is prohibitive due to the sufferable speed, a few songs are exchanged.
Video recording of Skype session, recorded on cellphone, Abalak, Niger:
The word Anar means eyebrows in the Tamashek language of Niger. It’s one of three songs that Mdou composed for a lost love of years back, and his attempts at forgetting.
“Love has become a malady for me — the night passes, I don’t even know its night, and in the morning I don’t do anything but think of her. If the love for her had a medication, I would drink it regardless of the taste. My dream is to turn into a small bird to fly to her, and give her a kiss between her eyebrows.”
The lyrics bear a striking semblance to those of the re-interpretations, a chance of synchronicity, a testament to how a message can be hidden in a melody — or a reminder that even in worlds apart, affairs of the heart are not so different.
Mdou Moctar (pronounced “M”-“Doh”) is from Abalak, Niger. A few years back, he traveled to Sokoto, Nigeria to record an album. A curious feature was addition of Autotune, something the studio engineer suggested. The resulting eight songs, all spaced out Autotuned Tamashek guitar (quite possibly the first time ever) were never official released, but disseminated throughout West Africa through that subtle network of cellphones and memory cards. His songs, especially the love anthem “Tahoultine” (“girlfriend” in Tamashek), are hugely popular across the Sahel, particularly on the cellphones of younger Tuareg.
The Western commercial release of “Tahoultine” is a similar route of media interchange. It was featured on the “Music from Saharan Cellphones” cassette, followed by a cassette of remixes (available here), followed by an LP, and now a 7″ single. The 500 edition of 7″s features a remix by Portland producer Gulls on the flip – order/stream it here.
I recently chatted with Mdou and in lieu of being on site, we decided to do some recordings in the most appropriate/only available technique — via skype-out to cellphone to Abalak, Niger. Note that Mdou is playing both percussion and guitar on these recordings: a version of Tahoultine, performed live, and a new love song, “Lance of Love.” I’ll be joining Mdou in a month or two, so expect some more hi-fi recordings soon….
The official release of “Music from Saharan Cellphones” is now complete! The compilation showcases some of the popular music circulating around the desert: DIY Tuareg Autoune, Balani Show street music, and Ivorian Coupé Décalé. (previously)
The LP is a selection of tracks from the first two cassettes. Available now on 2,000 vinyl copies at your nearest record shop or via download on bandcamp (download is available for $3 — 60% of the proceeds go to the artist involved, pay as much as you want, sliding scale option!)