Category Archives: News

Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni : Mali Song of the Week

At the beginning of the year we pointed out that some hold the view that China is on a “collision course” with radical Islamic militants in both the Middle-East and across North Africa. This analysis emerged in the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in November last year where around 170 hostages were taken by the militants and 19 were killed in a mass shooting – among them prominent Chinese officials. Jihadist group Al-Mourabitoun has since claimed responsibility for the assault which it carried out in co-operation with al-Qaeda. Unsure how China would deal with what could be interpreted as a targeted attack on their ambitious plans in Africa, the world speculated on how they would respond. It appears that a slow, shaky collision has begun. China has steadily built up its UN peacekeeping contingent in Mali since the attack and in December passed its first piece of ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation allowing that allows its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations. With violence in Mali spreading, the conflict in the north of the country has now taken the life of its first Chinese peacekeeper and injured five others, two of them seriously. Ansar Dine has claimed responsibility for this particular attack.

So why is China getting involved in the first place? Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara has spoken publicly about his view that China is both a positive force for peace and development in his home country. It is generally assumed you cannot have one without the other and therefore the argument usually follows that, even when looked at cynically, China has simply positioned its troops in Mali to better secure its investments there. Now, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a very good way to kick-start economic recovery and development so there is every chance that this arrangement can be just as beneficial for Mali as it is for resource-thirsty China. However there are no guarantees that the benefits of any infrastructural, commercial or industrial investments will trickle down to the local population. When social, political and environmental consequences are factored in this kind of arrangement can easily become highly detrimental to the host population.

Surely all foreign investors – not just the Chinese – have any interest in bringing peace to Mali? Well its appears that the powers that be have found a way to make the risk profitable. Not wanting to get into lengthy detail about the ins and outs of investing in Mali, one could assume that the presence of the war in the country would be enough to most people off. Despite this and the proliferation of the conflict throughout Mali over the past year or so a $67 million investment in a gold mine was made this week giving the project in Yanfolia near the Guinea border the green light. Arguably, the conflict is still overwhelmingly centred in the north of the country with the north/south divide more prevalent than ever. It is therefore difficult to ascertain whether the conflict has actually diminished, with the associated investment risks going with it, or that stability and reconstruction are now unnecessary and costly precursors to resource extraction. If the financial benefit for the international community is no longer inhibited by war what interest do they have in pursuing peace?

Of course, the war must stop and Vieux Farka Touré made this statement the focus of his song “Kele Magni” which translates roughly as “the war must stop” or “the war is no good”. Back in The Financial Times documented Vieux’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance back in September 2013. Then the mood was triumphant; Vieux like many Malians was celebrating the success and assuming the finality of the French military intervention. As David Honigmann reported at the time:

“”War’s not good,” [Vieux Farka Toure] noted, introducing “Kele Magni”; “now they’ve stopped the war.” And appropriately the song, on record contemplative, here bounced with bass and drums in a joyous celebration.”

It has become apparent that the French did indeed stop the nation from collapsing. However despite a UN deployment and free-and-fair elections, three years on from Vieux’s declaration that the war was over violence is recurring and resurgent. Listening to it now the song becomes more a depressive plea; its been long, much too long. The war must end. In an interview in October 2013 Vieux descibes his hometown of Niafunke during the war and how he wrote songs like “Kele Magni” to fulfil his responsibility to “let people know” about what wass happening to their country. The radio interviewer describes the French defeat of the militant forces as a ‘rout‘. Unknowingly at the time this has become an apt portrayal. We now know that al-Qaeda and its patchworker of associate organisations was not a defeated after all, only withdrawn in disorder after sustaining heavy losses. It has been an opportunity for a change of tactics to a more wide-spread guerilla campaign – the one we see today.

So if the war must stop, who will stop it? We must have faith that there are people in Mali that are willing to fight for it. Its musicians always will. But who within all these foreign interventions?  Amongst the Chinese MINUSMA peacekeepers was a soldier named Si Chongchang wounded whilst carring out his mission to bring stabilisation to the people and politics of Mali. Speaking from his hospital bed in Dakhar, it is perhaps right that he should have the last say: “When I recover, I hope to go back to join my comrades and finish what we started.” We must hope that in that mission, he is successful.


Vieux Farka Touré – Kele Magni


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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.

Fatoumata Diawara – Bakonoba : Mali Song of the Week

You may have noticed a slightly different look to this week’s Song of the Week. Only slight mind, and you may have noticed it’s a little shorter than usual too. This is because most of the time usually dedicated to producing a jolly bit of prose about music of Mali has been committed to clicking about under the Mali Interest Hub bonnet. The Hub is due a long overdue renovation to make room for all the capability we dreamed it would have.

So while that is all going on it is important not to lose sight of the real reason we are all here – to celebrate a country we love.  On Saturday evening Diawara supported Songhoy Blues at the Roundhouse and joined them for an unforgettable finale rendition of ‘Soubour’. Fatoumata Diawara gets pretty wild on stage. An already strong vocalist explodes into a hair-swinging lioness, thundering back and forth across the stage just to fill a 20 second instrumental. She provided the perfect send-off for this special evening with her infectious energy, her charisma combining well with the general coolness (but sometimes crazy) of Aliou Toure – lead singer of Songhoy Blues.

Diawara issued a clarion call for African women during her set, speaking emotively about the legacies of previous greats like Miriam Makeba and present day heroes like Angelique Kidjo. A symbol of strength and beauty herself, she encouraged everyone in attendance to empower the women of Africa for the sake of the continent and for peace and prosperity worldwide. Later, Aliou Toure would make a similarly impassioned speech, bringing the noise of a 2,000-strong crowd to silence, as he spoke about the need for solidarity with musicians and artists. Citing the massacre at the Bataclan, he reminded the audience that musicians, ever on the pulse of social and political expressions, were increasingly targeted by terrorists – not only in Africa, but now across the globe.

Then came a chance to really do something about it. Roaring “encore!” at Songhoy Blues had felt like enough previously; cheering support for this band that respresents the very essence of artistic defiance in this insecure world. The Music In Exile fund, coordinated by the Index on Censorship and supported wholly by Songhoy Blues, was the nominated charity for the evening. The money raised will fund scholarships for exiled musicians fleeing persecution. The hip-hop artist and political activist Serge Bambara (aka Smockey) is the first, and an undoubtably worthy, beneficiary of the scheme. He will be performing in London in July in an atmosphere that is bound to be as electric as Saturday’s.

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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.

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 –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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.

AfroCubism – Benséma : Mali Song of the Week

Whatever the political and economic consequences of President Obama’s trip to Cuba this week, we’ve learnt a bit about him and the country he visited. We can also see that a whole lot hasn’t changed. Another thing that has evidentially remained unchanged – during that 20th Century “constant” of the Cold War conflict between the US and Cuba – is that the Caribbean nation remains enamoured, at every turn, with music. Scenes from a Major League Baseball exhibition game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays held yesterday morning show jubilation in the crowds whenever the band started up – which appeared to be every other minute. Rapturous and genuine applause even bloomed at the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner. Ahead of the game President Obama penned a short article explaining the significance and purpose of the match:

“That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken.”

This is of course must be framed as a uniquely American reflection on Cuba. Other countries, particular those in Africa, have not endorsed the isolationist policies of the US and remember different struggles. On the contrary Cuba has a rich history of cooperation in Africa where they attacked barriers from the same side. Nelson Mandela famously thanked Castro and the Cuban people for the “selfless” support received for the anti-apartheid movement. In many ways its was the “critical” intervention in the gradual and successful defeat of apartheid. Apartheid itself means  “the state of being apart” when translated from Afrikaans. To be anti-apartheid is to show a willingness to come together. In this case it was for the advancement of the rights and liberties of people from the other side of the world.

It is a difficult truth for the US to digest, no less for Noble Peace Prize winner Obama. In an incredible exchange that just about everybody should watch, Mandela during his visit to the US in 1990 was challenged by Ken Adelman from the Institute of Contemporary Studies for his praise of the human rights advocacy of Gaddafi, Arafat and Castro. In his response, Mandela alludes to the comparatively lack of support the US government ever showed the ANC, which barely extended beyond rhetoric, in its fight for human rights in South Africa. With his ‘normalising’ speeches and actions in Cuba over the last few days Obama is trying to work his magic on a particularly prickly legacy of his predecessors; that all too often American diplomacy has failed to bring the world together. Utilising sport to correct this is not a new Cold War trick and indeed its going to take a whole lot of ballgames to convince some commentators that the US’s actions against Cuba ought to be laid to rest.

Sport and culture facilitates all sorts of diplomatic relations, though not always positive I hasten to add. This is no different in Mali. Its relations with South Africa for example have been nurtured through two recent projects: 1) the crucial assistance Mali received from South Africa when its ability to host the African Cup of Nations in 2002 looked in doubt and 2) the on-going South African-led Timbuktu manuscript restoration and preservation project. With Cuba, Mali shares its music. Historically, Mali had some Cold War ties with Cuba, but over the last century its music has bound its people together more closely – even if many of them may not have known it.

Sadly, in researching this article I couldn’t find direct evidence of Malian and Cuban official relations being nurtured though musical connections, though I’m sure I would eventually. In a visit to the country last year, it is reported that (the source is from the Cuban Communist Party) President of the National Assembly of Mali, Issaka Sidibé, “thanked Cuban authorities for their cooperation with his country in various spheres, including health, sport and education”. Advancing cultural exchange was high on the agenda also. The musical harmony between the two countries is captured in this week’s Song of The Week. It hints at that unquantifiable, allusive and often dismissed quality, the very existence of it and its transformative powers Obama is banking will take hold in Cuba. Like sport music has a common language. A set of rules recognised nearly everywhere. Toumani Diabate – who features in this week’s SOTW – explained how during the AfroCubism project the various musicians from Mali, Cuba and elsewhere:

“…cannot even speak together on stage…music has created its own language. It’s the music message, and I think the message is true to the audiences [and] to the world also at the same time.”

It provides hope that separated peoples – by the Straights of Florida or the Atlantic Ocean, by education or simply by the passage of time – can find common intrinsically human pursuits to strip away the polluting effects of titles, labels, ignorance and othering. In its place there is always a chance for peace, happiness and cooperation. But just a chance.


AfroCubism – Benséma


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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.

Habib Kioté – N’Ba : Mali Song of the Week

Its been two months since the Radisson Blu Hotel attack in Bamako where at least 20 people were killed. Among the dead were three executives from the international arm of the China Railway Construction Corporation. Why were these Chinese citizens there and what does this tell us about China’s interests in Africa? Firstly, a bit of back-story: China and Mali have just completed a deal to completely revolutionise international rail travel in the Sahel by building a 1286km railway to Dakar the port capital city of Senegal. There is also a project tabled to build another line to another port city – Conakry in Guinea. These two projects come with a cost of a whopping $10 billion (reflecting for a moment that Mali’s entire GDP for 2014 was $12.04 billion). It represents a significant investment to say the least. China is thirsty for resources,  Mali is desperate to sell them. What is needed is an efficient way to get them from one country to the other – China needs this railway as much as Mali does.

Should this be celebrated overtly or cautiously? Its no doubt that a splash of modern infrastructure is a good thing. However, many have warned of a growing Chinese imperialism – China using its dominance economically in an exploitative manner. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has assured that cooperation across Africa would not “take the old road by traditional powers” nor “sacrifice Africa’s environment and long-term interests”. We’ve heard that one before, and raises another question about the complicity of Mali’s own elite; is it the everyday Malian that will benefit from or bear the cost of this arrangement? How much choice does a struggling country like Mali have? Often the case is made that it is necessary, or even preferable, to short-cut some democratic processes to allow the sweeping changes need to ‘eradicate’ poverty. This article argues that is a false choice. Jan Abbink from The Broker Online explains:

“Apart from the morally questionable aspects in this line of thinking, there is considerable doubt about the approach’s long-term effects. Also scientifically, it is dubious. There is no significant evidence that hardline authoritarian rule in development will be durable or that it will provide social cohesion.”

He continues, clarifying that:

“Of course neither is there significant evidence that democratic models guarantee growth and stability, especially not in multi-ethnic countries. Skewed economic policies, exclusivism and unfairness in the distribution of ‘resources’, non-transparent, non-representational politics, and phantom justice systems will, at some point, inevitably create emergent protests, social movements, resistance or silent sabotage among the population not getting a good deal.”

In the case of Mali, we already have resistance and a not-so-silent sabotage from a population perceivably not getting a good deal. We also have the spectre of international militant groups and their splintered associates to contend with. The issue in Mali is not exclusively developmentalist, but also a global security matter which China’s bulging economic demands are rubbing up against increasingly. Harry Verhoeven of the University of Oxford observes that ” the PRC is slowly but surely giving up its controversial policy of non-interference. This is not so much the product of a carefully considered foreign policy shift as it is a logical response to both acute security crises on the [African] continent in recent years and China’s re-emergence as a global power with ever greater interests, ever further afield.” This shift, which has staggering implications for the rest of the planet, has lead to one commentator to declare that China is on “a collision course” with ISIS, providing particular detail on the scale of China’s dependence on its investments in the developing world coming good and ISIS’s own efforts to target China.

With so much at stake, has China visably changed its behaviour in response to a  deteriorating security situation? China had already broken new ground in regards to its approach to peacekeeping opertaions before the Radisson attack. This article even argued ahead of time that China’s cautious attitude “might change overnight if an attack on Chinese companies or civilians takes place in the region”. It is always interesting to see when the economic interests of a superpower are threatened, logisitical issues across Africa become a solvable issue – of course, only when resources and materials are moving out of Africa. Getting things in, trivial things like humanitarian aid and essential relief to those suffering today is another story. Professor Ian Taylor from the University of St Andrews comments on this wider trend in Africa. He writes that “the fundamental problem facing Africa is governance…” adding “it doesn’t matter how many roads or ports” you have. Indeed, Alessandra Dentice, the deputy representative of Unicef, says her agency’s efforts are being frustrated by “the lack of government personnel in certain areas”. Getting the country secure and governed correctly in a more holistic way, more than just closing up porous borders and managing to keep a railway open, is required.

We must fear that instead of the country being rebuilt, it will simply be hollowed out.


Habib Kioté – N’Ba


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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

Lassina Coulibaly & Yan Kadi Faso- Soundjata 

Another week, another city rocked by violence. This time its the turn of Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, suffering its first major attack from al-Qaeda affiliated group AQIM. Much has been made of Burkina Faso’s place in the global picture of violence and instability, with some pointing to tragedies that occurred simultaneously, though seemingly unrelated directly, while many others have inspected the aftermath looking for clues to shed light onto al-Qaeda’s strategic positioning and organisational health more generally. Though it is worth pointing out that in their own terms this latest attack was merely ‘drop in the sea of global jihad.’  Trouble has been brewing in Burkina Faso for a while, but it is only now that people have considered it to be firmly in the ‘terrorised’ club of countries around the world.

Across the border – and indeed at the border – with neighbouring Mali the security situation continues to be a challenge. With Burkina Faso to the south and east and a peace deal with the Tuareg-led coalition in the northern regions still unobtainable Mali is currently dealing with militant groups on at least two different fronts. Therefore, the recent announcement that Mali and Burkina Faso were to collaborate on matters relating to the ‘fight against terrorism‘ are welcome though details remain unclear. It is certain that Burkina Faso, like Mali before it, could well be in the scrap of its life. With its first Presidential elections in decades happening only last November, with a failed coup by a section of its elite in the interim, Burkina Faso’s political, civil and military systems are especially vulnerable at present. The vacuum left by years of authoritarian governance is already being exploited, a uncharted bay in the ‘sea of global jihad’. Its almost enough to make Mali look like the stable partner within the arrangement. It will be interesting to see how Mali’s relationship with its neighbour develops and whether a full-blow crisis, similar to that seen in Mali in 2012, ever emerges.

Mali and Burkina Faso’s neighbourly relations go back much further than the past few weeks. Its peoples were once joined in the grand Malian Empire of the middle ages, the topic of this week’s Song of the Week being a legendary tale from that time. The song is composed and performed by Lassina Coulibaly who hails from both Mali and Burkina Faso along with many other, predominantly Malian, African musicians – the Yan Kadi Faso band. Together they produced an entire album of beautiful arrangements, with the kora and djembe putting in particularly delightful performances. With an entire album to explore – entitled “Musiques Du Burkina Faso & Du Mali” – the music has the space to captures a huge range of different West African cultures such as the Bambara, Dioula, Gouin, Maninka, Fulani, and Samoro peoples.

For this week, and likely for a little while longer, Mali and Burkina Faso will be countries joined in misery. Yet for centuries, past and future, their peoples are engaged in the production of the purest joy.


Lassina Coulibaly & Yan Kadi Faso – Soundjata


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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

Sidi Touré – Maïmouna

“I found them more stupid than evil” wrote Nicolas Hénin in summary of his thoughts on Isis. Held captive by them for 10 months he notes what he has seen of them beyond their polished propaganda – pathetic street kids drunk on ideology and power. He adds “That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity”.

The attacks in Paris this weekend past were horrid. The numbers of dead and injured, photos of devastation, comments from family, friends and from far-flung strangers acting in solidarity have been well-publicised. In-between feelings of disbelief, people all over the world tried to make sense of it all. What would be an appropriate response individually and for France, in war and in mourning? Who are they, and why did they do it? Even trivial questions like ‘should the football still go ahead?’ gripped headlines. And thankfully the football did (at least in England) as even Clive Tyldesley – commentator for ITV Sport on yesterday’s emotive England v France game – managed to spare the errant sensationalism to contextualise events in a wider misery. Immediately before the “perfectly observed” minute silence he placed Paris alongside cities in Nigeria, Lebanon and Kenya – drawing viewers attention to the fact that events in Paris were high-profile but unfortunately did not stand alone.

Cities in Mali are in the same club. Bound to other places of civilian slaughter around the world. How many of these received the same response at Paris and why does that matter? Much has been said about the bias in the media, especially Facebook, in the past few days. Just about everyone knows that Facebook has algorithms that prioritise certain bits of information. Buzz words, headlines. All promoted and bumped up by sponsors. But Facebook has taken certain decisions that appear to favour western tragedies over others, which is slightly different, and will apparently change in future due to the outrage. Despite this, Malian’s still found their way to express their solidarity online, Songhoy Blues among them – the band being in Paris at the time. Many frequently expressed the sense of a favour-owed following the French military intervention in 2013. Will the war in Mali remain ‘forgotten‘ or will this provoke renewed focus on a country that appears to be slipping back to widespread violence?

From reading exceptional actions of individuals on Friday evening and the following day we are reminded of the actions of Lassana Bathily, the young Malian man who protected a group of frightened shoppers from the assault at the Parisian Kosher supermarket back in January. Can we expect everyone to be exceptional in these circumstances? Perhaps its transforming the global interconnected mourning and outrage into meaningful action that would be a more reasonable expectation. Its all of us acting together in a small way that makes the bigger difference, which makes the message highlighted in last week’s Song of the Week even more pertinent. In light of events since it is probably worth reviewing.


Sidi Touré – Maïmouna


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at 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

Boubacar Traoré – Je Chanterai Pour Toi

A dreadful week on the Mediterranean. For years the horrors on Europe’s southern frontier have grown in scale and all the while European nations have slashed their funding for the humanitarian mission charged with rescuing stricken vessels. Why are people paying thousands to take a doomed voyage? Stories from Mali show the extent of massive manipulation and misinformation on the part of traffickers which trade human beings like drugs across the Sahara desert. Migrants, desperate for a way to Europe, fall into their hands. Some traffickers pose as assistants; valiantly helping people onto a new life in Europe. The extreme price for their services is explained away, preying on desperation and ignorance. For many land-locked people of Mali there is no way of knowing about the sea for example; the Mediterranean is referred to as ‘the river’ by the traffickers and the realities of the desert kept unknown. Human trafficking is now one of the most important parts of the economy in northern Mali, as the region suffers from further drought and conflict.

We return to the ‘stately, affecting acoustic guitar and unpretentious, story-led vocals’ of Boubacar Traoré to remember that those who have died have fallen victim to the abuses of human trafficking, to poverty and desperation, and to the indifference of a world capable of intervening who have chosen to look away. A blame-game is on in Europe, politicians scrabbling around for stop-gap funding till the tragedies slump out the news. Instability only continues across Africa and the Middle East, causing more people will take the decision to “put all their faith in the unknown”.


Boubacar Traoré – Je Chanterai Pour Toi

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Super Onze – Adar Neeba

Super Onze are the real roots of desert blues” explains Lucy Durán from the School of Oriental and African studies on the Super Onze website. “This is how it all sounded before the electric guitar came in to the equation: Super Onze play amplified ngonis with virtuoso and hypnotic melodies, their raw, impassioned bluesy singing hangs over heavy takamba beats on calabash percussion. After years of playing at weddings and child naming ceremonies around the desert, this band rocks – not to be silenced. The real soul of Mali’s northern desert.”

In a recent article on the website of T160k – an organisation set up to support the housing and restoration of Timbuktu’s manuscripts – Super Onze explain their story, values and history. This includes their traumatic experiences of late in conflict stricken Mali; intimidation, forced flight and the destruction of their instruments and with them their livelihoods. The film that comprises the bulk of the information in the article illustrates what Lucy Durán speaks about above. Everything from the takamba beats to the importance of music in desert ceremonies. What the written aspect of the article does overplay perhaps is that “Filming heritage IS preserving heritage”. For example, I’m not sure here in the UK we should build a road through the middle of Stonehedge just because a video of it exists somewhere on YouTube – but the sentiment is useful, and Super Onze know this too. Music is important to Mali’s future, for social, cultural and economic reasons both internally and for reaching out abroad. The political and economic situation is far from stable or improving. Perhaps if this music were to be banned again, tragically prevented from being passed down in a reprisal war or simply destroyed outright – these recordings would count for something.

Adar Neeba is a Tamashek song, about an area in the region of Tombouctou. It’s name literally means ‘Lost Feet’. “It is an area where people often get lost in the absence of things in the environment to orient themselves upon.” Its subject matter may be about a land with the potential to confuse but its style, composition and sound is firmly rooted. It knows exactly where it is and where its come from.

The fight is still on to ensure it has a future beyond  memories, recordings and pixels on a screen.

[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=4028634021 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=132348742]

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Cheick Tidiane Seck – Fera Na Fere

It has been a long time since Cheick “The Keyboard Warrior” Seck made his way onto the Hub. Inspired by last week’s post about the ‘Festival Sur la Niger’, Ségou-born Cheick Tidiane Seck is making a fitting appearance. Seck is well known for his political beliefs and is especially outspoken on the issue of war and peace. These views are not confined to protesting against wars fought with guns and armoured vehicles however as they also extend to a range of issues including liberal globalisation. For Seck this outspoken attitude has not come with age as it is evident that his personality and political passions have long been a defining part of his character, earning him the nickname ‘Che Guevara’ in his early years.

As with Seck’s previous selection by the Hub, this week’s Song comes from his 2013 album ‘Guerrier’ (that’s “Warrior”, in French). There is a key, confusing, and ultimately troubling, reason for this. Over the last 9 months, since defeat in late May 2014, Malian’s have been dealing with the fallout from the Malian government’s failure to secure Kidal, a key northern-eastern town, from Tuareg rebel group MNLA. Frustration is mounting into violent outbursts again the UN Peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which has been authorised with the mission of stabilizing the country, re-establishing state authority and notably in expanding  “…its presence, including through long-range patrols and within its capacities, in the north of Mali beyond key population centres, notably in areas where civilians were at risk”. It is on this specific point in which government and international agencies appear to be having most difficulty.

As often happens in these moments of high-tension and conflict, some have decided to take matters into their own hands. This is a quite confusing and troubling development. According to a patchwork of reports, this has manifested in a new, also Tuareg, rebel group called GATIA. It appears that GATIA are a loyalist outfit, a “self-defence” militia made up of Malian army veterans and until recently has drawn no comment of condemnation or praise from Malian officials – despite its emergence in August last year. In what appears to be a very grim state of affairs the BBC reported the following:

Correspondents say there are strong suspicions that the government is increasingly relying on militia groups such as Gatia to strengthen its position against the MNLA in the north. A UN source told the AFP news agency that two bombers blew themselves up in the attack near Tabankort town while a third was killed before he could detonate himself.

It is the BBC’s use of the word ‘relying’ which is most troubling perhaps. Is the state of affairs so bleak, the government’s strength so shattered that they are willing to rely on the bloody, twisted, tit-for-tat battles of suicide bombers to win their war? Its a frightening prospect. One which the UN in an ever familiar role seems, at best, only able to spectate over. And with this news another vicious blow is dealt to that other prospect, throwing it long past the horizon again. That is, of course, the prospect of there being an end to the war in Mali.



Cheick Tidaine Seck – Fera Na Fere