Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Afel Bocoum – Jaman Moro

Afel Bocoum is an intelligent man. You only need to read a few lines of his interview with Belgian music magazine RifRaf or listen to a few minutes of one of his songs to realise this. In the interview with the magazine, Bocoum speaks eloquently and informatively on a range of subjects including the rights of Malian minority groups, youth culture, identity, post-colonial cultural relations between Africa and Europe and America and, of course, his own approach to music.

Curiously, Bocoum’s profession is as an Agricultural Advisor. Being from Niafunké (a town situated in the southern most part of the vast desert Timbouctou Region where temperatures frequently exceed 50’C) it is not immediately obvious what use an agricultural advisor would have. However the area surrounding the Niger River, which includes Niafunké and Timbuktu, is important farming land. Malian Minister for Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo explains:

“When people think of Timbuktu they think desert, they don’t think about agriculture at all, but it will be one of the main projects there.”

The project Diallo is referring to is the plan to open a £50 million university in Timbuktu. A key feature of the university’s work will be the improvement of the region’s existing irrigation program and other agricultural practices. Amongst other research focuses will be renewable energy and Saharan literature – a subject that is anticipating a great boost once the city’s treasured manuscripts have been returned to their library.

Diallo also claims that the university is central to the rejuvenation of Timbuktu in general. Even before the recent conflict there, Timbuktu’s economy was a shadow of its former self. Now the situation is even more desperate. Fortunately a dedicated group of ‘diverse stakeholders’ called The Timbuktu Resistance has been focusing on a strategy “to promote reconciliation and sustainable development in Mali through a revival of its culture and heritage, and examine broader implications for post-conflict reconstruction and for understanding Islam in its global diversity.” In this case the diplomatic and political currency that Mali gains through the international popularity of its music in particular is clear. Music is important to Mali’s internal politics too.  For example, the goal of returning the ‘Festival au Desert‘ to its home in Mali’s north (which instead will once again be staged ‘In Exile’ in early 2015) could have many potential benefits for the region. In addition to the economic benefits of tourism, the Festival is also symbolic and promotes “cultural diversity, peace, tolerance and social cohesion amongst the peoples of the Sahel and Sahara.” There is also a plan to share these lessons in cultural diversity worldwide by making the sights, sounds and knowledge of Timbuktu available online through Google maps, street-view and scholar.

If the money for this project materialises  it could be the turning point for the long-neglected ‘City of Gold’.



Afel Bocoum – Jaman Moro

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