Confronting defeat can sometimes be a more rewarding process than celebrating victory. Earlier this month a superb African Nations Cup (not to be confused with the African Cup of Nations) came to a painful close for Mali – the Eagles slumped to a 3 – 0 defeat against the DR Congo in the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda. An electric evening for their opponents saw Mali fail to register; stunned by an outrageous opening goal from 19 year old Meshack Elia. This strike inspired a victory celebrated far and wide; even by the DRC’s UN Stabilization Mission MONUSCO. No similar commentary from is Malian sister mission MINUSMA – dubbed the most dangerous peacekeeping mission on Earth – which from its Twitter feed looked to be slightly preoccupied with an armed assault on one of its bases at the time.
The unique brilliance of the African Nations Cup is that only players playing for a club in their country of origin are allowed to participate. The tournament thus rouses a different sense of pride amongst its followers. Rather than celebrating the excellence of those who break into the European leagues – their nation’s ambassadors reunited under their flag – it was instead the time to celebrate the younger, blossoming talents still delighting fans up and down the Sahel. In a situation that was described as “do or die” for these young footballers, their comprehensive defeat could have been a crushing moment in their promising careers and yet another blow to the country’s spirit.
Quite the opposite. The defeated Eagles were welcomed home “as heroes” with crowds, music, and speeches filling the Stade Modibo Keïta in Bamako. It was quite clear that Mali had decided to enjoy itself. Yes, they did not win, but by defying the instinct to succumb to disappointment Malian’s proved to each other that they were capable of more. Anyone can celebrate victory – it takes true pride, dedication and willingness to celebrate defeat. Summarising the mood Malian Football Federation Vice-President Kassoum Coulibaly said:
“You’ve stumbled on the day of the final, but you have not fallen with the flag.You have today written a glorious page of the Malian football. Tomorrow again I’m sure you’ll do more than you did in Kigali.” [translated from French using Google]
The optimism for the future is striking and cannot be an emotion many Malian politicians or public servants has had too much practice in over recent years. It aligns itself with the report last week which detailed how at the Festival Acoustik de Bamako it was Mali’s youth that stole the show and frenzied the crowd. In front of the welcoming crowds in the Stadium Modibo Keita, the presence of rap artists like Mylmo provoked a growing optimism in Mali’s young people. There is a much darker side to this – with anecdotal stories from Malian musicians performing here in the UK all confirming a frightening trend of drugs and violence becoming an all-too-common past-time for a generation its country failed when it crumbled into war (the terrifying yet excellent Christian Aid & The Joliba Trust report into The Power of Drug Money is a must read in this regard). But rap musicians have offered an alternative voice. As Andy Morgan writes in a gripping and eye-opening article:
“When the country’s government collapsed…it was Mali’s hip hop scene that was the loudest and most relevant voice. At a moment when music’s political value seems like a thing of the past, hip hop in Mali is at the center of a discussion about democracy, globalisation and tradition.”
Indeed it isn’t just the future that Mali’s young people and musical pioneers are illuminating. It is also finding a way to connect a generation with their traditions and locality. Legendary kora player Ballaké Sissoko explains:
“Rap is pretty new as a scene in Mali. I think it’s a good thing in a way. It inspires the youth to make music, which they do in their language. It might sound American in its production but it’s still very local.”
This week’s Song of the Week has been plucked out to showcase that traditional-modern awareness and celebrate the work of Malian rappers. Its not the traditional sounds we are perhaps more used to hearing here, but its the music that is encouraging, inspiring and leading a generation to consider a future that isn’t condemned to defeat.
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
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