Nigerien Radio On A Nigerian Radio

One of my first purchases after arriving in Niamey, Niger was a radio, imported from Nigeria (one of the major centers of manufacturing in West Africa) and labeled in English. It’s interesting to note the seemingly bizarre combination of media types it can play, drawing from several different generations: AM/FM radio, cassette tape, USB (thumb drives; I’m not sure whether it’ll play anything else), and SD memory cards, but no CDs. CDs are not popular here, from what I understand, because they’re not very reliable with all the dust, and if you’re going to play something in the car, they’re no good on bumpy roads. I’ll see what I find when I finally make it to see some of the music vendors this week.

Tuning into Nigerien radio is an interesting study in the country’s past, present, and future. By this I mean you’re able to get a very clear sense of a colonial past with French-language stations, including Radio France International (RFI); past meeting present with traditional music sharing airtime with popular music from Niger, Mali, and elsewhere (including the very popular, extremely auto-tuned Hausa pop from northern Nigeria); the immediate present–the month of Ramadan–represented by several channels featuring Koranic recitation; and a future of increased neo-colonial influence from Europe (in addition to RFI, there’s BBC in the evening), the US (there’s a station that plays American R&B and gospel music), and China (I was totally caught off guard when I discovered a Chinese-language station, and even more blown away to hear the song “Full of Joy” that I’d studied in my Music of Asia class this year). I've even heard music from Bollywood films on the radio (and seen Indian soap operas on TV).

I thought it’d be a fun memento to record and share a minute or two of turning the dial through the various radio stations I’m able to pick up. Not the best example here, but I wanted to capture the diversity of what’s on the radio in one go. Some of the channels come in stronger than others, so the volume’s all over the place.

As I write this, a tune from Ali Farka Touré’s last album, Savane, has just started playing. He’s a legend here, and apparently when he died in 2005 everyone, whether or not they were Songhai or Malian, were blasting his music from their radios. (Touré was a Malian Songhai and world-renowned guitarist. Importantly, the dominant ethnic group in Niamey are the Zarma, who are closely related to the Songhai in language and culture.)

Eric Schmidt is a M.A. student in Ethnomusicology at UCLA. He is currently living in Niamey, Niger. Read more about his time there at his fieldwork blog, Amassakoul n'Ténéré.

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