The African Elephant is staggering towards extinction. In the time it will take you to read this article and listen to the excellence of Moussa Diallo and his band an African Elephant would have been killed. Mali has a very special kind of desert elephant which roams, in dwindling numbers, around the central/northern region between Timbuktu and Gao. These elephants are not thought to be a subspecies in their own right, but rather a group of the majestic creatures that have learned to survive in this particularly harsh climate and are the northern-most herds of Africa. They migrate great distances, covering over 370 miles of this sparse land annually, sometimes taking them into Burkina Faso and Niger, in an anti-clockwise route tracing temporary and permanent waterholes (check out this cool interactive map from National Geographic). Once widespread across the deserts of Africa, today the only other place you can find desert elephants is Namibia. In Mali there are only 300 left. This number is coming down rapidly, overwhelmingly as a result of poaching – the means by which 80 of these elephants lost their lives in 2015 alone. It doesn’t take much of a mathematician to figure that it will not be many years before these animals will disappear forever.
Malians have not stood by and watched this happen, but there is little they can do. In 2008 locals tried their best to nurse the herds through drought and in another drought in the 1980s the government responded by trucking in water. Poaching, however, it the biggest threat and to combat this you need a strong police and military presence. Sadly, Mali’s military is a little tied up at present and even if the resources were available, as they are more readily in South Africa, the criminals are still likely to slip away and carry on regardless in this vast, open land. Perhaps Mali could consider enlisting the support of a foreign ally, as will happen when the British Army fly in to partner up with the National Parks Agency of Gabon.
So how to celebrate the desert elephant while it’s still around? Well, to try and lighten the mood we’ve turned to bassist Moussa Diallo. The low, thumping tones suits the movements of the fantastic beasts well. For further metaphorical musical mirroring we can go one better; one of Diallo’s most successful musical collaborations of his career was with internationally-acclaimed Danish trumpet player Palle Mikkelborg as part of “The Kinkéliba Project” in July 2000. With many Malian musicians gravitating towards Cuban/Latin influences to guide their careers, it is refreshing to see a Malian with the ability to compose, arrange and bring together many other West African and European artists opt for a more jazz-fusion focus to his work; bringing together Mali – the land of his father – and Denmark – the land of his mother. It is a coming together of which this week’s Song of the Week is a fabulous and triumphant example.
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
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