We Listen For Mali

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If you've been paying attention the news recently, you've no doubt heard about Mali, the West African nation home of the fabled Timbuktu, which has been overrun by Al Qaeda.  As in other fundamentalist Islamic controlled areas, Al Qaeda is waging a war on the populace of Mali, including barbaric public amputations of hands and feet for theft, as well as a culture war, with all music outlawed, save for Quranic chants.

Mali has a rich musical history.  Its geographical and historical positioning has placed it at the cultural crossroads of West Africa, but its vibrant music scene - once a way of life - has now been completely choked off.  According to the Washington Post:
Northern Mali, one of the richest reservoirs of music on the continent, is now an artistic wasteland. Hundreds of musicians have fled south to Bamako, the capital, and to other towns and neighboring countries, driven out by hard-liners who have decreed any form of music — save for the tunes set to Koranic verses — as being against their religion.
The exiles describe a shattering of their culture, in which playing music brings lashes with whips, even prison time, and MP3 and cassette players are seized and destroyed.
“We can no longer live like we used to live,” lamented Aminata Wassidie Traore, 36, a singer who fled her village of Dire, near Timbuktu. “The Islamists do not want anyone to sing anymore.”
In Malian society, music anchors every ceremony, from births and circumcisions to weddings and prayers for rains. Village bards known as griots sang traditional songs and poems of the desert, passing down centuries-old tales of empires, heroes and battles, as well as their community’s history. In this manner, memories were preserved from generation to generation, along with ancient African traditions and ways of life.
In current times, lyrics serve as a source of inspiration and learning, a way to pass down morals and values to youths. They have also been used to expose corruption and human rights abuses, and have helped eradicate stigmas and given a voice to the poor.
“In northern Mali, music is like oxygen,” said Baba Salah, one of northern Mali’s most-respected musicians. “Now, we cannot breathe.”
So, while we stray away from political statements on this blog (we are, after all, dedicated to music) I urge you to take a moment or two this week and listen to music from Mali.  And, in so doing, send your thoughts/prayers/wishes to the people struggling over there.  If fundamentalists wish to kill music in Mali, then we can make it live on elsewhere until this senselessness is driven away.  

The place to start is with the iconic Ali Farka Touré, perhaps the most iconic musician of Mali in the 20th century.  Touré mashed traditional Malian music with the blues, creating a hypnotizing, emotional catalog which earned him a spot as one of Rolling Stone's greatest 100 guitarists of all time.

Vieux Farka Touré, Ali's second son, takes his father's records and explodes the sound.  While Ali's music has an unmistakably roots feel to it, as if you were listening to the bones of the blues, Vieux incorporates electric guitars that riff through with dexterity and precision, earning him the nickname "Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara," as well as a collaboration with Dave Matthews.

Perhaps my favorite group though is Tinariwen, a group of Tuareg musicians who collaborated with Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio on their album Tassili.  However, if you're starting somewhere with Tinariwen, I urge you to check out 2007's Aman Iman:  Water is Life.  

Music is life in Mali.  Keep it alive here, if they can't keep it alive there.     


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