During a couple trips to Africa in 2009 and 2010, Chris Kirkley, stumbled on and documented an emerging music file sharing network. It’s similar to what’s going on all over the world: someone uploads a song, then another million someones download the song. Except in the West African countries that Kirkley was in, all the sharing was done on cell phones, which vastly outnumber computers in that part of the world. Instead of sitting in a dark bedroom, raiding a server of the complete Beatles catalog, people were getting together in the street or in cafes and swapping songs via Bluetooth. Micro SD cards are what cell phones use for storage, and when somebody brings a phone in for service, vendors copy all the music from the cards to swap with other people.
Kirkley collected a bunch of the tunes and released a compilation cassette tape. Those songs have just come out on vinyl, and he’s tracked down every musician on the record to share in the profits (not an easy task). The songs are by local musicians making music on whatever crude instruments and rogue software they can find. Although the songs are by different artists, there’s a kind of digital haze that hovers over the production quality.
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