A Music-Sharing Network for the Unconnected

Photo: Digital-music merchants in Mali’s capital provide a vibrant human-driven alternative to iTunes. by Michaël Zumstein/Agence Vu, for The New York Times

Excerpt from this article, and be sure to check out the slideshow, excellent and interesting perspectives on downloading digital content in this part of the world:

…As of 2012 there were enough cellphones in service in Mali for every man, woman and child. The spread of cellphones in this way has driven innovation across the continent. M-Pesa, a text-message-based money-transfer system, has made financial services available for the first time to millions. Another enterprise tells rural farmers by text what their crops might sell for in distant markets; mass-texting campaigns have helped promote major public health initiatives.

Yet for many Africans, the phone is not merely, or even principally, a communications device. You can see this on the sun-blasted streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, where a new kind of merchant has sprung up along Fankélé Diarra Street. Seated practically thigh to thigh, these vendors crouch over laptops, scrolling through screen after screen of downloaded music. They are known as téléchargeurs, or downloaders, and they operate as an offline version of iTunes, Spotify and Pandora all rolled into one. They know what their regulars might like, from the latest Jay Z album to the obscurest songs of Malian music pioneers like Ali Farka Touré. Savvy musicians take their new material to Fankélé Diarra Street and press the téléchargeurs to give it a listen and recommend it to their customers. For a small fee — less than a dime a song — the téléchargeurs transfer playlists to memory cards or U.S.B. sticks, or directly onto cellphones. Customers share songs with their friends via short-range Bluetooth signals.

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