Music for Saharan Cellphones

{ Posted on Oct 12 2011 by Bill Zimmerman }

The compilation album “Music for Saharan Cellphones” is an incredible collection of tracks scraped (and later remixed) from the memory cards of mobile phones in Ivory Coast, Mali, Algeria and Niger. In much of West Africa, cellphones are used as all-purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of PCs and high speed internet, knockoff mobile handsets store portable music collections, playback songs on tiny built-in speakers and swap files in a very literal peer-to-peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.

The impetus for the project began in 2010 when Chris Kirkley returned from his travels in Mali and Mauritania and presented the rough cut album. The music on the compilation was collected from mobiles in the remote northern Malian town of Kidal. The songs from Kidal range from DIY Tuareg guitar, auto-tuned Moroccan chaabi, Malian coupé décalé and fruityloop hip hop.
 Originally released as a limited run cassette tape, the cassette was ripped onto the internet and has circulated around the world, featured in the The Guardian, BBC World Service, Pitchfork as well as a number of other blogs. The tracks quickly became a viral source of new and inspiring sounds, but have never had an official release until now.

The songs chosen for the compilation are 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—home studios, DIY, synthesizers and autotune.

Following a hugely successful Kickstarter fundraising, a 17 track remix of the album is now available for free download (with optional donation) and via cassette, vinyl…and microSD memory card, of course. The vinyl release is a chance for the artists in the compilation to get paid and be properly credited. If you enjoy this album half as much as I do, consider chipping in a few bucks to support the artists and encourage future releases.

Edit: These are two separate and unique releases. The Boomarm Nation album is a remix of the original material sourced by Chris Kirkley.

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I'm an engineer, ex-Microsoftie, founding board member of AfriLabs, co-founder of ActivSpaces in Cameroon and VC4Africa. Drawn to innovation, creativity & all things tech. More at


  1. Boomarm says:

    Hey there. Thanks for the words! A heads up though…
    Music FOR Saharan Cellphones, and Music FROM Saharan Cellphones are 2 different releases.

    The Later,(Music FROM Saharan…) is a compilation of the original music collected by Chris from Sahel Sounds From Cellphones in Kidal, Mali. This is the release which was funded through kickstarter, and will be released onto vinyl in November..

    Music FOR Saharan Cellphones, is the REMIX/ Re-Interpretation Compilation. Presented by Boomarm Nation in collaboration with Sahel Sounds..

    For more specific info about the releases :
    All the best.
    JMJ – Boomarm Nation

  2. I noticed the ‘for’ and ‘from’ but the distinction wasn’t immediately obvious. Thanks for clarifying!