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Label Sahel Sounds uses WhatsApp to source music from Africa


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US independent label Sahel Sounds is releasing a series of compilations of music from African artists, called ‘Music from Saharan WhatsApp’. The title is the clue to the digital twist: musicians are sending their tracks to label boss Chris Kirkley via WhatsApp, often just days before the album they appear on is released.

The project is playing out on Bandcamp, whose (excellent as ever) blog interviewed Kirkley about it. “The entire series was born just a few weeks before the first installment, when Kirkley sent a group message to artists in the region. His proposition was sly and subversive: record a short session using a cell phone, dispatch the results through WhatsApp, and let him sell it online on a pay-what-you-will basis for a month before replacing it with the next batch,” it reported. “All profits would be wired directly to the band.”

While the WhatsApp part is interesting from a mechanics-of-releases angle, what’s more important for listeners is the fact that Kirkley is finding great artists and music for the project. “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?”

Stuart Dredge

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