Emmanuelle Olivier

Profession arranger: emerging figure in musical creation and digital audio knowledge production in Mali

With 3G technology, the number of recording studios has increased all over Western Africa, and today they are at the heart of the new ecosystem of popular music. As the musicians composed and tested their new songs with the public, before recording the most popular ones in the rare studios in West African capitals, they now go directly to the many home studios at their disposal to compose and record with their “arranger”. Their notoriety is above all due to their “visibility” (Heinich 2012) in a media regime. The public accesses new songs through audio recordings and video clips via social networks, streaming platforms, radio or television. And during stage performances, the audience comes to see (and be seen) rather than listen to musicians who, moreover, often use playback. A new dialectic is thus being established between recorded music and stage performance. Both listening and creation move into the field of recorded music, while the studio brings out a new figure and a new profession: that of “arranger”, a term used in Western Africa to designate the person who performs the work of arranger, sound engineer and mixer.

This paper will focus on what happens before studio work begins. In countries where training structures for sound and music professions are rare, I will raise the question of the transfer of this new globalized digital audio knowledge, its circulation, appropriation and capitalisation. Based on an ethnography of recording studios of Bamako carried on since 2014, I will analyse the background of the arrangers, who are very diversified and some of whom have a high degree of qualification. Beyond their rather consensual discourse on self-learning (through Youtube tutorials), we will see from whom and how they acquired their audio digital knowledge, which will lead to an analysis of informal learning by questioning emblematic figures of arranger- trainers (who circulate throughout Western Africa, some of whom have immigrated to Europe), and to investigate what is transmitted vs what is hidden, i.e. the power relationships between arrangers. Finally, we will look at the training courses organized by cultural cooperation and the international music industry, raising the question of the international standards of the production they convey.


CNRS — EHESS, France

Is a French ethnomusicologist, Senior Research Fellow at CNRS and Lecturer at EHESS (Paris). Her research in Southern and Western Africa focus on musical practices which express a social reality, esthetic choices, kwowledge and know-how locally and historically situated, while participating in the global economy of cultural property. She is currently working in Mali on the making of popular music, by questioning the changes brought about by the digital revolution on the actors, practices, places, knowledge-power relations, and collective imagination. She has directed several International projects on Musical Creation in the South and on Listening Music in the Digital Era and is the author of many articles and books on these topics.