A Bandcamp Friday Beginner’s Guide to Sahel Sounds

Every Bandcamp Friday the lovely people at Sahel Sounds make the whole back catalogue available at Name Your Price; a great opportunity for new comers to the label, especially in this cost of living crisis when picking up a new album for free if needs be might just be the difference between maintaining mental health and preventing a breakdown.

But with so many albums to choose from and all by artists never heard of before, where to start?

A quick list of six of my favourites that will hopefully help:

Agadez by Etran de L’Aïr 

An outstanding collection of upbeat wedding songs full of hypnotic harmonies and melodies; as equally chill out as making the listener want to get up and dance:

‘Etran is a family band composed of brothers and cousins, all born and raised in the small neighborhood of Abalane. Sons of nomadic families that settled here in the 1970s fleeing the droughts, they all grew up in Agadez. The band formed in 1995 when current band leader Moussa “Abindi” Ibra was only 9 years old. “We only had one acoustic guitar,” he explains, “and for percussion, we hit a calabash with a sandal.” ’

At Pioneer Works by Les Filles de Illighadad 

Cool rhythmic guitar licks underpin enchanting vocals:

‘At the heart of Les Filles’ music is the percussion and poetry of tende—a term used for both the instrument and the type of music—whereby a mortar and pestle are transformed into a drum, and women join together in a circle, in a chorus of singing, chanting, and clapping. Sometimes it’s music for celebration, sometimes it’s music to heal the sick, sometimes it’s poetry of love.’

Yaral Sa Doom by Wau Wau Collectif 

Unlike anything else I’ve ever heard, a truly magical album sounding like it’s from another time and place; the truth is perhaps even more extraordinary:

‘In 2018, Swedish music archaeologist and leftfield musician Karl Jonas Winqvist travelled to Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, a small fishing village turned hub of Senegal’s bohemian art scene. Over the next weeks, local musicians, percussionists, poets, and beat makers came together, sketching out ideas and recording free improvisation. Winqvist returned to Sweden, trading recordings back and forth over WhatsApp with Senegal based collaborator and studio engineer Arouna Kane.’

Tenere by Afous d’Afous 

The super laidback guitar vibes of one of Tuareg music’s best kept secrets:

‘This six person rock outfit from Tamanrasset in southern Algeria is by all accounts unknown in world music circles. However, at home in the Tuareg community, they are without a doubt the most celebrated, famous, and in demand group, second only to Tinariwen. The electric guitar, front and center, drives the tracks with up tempo rhythms, all led by the soulful voice of Kader, measured and balanced with the chorus call and response.’

Ibitlan by Mdou Moctar 

It could be Rush’s ‘Spirit of the Radio’ not only in similar opening, but more so what an epic anthem it likewise goes on to be:

‘Mdou Moctar hails from a small village in central Niger in a remote region steeped in religious tradition. Growing up in an area where secular music was all but prohibited, he taught himself to play on a homemade guitar cobbled together out of wood. It was years before he found a “real” guitar and taught himself to play in secret. He immediately became a star amongst the village youth. In a surprising turn, his songs began to win over local religious leaders with their lyrics of respect, honor, and tradition.’

Zabaya by Azna de L’Ader

Absolutely no doubt about it this guy wants to be Hendrix and this album is all the more blisteringly fantastic for it:

‘Archival recordings from Niger’s seminal psych outfit, Azna de L’Ader. Intense shrieking solos, fuzzed out guitar, and hypnotic crashing drums, Azna de L’Ader was not only the first rock band in Niger but possibly the most psychedelic. This is West Africa’s answer to Zamrock.’


Sahel Sounds, to paraphrase the label’s website, ‘is a project focused on culture in the West African Sahel. It began as a blog by label founder Christopher Kirkley in 2009 to share field recordings. Today, it is a record label, artist collective, film production house, and arts organization.’

There are all sorts of other gems to find in their collection, from street recordings on cell phones to school choirs from the 80s; equally many of the featured artists above have more than one release.

y-k-mhJml7Fusfs-unsplashThe Bandcamp page showing all Sahel Sounds releases can be found here.

With thanks to Y K for use of the header image.

Happy listening!

Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan

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