SIM Cards from Northern Mali

by Thomas Burkhalter

Christopher Kirkley offers on his MP3-blog Sahelsounds a great variety of music from Northern Mali. He frequently visited the city of Kidal where today French, Malian and African troops are trying to push back Islamist rebels, and where musicians recently were forbidden to perform music. Kirkley collected music that people in this region listen to and share on their mobile phones, and he recorded singers and musicians. He challenges outdated concepts of ethnographic fieldrecording and documentation. And he offers a wild mix of autotuned DIY-pop and unplugged music. Enjoy our first podcast in the new norient series on MP3-blogging.



Trailer for I Sing the Desert Electric, a short film of electronic based musical phenomena occurring from Mauritania to Northern Nigeria. A film by Christopher Kirkley.



«From dreamy Niger guitar ballads, Bamako club juke, to hi energy Moroccan child Raï – with a focus on the Autotuned DIY creations circulating the desert.» Sahelsounds produced severall albums. Buy downloads online, and/or order vinly. Support the musicians of Northern Mali in buying the album Songs for the North Country!

Videos not availabe anymore.



Mdou Moctar - Anar
Music from Saharan Cellphones
Music from Saharan Cellphones Vol. 2


The Portland Museum of Modern Art showed Christopher Kirkley‘s exhibition «Azawad Libre! New Media and Imagined Geographies in the Sahel», from November 18th to December 15th 2012. Kirkley exhibits his travels in this multimedia showcase, exploring a flourishing intersection of folk art, computers, and cell phones through the Sahel, and the political implications of these new forms of expression. Kirkley uses these words to describe the exhibition: «Examining the rich content of the digital artifacts which circulate through the networks of the Sahel, Azwad Libre! considers not only the roles of new media and democratization of creative tools, but the beauty of uninhibited inspiration.»

 «Azawad Libre! New Media and Imagined Geographies in the Sahel»
 «Azawad Libre! New Media and Imagined Geographies in the Sahel»

Published on February 12, 2013

Last updated on January 21, 2020


Thomas Burkhalter is an ethnomusicologist and cultural producer from Switzerland. He is the founder and director of Norient – Performing Music Research (, and artistic director of the Norient Film Festival. Recent main projects include the documentary film «Contradict» (2019), the AV/theatre/dance performance «Clash of Gods» (2018), and the re-launch of Norient (2019). He published the book «Local Music Scenes and Globalization: Transnational Platforms in Beirut» (Routledge), and co-edited «The Arab Avant Garde: Musical Innovation in the Middle East» (Wesleyan University Press).
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