Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara – Clandestin

Fatoumata Diawara’s magic comes from her ability to create warm, tranquil music whilst still addressing very tough issues. In the case of ‘Clandestin’ the issue being addressed the that of Africa to Europe immigration, told from the perspective of an onlooker – of someone who stays behind, or has already set up a new life in Europe; both perspectives being ones that Diawara has had herself.

This is a huge topic in European politics, and has certainly brought about some appalling circumstances, which have been widely reported but this has not transposed into meaningful action. Boats ranging from the sturdy to the barely-afloat attempt to bridge the gap between the North African coastline and southern Europe, aiming in particular for Italy. The boats, horrifically overcrowded, frequently capsize, or run out of fuel, food and water. Thousands continue to die. Some rescue attempts are made by the coastguards and navies of Mediterranean European countries, however according to Human Rights Watch the focus is always on barring entry rather than saving lives. Such is the toxicity of immigration as a political issue in Europe today countries struggling economically have simply declared that they “cannot confront the crisis” as it arrives at its shores – instead calling on the United Nations to set up processing centres in Africa to manage the flow of people. Crises in West Africa, including Mali, Syria and as far a field as Somalia are all contributing to the growing numbers of African migrants willing to attempt the journey.

Diawara’s perspective is a vital contribution to this topic. Some coverage in Europe is given to explain why someone is forced to making the decision, but few have described the personal traumas as well as Diawara. “They are called ‘illegals,’ but I call them warriors as it’s not easy to leave everything behind and to trust in the unknown. In Bambara, we call them nomads,” says Diawara. “This song is dedicated to all the brothers who die on this trip and to those who have already left.”

The imagery of a warrior, or even nomad, encourages us to view each migrant as an individual – someone who has come to an independent decision, one heavily influenced by the enormous wreckage of poverty and war. From a European perspective to “leave everything” for an African appears slightly simplistically. Perhaps an overly focusing on conflict and poverty makes the issue a material one – literally what items someone leaves behind. However, Diawara speaks to them as “brothers” – they are individuals who have left a family, their country and everything they know, behind – a potentially fatal gamble for a future they know little about.  Again, “they put all their trust in the unknown”. A bitterly sorrowful situation to imagine. It provides a much firmer base for empathy towards the victims and understanding for those who have managed to continue their lives in Europe.


Fatoumata Diawara – Clandestin

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