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NOTE: This article has been revised to correct artist and track names.  It appears that the tags on the author’s copy were incorrect and inverted these items.  Music is Good regrets this error.

As with most blogs Music is Good’s Blogroll is where we advertise some of our favorite internet outposts.  Unlike some blogs, however, not all of the links there are technically blogs.

One of the non-blog sites listed on our Blogroll is Kickstarter.com (if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, I strongly encourage you to check it out).  On September 22, I was looking for interesting projects on Kickstarter and stumbled upon Music from Saharan Cellphones, “a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Sahara desert.”  Apparently, in West Africa folks use their cellphones to house their music collections (which are often tracks that are otherwise unreleased) and they swap songs via Bluetooth transfers.  In 2010, Christopher Kirkley, the man behind Music from Saharan Cellphones, brought a bunch of these tracks back to the States and released some on cassettes that were soon ripped to the internet and widely spread.

While Mr. Kirkley was very happy to get this music to a wider audience, he also wanted to find a way for the artists to be properly credited and paid. Enter Kickstarter. Through Kickstarter, Mr. Kirkley raised $7,814.00 to help fund initial production costs, mastering, and distribution of the LP, plus payment for the artists. This amount far exceeded his goal of $4,000.00, so over the last few days, LPs, cassettes, and digital downloads have been going out to the project’s backers. Disclaimer: I am one of those backers, and I’ve been enjoying the album immensely.

As Mr. Kirkley states on the Kickstarter page, the music skews towards recent self-production trends. There are a lot of synthesizers and a couple of tracks prominently feature autotune. That said, however, this music is most definitely of African origin.  Fans of any African music, whether it’s Fela’s afropop, Nigerian funk, or the more traditional Malian sounds of Amadou and Mariam, will find something to love about this album.  In fact, the lead track is a tribute to Tinariwen, a band made up of Tuareg-Berber musicians from northern Mali that has been steadily drawing a following to their traditional, yet guitar-based, West African sound over the last decade.

“Tinariwen” is followed up by Yeli Fuzzo’s “Abandé,” perhaps my favorite track on the disc. It features male and female vocals over a steady dance beat.  The track is primarily traditional-sounding West African music, but it also shows how hip-hop has influenced the local scene.  Track 3, Amanar’s “Alghafiat,” is a bluesy guitar song and is followed by Negib Ould Ngainich’s brief “Guetna,” featuring synths that call to mind nothing if not blues harmonica. Next, Papito feat. Iba One speeds things up with “Yereyira,” a straight hip hop jam, before Mdou Moctar returns us to a more traditional beat (but featuring significant autotune) on “Tahoultine.”  Moribiyassa’s “Kaba Bon” (track 7) competes with “Abandé” for the best of the compilation when it ditches the autotune, keeps the traditional beat, and speeds things up considerably. Joskar and Flamzy’s “Faroter” is much poppier than the prior tracks, and Bayta Ag Bay’s “Aicha” rounds things out with an acoustic guitar track featuring a strong traditional West African sound.

The easiest way to grab a copy of Music from Saharan Cellphones is to head over to another of the non-blog sites listed on our Blogroll: Bandcamp.com.  Bandcamp allows musicians to sell their music directly to fans, thereby cutting out the middleman, and the download and LP are available there.  The download is a mere $3.00 (the LP is $12.00), and 60% of all purchases goes to the artists.

Bandcamp also has the remix album version of Music for Saharan Cellphones available for ‘name your own price’.  The remix album was put together by Portland producer Gulls, and involved sending 30 memory cards containing the remixes back to Mali in order to share and share alike.

If Music from Saharan Cellphones isn’t your thing, simply check out Kickstarter.com and Bandcamp.com.  You won’t regret it.


An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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