Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Amkoullel – Sinin

Last night at the Picturehouse Central in London, the film They Will Have to Kill Us First screened for the first time to a European audience. The film charts the lives of different Malian musicians through the carnage of extremist Islamic militant takeover of the northern half of their country – banning music in the process. The film’s launch was – naturally – full of emotion, as people from all over the world came together to listen to the musicians stories of terror, loss and censorship in a stunning documentary. The film begins back in 2012 and plunges the viewer straight into violent and chaotic scenes. It is a chilling reminder of just how bad it got. The band Songhoy Blues’ struggle and rise to fame form the “backbone”(to quote director Johanna Schwartz) of the film. Young, bright and charasmatic, the band’s members are articulate and insightful about the conflict and its rolling implications. They are also staggeringly talented and their original music, along with fresh contributions from the likes of Vieux Farka Toure and rap-star Amkoullel, come together it a must-have film soundtrack which it was a relief to hear will be released on CD in its own right next year.

What really makes this film special is its longetivity. Relatively speaking, the documentary’s focus is quite narrow – a handful of Malian’s followed over a 3 year period. It allows for the viewer to get to know the characters and appreciate just how important music is to their identity and sense of well-being. Each character at some point during the film tells of how they are unable to sing, play or write their music due to dibilitating sadness. Music is the rallying point and with inspiration performances the artists breathe life into war-torn communities. The film therefore hammers-home the point that music is crucial to Mali’s peace and security and holds the key to unlocking it’s youth’s potential – a youth that is frighteningly close to being wasted. Worse still, Aliou – Songhoy Blues’ lead singer – warns that this disenfrancised youth, brought up in anarchic surroundings, are the next conflict waiting to happen.

Music engages people and as another character in the film explained it “teaches morality”. That’s why last night, at the Premier, the launch of the Music in Exile Fund was the most welcome news of the night. The Fund will “contribute towards Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship, a year-long programme to support those facing censorship.” The film’s magic just couldn’t be abated, and has spilled pleasingly into supporting a very worthy cause. Hopefully with this support, the Index on Censorship will be in an even greater position to support potential stars of the future in Mali and across the world. Please consider donating to the fund by following the links to the They Will Have to Kill Us First website.

The film will be showing on screens across the UK from next week. For tickets and upcoming screenings of They Will Have to Kill Us First click here.

 

Amkoullel – Sinin

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. 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.

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