photo: Sahelsounds

Music from Saharan Cellphones

Music from Saharan cellphones is a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Saharan desert.

In much of West Africa, cellphones are are used as all purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, the knockoff cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tinny built in speakers, and swap files in a very literal peer to peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.

The songs chosen for the compilation were some of the highlights - music that is immensely popular on the unofficial mp3/cellphone network from Abidjan to Bamako to Algiers, but have limited or no commercial release. They're also songs that tend towards this new world of self production - Fruityloops, home studios, synthesizers, and Autotune.

In 2010, returning to the states, I released a handful of cassettes. Many of the songs were unlabeled, giving no insight to their mysterious origins. But in the past year I sent out hundreds of emails and calls across six different countries and even returned to West Africa. I've tracked down enough artists and I've got their approval to collaborate on a commercial release.

The cassette was ripped onto the internet and has circulated around the world, featured in the The Guardian, BBC Worldservice, The Fader, Pitchfork, as well as a number of other blogs, but has never had an official release. The vinyl release is a chance for the artists in the compilation to get paid and be properly credited. The record will be accompanied by liner notes with a short bio of each musician and group - artists from Ivory Coast, Mali, Algeria, and Niger.


Published on September 28, 2011

Last updated on January 16, 2020


Christopher Kirkley is a musicologist and the creator of, a project exploring the cultural and musical phenomena of the Sahel region of West Africa. The Sahel is sparsely populated by nomads and semi-nomadic herders as well as first generation urban youth on motorbikes, with cellphone memory cards and USB keys dangling around their necks.

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