Music For Saharan Cellphones
w/ Jesse Johnson
In West Africa, like most of the world, cellphones are are used as all-purpose multimedia devices. But here, in lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tiny built-in speakers, and swap files through peer-to-peer Bluetooth wireless transfer. In 2010, I collected songs from cellphones, in the Tuareg town of Kidal, in the North of Mali. The songs collected in Kidal range from DIY Tuareg guitar, auto-tuned Moroccan chaabi, Malian coupé décalé, and fruityloop hip hop. The songs were released in 2010 as an album “Music from Saharan Cellphones.”
In 2011, Jesse Johnson and myself curated “Music from Saharan Cellphones.” Drawing on gifted producers and musicians from a variety of stylistic backgrounds and nationalities, each artist selected and re-interpreted a musical moment from the source material. From bass laden sound/clash ventures, abstract re-creations, and even an amazing autotune cover, the end result holds a rich assortment of well informed musical statements. Reflecting the energy and fidelity of its origins, these versions take on their own rare and exciting form. Using the mp3 as the medium, the Music and the Musicians become the diplomacy.
The resulting compilation was released on 30 numbered microSD memory cards. Each card was loaded with the songs, images of the artists, and attached to a note explaining the project. The cards were returned to their point of origin, in Kidal, Mali in 2011, distributed and loaded back onto the networks of music exchange.