Category Archives: Art

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba : Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure songs are never short of emotion. ‘Tulumba’ announces itself triumphantly which somewhat betrays the rest of the song. It continues in at the pace of a melancholic shanty, not despairing but grieving.

And there is much to grieve over in the last week of Malian life. On April 14th the great and widely celebrated Malian photographer Malick Sidibé passed away in Bamako aged 80. In a delightful tribute, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, International Correspondent with NPR, described the effect Sidibé’s death has had on the country through the words of Mali’s culture minister, N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo. He was undoubtedly a “national treasure” whose loss the entire country is mourning.

The war in the north of Mali has seen a bloody week. Civilians, soldiers and humanitarians all falling victim to the enduring instability, growing distrust and angst at a wretched situation of which no one appears to have the strength to control. In that void violence thrives. The International Committee of the Red Cross announced on Monday that for a month three of its aid workers on assignment in deep in the north in Abeibara had been missing. Only a week before this announcement, three French soldiers had been killed in a landmine blast during a routine drive from Gao with President Hollande expressing “deep sadness” upon hearing the news. And perhaps most troubling of all is the situation in Kidal. Reports from Mali on April 19th describe how a street protest formed to demonstrate against arrests made by French and UN forces which they allege were arbitrary and undermined peace efforts. The situation turned violent resulting in 4 deaths, 7 injuries – 2 seriously – a trashed airport, and shots fired, reportedly by UN soldiers as much as anyone else.

In these desperate times we must consider the wisdom of Toure and Sidibé – these two late, great Malians – and not slip so easily into sorrow and defeat. Artists leave us with gifts, new tools to understand and interpret the world. In 2008, Sidibé told The Daily Telegraph “For me, photography is all about youth…It’s about a happy world full of joy, not some kid crying on a street corner or a sick person.” Writing about the motivation to create the album Niafunké (named after his beloved home town) from which ‘Tulumba’ hails, Ali Farka Toure explained that:

“My music is about where I come from and our way of life and it is full of important messages for Africans. In the West perhaps this music is just entertainment and I don’t expect people to understand. But I hope some might take the time to listen and learn.”

So whilst we can rejoice in the magic that these artists produce, we must also consider their approach and look deeper. We must allow ourselves to be challenged by what is being presented to us. This may appear difficult without access to context or language and perhaps as a Westerner it can never be fully understood. But this spectacular photography and music is unquestionably stirring. It makes an impression on us. Let’s gather that feeling up and at the very least we can try and understand it, unpick it, respond to it and see what we learn from there. Perhaps there is a way through.

 

 

Ali Farka Toure – Tulumba

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Rail Band – Duga

“Your work is a lesson in tolerance, dialogue and peace… it is an answer to all extremists whose echo can be heard well beyond the borders of Mali.”

For years now we have show how musicians in Mali have lent their voices and instruments to the resolution and discussion of many problems in Malian society – the conflict, ebola and the treacherous migration to a life in Europe all being some of the topics analysed, interpreted and presented through music. This is all with a distinctly nod to a growing, and lucrative, international audience. On the home front, its time for the masons to lead the charge against intolerance. The quote above is from UNESCO’s Irina Bokova, who paid tribute to the year-long work of 140 highly-skilled Malian masons in restoring the tombs and mausoleums of Timbuktu. 14 of the 16 World Heritage Sites were destroyed by extremists during the 2012/13 conflict, with the armed insurgent group claiming their contents were idolatrous – including irreplacable manuscripts, all dating back to Timbuktu’s intellectual and spiritual golden age in the 15th/16th century.

Irina Bokova continued in interview to state that UNESCO had instructed the International Criminal Court to look into their destruction as a war crime, citing the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This is not a new idea as Bokova’s similar statements in 2012 encouraged a New York based law student to analyse how the legal scenario would play out. Perhaps the judicial process would only be thrilling to a legal eye, its implications however could be interesting to many.

As UNESCO recommends in a separate document, would the Malian army really prioritise in future the deployment of ‘special units’ of its army to protect ‘cultural property’ when it struggles to defend its borders and citizens? It could be an example of how a security situation can become globalised; where the demands of an intellectually engaged community across the world can influence the reordering of a society post-conflict with their own priorities. Though well intentioned, this can be based on perceived ‘losses’ during the conflict experienced from afar. The mausoleums and manuscripts are known by many world-wide and are considered world heritage. Its an issue we have discussed before and it gets pretty complex both legally and morally. I guess its worth watching this space till either the ICC or UNESCO provide greater detail on the charges, which remain unclear.

So hats off to the master masons of Timbuktu. Foreign funds have provided employment for reportedly 140 people in this project that will last up to 4 years. In the end, culture and history are important to any economic recovery too. Providing jobs and attracting tourists. Its been many decades since Timbuktu was a real destination for the adventurous, maybe even before the days of the famous Rail Band. Here’s to hoping that the excellent work of 140 locals is not in vain and a new golden age for the city is on the way soon.

 

 

Rail Band – Duga

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Famade

Africa cultural assets are in demand. African music, fashion and art are excelling in all corners of the globe. Even its TV personalities are taking over; this week South African comedian Trevor Noah was unveiled as Jon Stewart’s successor on the hugely popular comedy-satire programme The Daily Show.

Mali’s part in this blooming global African identity has overwhelmingly been its music, as we all know. However, Mali’s contributions and interactions with the world of art and culture is not exclusively musical. The city of Bamako is home to Ballaké Sissoko, master kora player and this week’s Artist of the Week. Bamako is also home to legendary photographer Malick Sidibé. Born in 1935 in what was then French Sudan, Sidibé, known as the “Eye of Bamako”, still resides in the city today. Sidibé’s work is famous for exploring, documenting and capturing the cultural and social change that occurred in immediate post-colonial Mali in the 1960s & 70s. He did this through thousands of photographs and drawings, famously in black and white. Sidibé’s work was not immediately recognised internationally, though today it is very valuable and some of his work went on sale in London this week. He more or less completed his major work by the 1980s yet is still an active visual artist – recently completing a fashion shoot for the New York Times.

In some ways, it sounds like a similar story to that of Mali’s music: once it was discovered by the world, especially its desert blues, people were compelled by its modernity and amazed by its history. The most boggling part of all is how familiar all African art seems. It leads us to think that the last 50, 60 years has not been a process of discovery but of reconnection. With art no longer oppressed and contorted through colonial dialogue into exotica, independent Africa is now playing catch-up and perhaps it is finally getting up to to speed. Artists like Malick Sidibé and Ballaké Sissoko, particularly for his ground-breaking collaborative work, will be admired for years to come, and we hope will be remembered for being just the beginning.

 

Ballaké Sissoko – Famade