Skip to main content
Report: France - Mali

Mali's desert sounds saved by sim card
2 min

Christopher Kirkley went to the north of Mali three years ago and came back with music taken from sim cards. The founder of the Sahel Sounds label and blog talked to World Music Matters about trading songs in the Sahara.


"They know a lot about our music but we don’t know much about theirs. This project goes some way at correcting that," says Portland-based Kirkley whose Music from Saharan Cellphones volume two is now available on vinyl.

The record features contemporary pop music from the Sahara desert, where songs are stored on cellphone SD cards.

Kirkley collected the music in and around Kidal in 2010, trading songs from his own computer for ones stored on people’s phones.

Volume two of his collection of music from the area expands into new sonic territory, says Kirkley.

It goes 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".

The record reveals the talents of little known artists such as 18-year-old rapper Pheno S from Gao, a whizzhand at Autotune.

Kirkley says Islamists seized Pheno S’s equipment and tapes when they took over the northern part of Mali last year.

Christopher Kirkley, Sahel Sounds

Even if towns like Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu have since been captured by the French-led intervention force, Kirkley says it’ll take a while before people, especially musicians, return to Kidal.

Long-term he’s confident though that the internet revolution will boost musical output and creativity in the Sahel.

Saharan musicians will probably no longer need his talents in the future but, as Kirkley says, there’s plenty of other music out there waiting to be discovered, if you lend an ear.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Page not found

The content you requested does not exist or is not available anymore.