Tag Archives: cellphones

of love and eyebrows

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:

Brainstorm / Mdou Moctar – Vanessa

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:

on camera:

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 – Anar (live)

tahoultine, chopped and skyped

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.

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine

Mdou Moctar -Tahoutine (Gulls Edit)

Matthew David – Stealing Sahara

Brainstorm – Tahoultine (cover)

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….

Mdou Moctar – Tahoultine (live via skype)

Mdou Moctar – Lance of Love (live via skype)

vinyl of saharan cellphones

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!)

Download at Bandcamp

Order the LP

Videos from Saharan Cellphones

I’ve written briefly about cellular phones in West Africa. As ubiquitous media devices, they are perhaps most used in sharing and exchange of files, particularly bluetooth transfers of mp3s. While in Kidal I collected memory cards from cellphones and copied loads of mp3s — ranging from Tamashek guitar, Algerian Rai, Coupe Decale, Kuduro, Hip Hop, as well as loads of Arabic habibe pop, French ballads, Bollywood hits, and Dire Straits — some of which I’ve put out on a few cassette mix tapes.

In due process, I also ended up with a few videos. Some are personal footage, which I’ll leave off the internets — although the file sharing means that even this stuff gets around quite a bit. Some are concerning the Tuareg rebellion, now in a tenuous peace in Mali. But there are also music videos from Algeria to Cote d’Ivoire, comedic sketches in Tamashek, and homemade political photomontage…