Sahel Sounds have released a greatest hits compilation on vinyl, Music from Saharan WhatsApp, which brings together tunes from their popular WhatsApp EP series.
The LP features tracks by Sahel Sounds artists including Etran de L’Aïr, Hama, Alkibar Jr, Amaria Hamadaler (of Les Filles de Illighadad), and artists new to the label like Bounaly and Andal Sukabe.
In Africa, mobile phones have become a tool of production and a means to exchange sounds. In 2020, the Portland-based label sent out an open call from their network of artists in the Sahel region of West Africa to record tracks on their mobile phone and to sent them over the mobile app, WhatsApp.
Sahel Sounds founder Christopher Kirkley said: “WhatsApp has become the main way to communicate in Sahel. Cellular phones are everywhere but they operate on a credit basis costing an exorbitant amount of money per-minute. However, on the Internet, it is possible to circumvent those charges. Whatsapp offers a way to transfer files in order for media and music to go from one phone to another. We used to do it via Bluetooth.“
The WhatsApp EP series consisted of digital EPs, documenting live performances from acts in the Sahel playing a wide range of music including Nigerién techno, wedding rock, Woodabe guitar, WZN, traditional music, Mandingue music, and more. Each session was hosted for a month on Bandcamp, with all profits wired directly to the musicians. After a month, the EP would disappear, replaced by another one.
Sahel Sounds began as a blog by label founder Christopher Kirkley in 2009 to share field recordings. Today, it is a record label, artist collective, film production house, and arts organisation. It works directly with artists, and shares profits 50/50.
In an interview with Bandcamp Daily, Christopher Kirkley said: “This is a suggestion of what it could look like for musicians to release their own music without a label. There’s a technological barrier for them to participate in the global economy, based simply on where they live. But if you can record your music on a phone anywhere and upload it, what could happen?”
Music from Saharan WhatsApp is out now on Sahel Sounds
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about entertainments and storytelling of all kinds.