In the current issue of Willamette Week, we profiled Portland blogger Christopher Kirkley, who lived for over a year in West Africa, making field recordings and trading regional pop songs with locals via MP3s stored on cellphones, which he eventually compiled and released through his label, Sahelsounds. We asked Kirkley for his top five favorite tracks from the region—and as you'll hear, they run a wide stylistic gamut.
Mdou Moctar, "La Super"
Guitarist Mdou Moctar from the north of Niger produced this album of Auto-Tuned Tuareg guitar. He's already a talented musician, but his release got taken to the next level when it was recorded in a studio in Nigeria and the engineer took some creative liberties. The result is eight amazing tracks that became huge across the Sahara.
Aziz Berkani and Samar Ray, "Ana Mzaweg Matemchich"
Aziz Berkani is a superstar musician from the north of Morocco. Continuing with the Auto-Tune fascination, this romantic duet is one of the most delightful and sublime uses of the technology.
Group Anmataff, "Tinariwen"
Featured on the first Music from Saharan Cellphones LP, this track is unique in the combination of standard Tuareg guitar drone with the steady kick of a drum machine. It's a haunting song about the suffering of the Sahara, a lyrical continuation of common themes in Tuareg folk, but updated in style.
Auguy Solo, "Decalé"
This is an instrumental guitar jam by one of the Ivory Coast's acclaimed soloists. The style was actually created in Paris by immigrants and exported back to the home country, but it's since become a trademark sound throughout West Africa.
Iba One, "All (Remix)"
Iba One is one of the most talented rappers in Mali. You don't need to speak Bambara to respect his rapid delivery. He's teamed up with Sidiki Diabaté (the son of Grammy winning Toumani Diabaté) who composed the pitch-bending synth instrumental track with breakneck BPMs.