Khaira Arby – Cinquantenaire (live)
Khaira Arby’s fame, adulation amongst fellow Malians and talent may be exceptional, but her story of the last 5 years is depressingly common. In this excellent short film produced for the Guardian Arby’s story is put forward to illustrate what was happening for all musicians in Mali and to music in the country.
In one part of the film, Arby explains how, like everyone else, her music career before coup was very stable. She had freedom to travel, to perform where and how she liked. The coup and subsequent conflict in the north caused this freedom to collapse. Suddenly, Malians were having their instruments stripped from them and destroyed. Even a musical mobile phone ring tone could lead to serious punishment. When Mali’s music loving society came under attack and it began to unravel, Arby found that she could no sing longer as her throat was “too full of sobs”. In between sobs and speechlessness over the dire situation in Mali, Khaira was able to pen songs about the conflict and the French intervention.
Later she was once again left unable to speak after Manny Ansar – director of the legendary Festival au Desert – gave her the news in 2013 all Malian music lovers had been dreading; that the festival, scheduled for early 2014, would again be postponed, due to the threat of war. Today’s Song of the Week has been chosen to emphasise this continued source of misery by drawing attention to how much the Festival means in Malian society. Here, we pay homage to Kharia Arby’s magnificent contribution to the Festival and all it means today. A browse through YouTube reveals quite a library of her performances there over the years. This one in particular because it represents a milestone: 50 years of independence. This week, a preliminary, UN brokered, peace deal was signed in an effort to bring long-term stability to northern Mali. We have been here before and it is worth asking why it has taken 2 years to get to this point. Lets at least hope for the best: that we can look back in 50 years at this agreement as a positive, if not significant, turning point away from an ugly episode in Malian history.