Tag Archives: cellphone

everything is remix pt. 2

In West Africa, as mentioned every so often here, cellphones are far more important than television in media diffusion and consumption. Videos are traded, like sound – from short comedic clips to full length movies. But amongst the plethora of video, nothing stands out like the remix. Using pre-existing sequences, new audio is dubbed in a voice over to give a new context. This is of particular relevance in a country like Mali, with 13 national languages where these unofficial channels allow and ensure propagation. For example, the 1928 silent Charlie Chaplin film “The Circus”, here given an audio voice in Bambara. Or Tom and Jerry – in Tamashek.

Interesting, the platform has yet to be adapted with any design. Much like the inception of Youtube, before its servers were crowded with ad campaigns fighting for page views, the video remixes of the network have little utility are purpose besides amusement. Anonymous montages, their narrators float through the networks, flung out into the void with innocent jokes and distractions – led by the desire to create for the sake of creating.

The viral effect of video on cellphones offers some potential ideas. Besides the more nefarious capitalist exploitations, the network could very well be hijacked to spread another sort of message. There has yet to be a single public service announcement by any international NGO on cellphone video – even as untold capital is poured into old media such as radio and television. As generations gather around the glow of cellphone screens watching the latest clip on a phone, it begs the question of when infastructure will adapt to the new media model, to utilize this underutilized and unseen medium. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the remix.

don’t silence your cellphones.

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.


kickstarters for vinyl of music from saharan cellphones

The new proverb says “all roads lead to Kickstarter,” and I’ve joined the fray in this latest push — to bring “Music from Saharan Cellphones” to a vinyl.

In a rather ironic twist the musicians whose sounds were found on communication devices are incredibly difficult to locate. Google search algorithms notwithstanding, the network of cellphones and music trading and even communication exists fiercely independent of the global internet network. The project has been an exercise in Sisyphean patience, flinging messages out in bottles every few months or so: Facebook queries to whomever lives in the composer’s city, Skype out calls to numbers in blurry CD scans across six or seven countries, Youtube comments on every video containing a fragment of a song, and finally a few face to face meetings in Bamako with a handful of Mali’s stars (I regrettably had to give up on Cheba Wasila when every phone number for her studio listed seemed to be answered by confused Moroccan grandmothers).

But enough of the past. I’ve got a crew of artists and their songs together, and we’re making a record. The vinyl will be an amalgam of the first two cassette volumes, remastered, accompanied by liner notes with a short bio of all the artists. It’s an initial run of 2,000 copies — also to be available on bandcamp. The kickstarter is clear and simple — pre-orders of the vinyl available at $15 shipping included, to be wrapping up around end of October. Inchallah.

Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol. 1

Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol. 2

Home taping is killing music

On a near moonless night, the bus rumbles to a halt. The passengers all debark along the side of the road — a vast clear plain clouded in by the shadows of the Dogon cliffs — somewhere on the national highway between Douentza and Hombori. As all the weary passengers sit, they all are pulling out cellphones, and soon the mass is illuminated by little square blue screens. There is no cellular phone reception here — this is not important. They are not making calls. Rather, what ensues is an orchestra of tinny digital audio, a menagerie of sound, beamed out like starlight over the plain.

Douentza recording

The cellular phone in its current incarnation is a recent phenomena here, but one with sweeping effects. In the past few years, the market was flooded with cheaply designed Chinese cellphones (bearing names like Samsong or Sqny), equipped with memory cards and featuring Video, Photo, and Audio, as well as Bluetooth wireless transfer. The ability to make calls is rather superfluous, and they are likely distributed in villages that have no cellular access whatsoever.

Interview with Amadou, chaffeur

One of the repercussions is the death of the cassette. For a long time, the cassette has held sway as the primary audio device in the Sahel and Sahara. While vinyl was popular in the capitals, in the radio stations, it never gained mass distribution — the simple environmental considerations would render it useless after a single hot season. As are CDs, quickly destroyed by the degenerative effects of dust and sand. The hardy cassette was the chosen media for the desert. But now, it seems they are breathing their last breath. Original cassettes are plummeting. While pirate cassette vendors are still a mainstay in every market, their compilations are not recorded from studio produced originals, but dubbed from mp3 to tape recorders.

Interview with Mouda Maiga, cassette vendor

The amateur recordings on cellphones are the envy of any ethnomusicologist — Tamashek poetry, tende drumming, multiphonic issawat chanting. All, in fact, done without the chasm the foreigner, an outsider whose motives are questioned and ability to understand hampered by culture and language. The ethnomusicologist cannot ignore the effect of the cellular phone, nor the utility that it plays in research.

Interview regarding the Christian Tamashek guitar of Pastor Mohammed, from Timbouctou, conducted over cellular phone recording.

The new media places the technology in the hands of the Africans. And as such, questions the role of the intrepid collector, the documentary filmmaker, the anthropologist, the photographer. The foreigner who has descended onto the continent over the past centuries has benefited from the technological inequity to become the voice, the conduit. Like the cassette, his days are numbered.

‘Mashup’ of assorted music collected from cellphones in Gao and Kidal.