Malian music in a time of war

The country's - and the continent's - musicians respond to the violence


  1. In 2012, Mali descended into chaos. Insurgent groups clashed with the government in the country's north in an effort to turn the area called Azawad into an independent state for the Tuareg people. Soon after president Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted in a coup. The French military intervened, clashing with Islamist militants, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a major deployment of U.N. troops to be sent into the West African nation after the French depart.

    Mali is home to one of the richest music cultures on the planet. I wanted to use this exercise as an excuse to look into how Malian musicians were responding to the war breaking out around them.
  2. That photo montage was posted to YouTube by Sylvain Cherkaoui, a French-born, freelance photo journalist based in Dakar, Senegal. The background music is by Tinariwen, a band of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. This is the band playing the Paradise Rock Club in Boston last fall.
  3. In January, a group of Mali's best known musicians, including Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Fatoumata Diawara, released "Mali Ko,"  a song calling for peace in their country.
  4. Last fall, militants in Kidal, Tinariwen's hometown, threatened local musicians with violence.

  5. Malian rappers have responded with this "S.O.S."
  6. Bombino, the Taureg singer-guitarist, feels the effects of Mali's war in his home in Niger.
  7. And the Congolese musician Mulele Matondo Afrika brought together London-based musicians to record a response to the "ban" on music in northern Mali.
  8. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba recorded "Jama Ko" in Mali with the Montreal producer Howard Bilerman last spring, just as the war conditions intensified. The blog "Said The Gramaphone" calls Kouyate "the world's best n'goni player" and compares his fame in his home country to Michael Jackson's.
  9. Music critic and blogger Robert Christgau wrote of "Jama Ko": "I swear I thought the third album by Youssou N'Dour’s ngoni man of choice might be the best ever to come out of Mali even before I got to the notes." Those notes included the information that Kouyate was friend with the deposed president and "that two songs celebrate anti-Islamist heroes of 19th-century Mali‑-a martyr whose refusal to leave his animist faith inspired his Muslim protector to fight to his own death for it and a soldier who drank beer in the sanctimonious face of the Muslim cheikh who'd persuaded him to fight for a faith he refused to obey to the letter."