Tag Archives: Empire

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou

People of Oxford! If there are any of you out there with a Socials - Oxford (1)spare evening tonight then head on to the Phoenix Picturehouse at 6pm for your opportunity to see ‘They Will Have to Kill Us First‘ the film about Mali’s fearless, insatiable musicians that won’t give up their country without a fight. With an original score, its a must see for any Malian music lover. Not to be missed.

For those not in and around Oxford do not fret. As well as a list of other screenings there are other things to keep your senses entertained. On the Hub we are particularly fond of pleasing your ears and as well as this stunning piece of music from kora-mastermind Ballaké Sissoko you could also turn your attention to the latest instalment of Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ on the Empire of Mali – a fascinating and wholly under-appreciated period of history. Mali’s Empire at its pinnacle was as big as southern Europe and according to the show was the biggest African empire ever.

If you don’t have 45 minutes spare to listen to the show now UK listeners can download the conversation to listen to later or whilst out and about. Due to its relative obscurity as a historical topic, the first task of the gathered academics is to get the listener up to speed with the scale and majesty of this Empire – no easy task. For some details there is simply no comparison with any other point in history. The language makes it impossible to imagine anything other than gleaming stacks of gold, great armies, riches in textiles, architecture and jewellery. And not just these material goods, but also the authority of grandeur in science, the arts and religion; all oozing control and command for the Empire’s ruling class to wield. The strumming and plucking of Sissoko in ‘Badjourou’ harks to a medieval royal court. The steady march, the flowing and insatiable beauty. Untold luxury in the desert – for 2000km from the Atlantic to the heart of Africa. For 400 years.


Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou


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.

“Mali’s Age of Empire”; a talk by Kevin MacDonald TOMORROW

Sudbury Library – Wednesday 15 April at 7:30pm

Mali’s Age of Empire:

Sundiata, Mansa Musa and Timbuktu (AD 1200-1500)

A talk by Professor Kevin Macdonald, University College London


Linking Sudbury with a town in Mali for 2014/15 and learning about things we have in common

Many people may have heard of Timbuktu, but how many know where it is, or that it once formed part of the greatest of Africa’s indigenous Empires? Prof Kevin MacDonald (UCL) will speak about his 25+ years of researching the past of Mali and such characters as Sundiata Keita (Africa’s real Lion King) and Mansa Musa (named recently by the  Independent as the richest man who ever lived). Within this African imperial narrative, MacDonald will consider the origins and destiny of Africa’s near mythic city of gold: Timbuktu.

Free entry but there will be a collection at the end to support work in Mali.

To download a flyer click here.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Salif Keita – Soyomba

Gold. Wealth, trade and fortune are interwoven into the history of all human societies. In almost every society that has had access to it, gold has become a symbol of and has facilitated prestige, opulence and power like no other material on Earth. For Mali, the bright yellow, dense, soft and malleable metal has been ever-present and remains a vitally important part of Mali’s economy today. From the hay-day of Timbuktu and the Empire that surrounded it to the stock exchanges of the modern world, it is gold that has been largely responsible for the economic successes of Mali – including since the conflict  in 2012/13. It is also – due to Mali’s dependency on its export price – a  source of continued vulnerability, as Mali’s fortunes are thus shackled to the successes and failures of the wider global economy.

Despite (or perhaps due to) mankind’s fascination with gold’s value, utility and aesthetics it can be a dangerous material and sometimes a curse for the populations that happen to live on the ground above where it is found. The mining of gold is not the safest of occupations and during any “rush” to obtain it human lives are often seen as a worthy risk for its extraction. This picture series from the BBC shows the working conditions experienced by those participating in the “boom” of Mali’s gold mines today.

Another problem with gold is that it is very, very rare for ordinary Malian’s to see any of its monetary benefits. The government taxation on the industry is deliberately low to attract foreign investment. Statements from both Oxfam and the International Monetary Fund have emphasised the failure of the government and of multinational companies  to share the exploits of an industry that represents 70% of Malian exports and an enormous 15% of the country’s GDP. To put that chunk of national expenditure into perspective, the UK spends around 8% of its GDP on the NHS and defence spending represents about 2.5%. For Mali, that 15% could go a long, long way if shared out correctly.

The pictures in the BBC article are taken of a mine close to the Mali-Guinea border, in a Malian town called Kouremale. The town lies about 40km north of the Niger river, 150km upstream from Bamako. The choice of this week’s song of the week is down to the fact that afro-pop legend Salif Keita hails from the region, which is soaked in history. Near the gold-mines of Kouremale is the archaeological site at Woyowayanko, which marks the place where the last West African emperor Samory Touré did battle with French colonists – his victory here in face of the superior French artillery solidified his reputation as  legendary military strategist. Not that this talk of 19th century Emperors and their impressive legacies would particularly phase Salif Keita; he is direct descendent of  the founder of the Malian Empire Sundiata Keita who lived some 800 years ago.

Another link, if you needed one, between this week’s track and the Empires of Mali’s past is found in Salif Keita’s popular nickname. As a result of his unique voice, artistic brilliance, and leadership on many societal issues he is proudly known as “The Golden Voice of Africa“.

Salif Keita – Soyomba