Sahel Sounds, and Guerrilla Ethnomusicology
Christopher Kirkley is an archivist, artist, curator, and occasional DJ who runs the project Sahel Sounds. His work examines contemporary popular musics in an evolving technological landscape in the Sahara and Sahel regions of West Africa, from the interplay of localized traditions with transglobal influences to new media models of cultural transmission.
Sahel Sounds began as a blog in 2009 to share field recordings and has evolved into a record label, perhaps best known for its compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones. The blog continues as a platform to explore arts and music of the region through nontraditional ethnographic fieldwork. Currently, Chris is fundraising for the production of what may be the first-ever Tuareg language fiction film, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (“Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It”)—an homage to Purple Rain and The Harder They Come, and drawing on the experimental filmmaking of Poverty Row, Italian Neo-Realism, and Jean Rouch—which aims to provide an alternative to the dominant narrative of contemporary Tuareg music-as-rebellion by dramatizing the music scene in Agadez, Niger.
We recently discussed some of his projects, the relationship of his work to academic ethnography, and how digital music is being archived in the Sahel. Excerpts from our conversation are reproduced below.