Tag Archives: Music

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Tinariwen – Tenere Taqqim Tossam

Tinariwen are one of Mali’s most successful bands. Malian music is more or less dominated by powerful and iconic characters. Many of course play with support bands, but on festival billings and album covers the name is usually only the name of the superstar member playing the dominant instrument e.g. Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté.

Naturally, therefore, Tinariwen being a band means that their songs are dominated less by one instrument, building instead songs where each instrument contributes to the rhythm and are varied in tempo, style and mood.

This week’s track comes from their 5th studio album “Tassili” and the track itself is their first single release. This album was actually recorded in Algeria- their only album to date to have been recorded outside of Mali – however the band originates from the most northerly Saharan part of Mali. Their name comes from the Tamasheq – Tuareg language – for “The People of the Deserts” – Kel Tinariwen. However after receiving military training in Lybia as young men, it is explained in the bio on their own website that if there was ‘one image’ that could summarise Tinariwen it was “that of Touareg rebels leading the charge, machine gun in hand and electric guitar slung over the shoulder.”

The band itself can be seen as a case of successful demobilisation, at least on a micro scale, despite devastatingly impoverishing conditions. Many of those that fought in the war were not as fortunate. After the ceasefire of 1994, the band – already gaining in popularity regionally – moved back to Mali. In their own words they “became the spokespeople of a generation which looked on helplessly as their harvests thinned, their animal herds wasted away and their world slowly crumbled.” Each successive album has been a greater and greater success and their international stature only seems to increase.

Tinariwen is obviously made up of emotive and hardy people. The keen-spirited nature of “Tenere Taqqim Tossam” and the album “Tissili” is a perhaps intentional. The band point out that the album was their first attempt to “ditch” the gun-wielding image of the band described above. A new album is apparently on its way, as is a UK tour, however details are thin on the ground. We will have to wait and see if and how the events of the years since “Tissili” was released in 2011 have affected the bands musical compositions.

But for now, enjoy Tinariwen’s “Tenere Taqqim Tossam.”

Tinarwien – Tenere Taqqim Tossam

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia

So far the Mali Track of the Week has been generally selected from a bluesy artist which has achieved particular recognition in the Western world. This week’s entry hopes to shake this up a little.

Hip-hop or Rap music is arguably the most revolutionary and influential addition to the art form to arise in the last 30 years. Its distinctive sound is delivered inseparably to its unique cultural and political perspectives. In the 1990s and 2000s hip-hop became a global change-making powerhouse which has left no stone unturned. Its power as a vehicle for societal change emphasised most strikingly by Jay-Z’s inclusion in Time Magazine’s world-wide list of the 100 most influential people of 2013. Note that unlike in other years where a rapper has been listed under ‘artists’, Jay-Z had broken through, listed under the emphatic title of ‘Titan’ in an article written by the Mayor of New York City.

Rap music has been on the scene in Mali since the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, hip-hop’s strengths in articulating grievance, injustice, marginalisation but also hope, loyalty and determination has found many followers. One example of which is this week’s track from Les Sofas de la République.

Les Sofas get their name from the warriors of Samory Touré – one of Africa’s great king’s who during the 19th century fought for African freedom and fiercely resisted French imperialism. They are a collective of musicians who have a very active and engaged history as shown in this fascinating article. Andy Morgan writes of the group who formed the day after Captain Sanogo’s military coup of March 22nd 2012 in his book Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali:

‘Les Sofas aren’t your classic ‘band’ as such, think of them more as a rap posse, a self-help association, a pressure group, a political party, an educational charity and a think tank, all rolled into one.’

Les Sofas’s song ‘Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia’ (which translates as ‘Leave Us In Peace!’) was also created in reaction to a deeply troubling and violent political development. The song was released following an attack on May 21st 2012 on the Presidential Palace in Bamako by – in Morgan’s words – ‘a mob of protesters stirred up by Sanogo and opposition parties’. Morgan notes the song’s potent lyrics and how Les Sofas use the song to describe their mood, and the mood of many other Malians, following the attack; that all that was precious in their country and that was good about their politics had been lost to a violent and aloof struggle for power:

“Taking up arms Malians, fiercer and fiercer yeaah. Taking up arms and making blood flow yeaah. Making tears flow and making us lose time, bothering us with stupid details…Our relatives are dying up in the north while we try and agree on who will take the tiller.”

Powerful and provocative. Thought-provoking and fearless; doing what hip-hop does best.


Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Sidi Touré – Ni See Ay Ga Done

Sidi Touré is a guitarist from the Songhaï region of Northern Mali.  The Songhaï region once had a medieval Empire of the same name ruling over it with its capital city in Gao – the modern city being a place of severe and on-going instability despite the arrival of peacekeepers and elections. With this in mind, it is fitting that Sidi’s music captures the traditional tones that many feel is the key to Malian music’s global popularity.

Sidi Touré was one of many contributors of a stunning event at the Barbican in London back in January. Musicians performing in exile at the height of the crisis. Sidi is right up there with Mali’s most exciting and famous artists, despite only really hitting the international scene in 2011. This week’s track shows off the pacey, multi-layered, traditional blend that has become Sidi Touré’s unique identity.


Sidi Touré – Ni See Ay Ga Done

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Nalesonko (live)

The kora (or cora) is a beautiful and elegant instrument in sound and appearance. Traditionally it is a 21-string harp but formed with a resonator and neck much like a guitar. The resonator is formed from half of a large calabash vegetable covered in a cow skin with the neck made of a long piece of hard wood. They are played extensively across West Africa and Ballaké Sissoko is one of the best surely only ranking second to the “uncontested star” of the kora Toumani Diabaté – who some may remember had the honour of being our first Mali Track of the Week back in July.

Sissoko became world famous with his magical – borderline legendary – collaboration “Chamber Music” created with French cellist Vincent Segal. Two years on the magic has not diminished and this week’s track “Nalesonko” comes from Sissoko’s 2013 album “At Peace”. Segal is ever present in this new venture but takes up a different role as discussed in this review for NPR music. Where Segal plays more of an overseeing role this time Sissoko launches in, centre-stage, showing off the full delights of the kora throughout.

This week’s track is one of those that has only one flaw – it ends. Enjoy listening and watching this one.


Ballaké Sissoko – Natesonko

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Vieux Farka Touré – Ay Bakoy

Now, this week is a big one. The track is “Ay Bakoy” by rising super-star Vieux Farka Touré. Vieux has inevitably spent most of his career being spoken to in reference to his father, the late and great, Ali Farka Touré. Vieux’s latest album “Mon Pays” that was released in May could potentially change this. The emotional weight and maturity that rings through the album shows that Vieux is even more than the fantastically fun, energetic, electric guitar wielding showman many of us have come to admire. Upon release a statement on his own website describes how the album “is a homage to beautiful Mali and her people”. In his own words:

“For me it is a statement for the world that this land is for the sons and daughters of Mali, not for Al Qaeda or any militants. This land is for peace and beauty, rich culture and tolerance. This is our heritage, what we must always fight to protect in any way that we can. For me, that means making music that reminds the world of who we are.”

Fresh from his musical adventures with Israeli pianist and vocalist Idan Raichel the album has depth, precision and effortless sophistication to show that Vieux, like Ali before him, has the potential to use his talents to capture the imagination of his country and the world.

The album is also overtly political. For example the title of the two tracks made in collaboration with fellow Malian artist Sidiki Diabate are entitled “Future” and “Peace”. The track “Ay Bakoy” itself feels particularly reflective especially as a new political era in Mali struggles into existence following the worst violence for a generation. Vieux confesses that the album’s direction was already underway before the crisis began to unfold in January 2012. It appears that Vieux has embraced the added significance thrust upon the album and has delivered on it beautifully.

Vieux Farka Toure  – Ay Bakoy

Vieux Farka Touré is touring at present, with some dates in Europe including one date in London at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 24th.


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Bombino – Imuhar

It’s Wednesday morning and that means only one thing: it is time for a song from Mali. Today we are delighted to introduce our first musician of Tuareg heritage to feature on the Track of the Week: Omara “Bombino” Moctar. The Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq, as they refer to themselves, have their own deep musical, political, and religious history that is well worth exploring. Andy Morgan has recently published a book that goes a long way in explaining this history and perhaps can begin to help one understand how the Tuareg often struggle in modern Malian life, including with the issue of their independence and their involvement in the country’s current armed conflict.

Bombino himself has an incredible life story which can be read in great detail here. He was born on the first day of 1980 in an encampment of Nomadic Tuaregs in Niger and his life can in many ways relate to the issues outlined above. After the droughts of the mid-80s and during the conflict on the early 90s Bombino – through chance – found himself in possession of a guitar. The guitar had recently been adopted by the Tuareg as a way of projecting their teachings and values through song. At an age not much older than 10 he began to teach himself and after a while Bombino found himself incorporating his music into political rallies and other cultural crafts – including cinema. He even managed to land a role as an extra in a French film that explains the origin of the title of this song of the week.

We have found this delightful live rendition of his and his band’s song “Imuhar” in the link below. Like most music from Mali and the Sahel it takes on an ever-greater energy and purpose when performed live. Bombino is performing live in London on the 25th October. We’ll probably see you there.

Bombino – Imuhar


NEW FEATURE! : Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Yes! A new weekly feature for the Hub will plunge a hand deep into the rich and diverse pool of Malian music and pluck out one song for our enjoyment.

To launch this feature we have a chosen a song that has an extra special significance.  Glastonbury Festival 2013 showed excellent solidarity with Malian artists by flooding its line-up with some really big names. We felt we ought to recognise this and thank Glastonbury for highlighting the difficulties that Mali’s music and culture has faced over recent months.

The fantastic Toumani Diabaté was scheduled in to  the prestigious job of opening the festival proper by being the first act to grace the Pyramid Stage on the Friday morning. With great sadness, Diabaté was forced to withdraw due to a bout of malaria. We’ve chosen this beauty from him to wish Diabaté to get well soon.


Toumani Diabaté – Cantelowes


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week is a weekly feature chosen in advance. If you feel that a particular artist should get special recognition at any time please get in touch with your suggestions.

The women of Mali offer a path to the future

The story of “Aissatou” started over 12 months ago with her heavily pregnant fleeing from the advancing rebels. At the age of 14 she was only a child herself when she gave birth to her son and arrived in Gao. The rebel forces soon caught up and tore the community to pieces. Aissatou locked herself in her house for two straight days. Only when she emerged was the full reality of the trauma made clear. Her brother-in-law’s hand had been cut off at the wrist – justice in the eyes of the rebels for alleged stealing. Worst still was the crimes and atrocities committed against scores of young girls – including Aissatou’s closest friend “Ines”. The girls of the village – aged in their middle-teens – were taken by force and transported in trucks to the bush where they were raped, abused, and beaten with blunt weapons. Discarded, Ines – a girl of only 14 years – fled and was found fallen in the road by men from the village and brought back to their hospital. This is where Ines told Aissatou her terrible story. Aissatou, on the run again, has not seen Ines since.

A representative from Save the Children Australia made a point of reporting Aissatou’s story. Very few stories that can bear be told, even when victims can be reached. The vast majority of traumas remain unreported and for many their stories are not finished. Despite a fairly comprehensive military victory on part of the Malian’s and the French, UNICEF has recently emphasised that ‘risks to women and children are far from over’ due to prevailing insecurities. While control has been restored to the north, rebel forces have reprised in suicide bombings and guerrilla warfare behind French-Malian lines. With these acts of violence, and in the chaotic disorder that ensues, the disgraceful and humiliating acts of sexual abuse and rape carry on.

Life during war time and under oppressive occupation is exceptionally tough for the disempowered. What does Mali tell us about this issue? What does examining the conflict in through a gendered lens tell us about Mali? What stories must be shared? The history of women in war paints a bleak picture. Our understanding of the role of gender in conflict is fairly underdeveloped, but our most obvious finding so far in the long history of war is that the odds of violence, rape, humiliation and death are stacked overwhelmingly against women. Unfortunately the situation in Mali has not strayed from this sinister trend. Reports of sexual violence and abuse against women have come overwhelmingly from the northern areas of the country which were or have been occupied by the rebels. The brutality described in the stories of the victims is unbearable. According to Save the Children’s perennial report ‘The State of the World’s Women’ Malian women, and subsequently Malian children, rank in as the 7th worst-off in the world in a composite index including healthcare, life-expectancy, sexual and maternal health, socio-political opportunities and education. It is safe to say that Malian women, compared to their male counterparts, appeared to be severely less-resilient to the impending conflict and its aftermath. UNICEF has responded with a stirring report entitled Supporting Women through an Emergency which sets out its developmental agenda in Mali for 2013 with specific reference to increasing the resilience of women. This is welcome news, especially considering this battle-cry from freelance journalist Amma Bonsu which stresses the rise of Islamists in an already patriarchal society severely threatens the country’s strong and industrious women. If Mali is to recover the world must invest in its women.

But how is this achieved when the security situation on the ground is still in doubt? The main provider of physical and strategic security still has to be the French who are adamant that they are going to be leaving soon. Details surrounding an African Union force, UN Peacekeepers, or an EU delegation all remain murky, indistinct, and stink of a situation being held at arm’s length. We also must not disregard reports that the Malian army itself is a threat to the fragile security as to its people. Asking the French to stay brings its own problems with reports of ethnic violence and wanton abuse – which so often haunt peacekeeping interventions – being levelled against the French and Malian government troops themselves. Even if stability continues to improve, the emphasis on the security crisis in the north has meant that aid projects are being heavily emphasised in these areas. The EU said it will come to the assistance of women who have been a victim of abuse by releasing some of the 250 million Euros of development aid it froze after the coup in Mali in March last year – but what of the women falling ill to the reprisals and attacks in the south? Arguably, the most severe stories are still coming from the north. Only last week fresh stories of rapes, stoning, lashes and forced marriages were reported. Unfortunately, regardless of a prevailing north-south dichotomy it seems that scarce resources are going to be out of reach to many thousands of women and children all around this fragile country, in this year and into the future.

With the military victory led by the French, some improvements can be observed. One cannot help but be warmed by the sight of the recently-liberated women of Timbuktu rejoicing in acts of self-expression that for so long has be quashed. Dancing and singing, and wearing what they wanted. Talking to whoever they wanted. Inspirational businesswomen and musicians have also returned making a future for Mali where women see their quality of life improve more viable. Some commentators are fearful that an early exit from the intervening ground troops threaten to unravel all that has been gained. Amma Bonsu is of the opinion that “an occupying force must remain in Mali until the frayed interim government is replaced with an elected government committed to educating girls and expanding the rights of women”. It is a logical request, especially when we must remember that the current incumbents in Bamako were installed by coup rather than ballot. The issue remains of political will – what organisation powerful enough but also willing to stay longer than is politically viable? François Hollande has his victory – which he hopes he can translate to political approval back at home – why risk this by staying and giving the public approval gains he has made through the intervention an opportunity to fester and decay?

The Department of International Development (DFID) cites a statistic that should frighten anyone to the core: one woman in every three is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. These acts of physical violence and the psychological traumas that result from them are, despite their severity, too frequently left undiscovered. In the midst of the upheaval, destruction and the state of exception found during war the crisis facing the world’s women only escalates. The societal and structural factors that drive and manifest gendered violence are even more elusive. Cultural practices, historic norms and societal conventions, some enshrined in law, such as forced marriages, gendered hierarchies, and restricted access to education and work are complex and entrenched vehicles for violence.

These systems are present globally. Correspondingly, the fight for equality has to be fought globally. It extends everywhere; from debates concerning succession in the British monarchy and number of female MPs sitting in Westminster to the issue of the demobilisation of child soldiers in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 40% of child soldiers are thought to be girls yet Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programmes (DDRs) only see girls making up 5% of total enrolment. This missing 35% – the girls in their thousands that are disproportionately excluded from these schemes – meet far grimmer fates than the boys that suffered alongside them. In Mali, Britain has yet to fully recognise the humanitarian blight that is unfolding. Like Hollande, senior politicians in Britain are more concerned with not becoming embroiled into another lengthy occupation – an obvious hangover from Afghanistan. When intervention and involvement is considered seriously it is only considered in military terms – of defeating jihadists and winning a battle in a broader geo-political war on terror. The plight of the most vulnerable is an issue that does not resonate loudly in Britain today.

Although we can always hope for the future. As International Women’s Day approaches journalists, political commentators, staff of national and international development agencies, as well as politicians, have an opportunity to advance our awareness of women in war and this long underappreciated dynamic of human conflict. The United Nations has taken the approach of positive canvassing this year. Instead of focusing on the terror described above, the UN has compiled statistics on why empowering women is so important – not simply as a moral cause for equality but as a way of alleviating poverty. For example; “if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger”. So can Mali show us any evidence that it will rise out of this conflict with women in greater stead? World War I saw Western women gain the vote, and the parliament of post-genocide Rwanda has the highest % of women MPs of any country in the world. Concentrating on women in conflict can not only reveal structural and systematic failures; it can also be an opportunity to empower women and realise their full capacity as a force for positive change.


March 8this International Women’s Day. For over a century men and women across the globe have marked this day with everything from acts of mass civil disobedience to fund-raising cake sales. This year a matriarch of West-African music – Angelique Kidjo – will perform at London’s Southbank Centre. She will be supported by Mali’s very own rising star Fatoumata Diawara.

Angelique has for years worked tirelessly with other artists to strengthen the hand of the world’s women through. For a detail of the kind of causes she supports please visit the webpage of the ‘Half the Sky’movement which is dedicated to “Turning Oppression into an Opportunity for Women Worldwide”.

To promote this the Mali Interest Hub is offering a free copy of Angelique Kidjo’s live music album. All you have to do is answer this question:

For what album did Angelique Kidjo win a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2008?

Competition closes Sunday 10th of March. Contact us here with the answer and we’ll let the winner know on the 11th of March.

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Mali events in Britain

These posts will be semi-regular updates on events featuring Mali happening in the UK. If you know of an event not on the list here, please get in touch.


Rising radicalism in the Sahel: Mali & Regional Destabilisation– 5.30pm 6th February 2013

Royal African Society – Room 3B20, Strand Campus, King’s College, London, WC2R 2LS

Speakers: Mr Ali Soufan (CEO, The Soufan Group) and Dr ‘Funmi Olonisakin (Director, African Leadership Centre). Chair: Professor Jack Spence OBE (Department of War Studies, King’s College London).

Focusing on Mali, this event will look at the wider implications for the Sahel. We will examine the structural causes of the rising tide in extremist movements and ask – what will be the regional and international response that will succeed in stopping the fall of the Sahara?


Downing Street Mali Demonstration – 9.30am 8th February 2013

Malian Community Council & Malian Consulate – Parliament Square

Malian Community Council – “A demonstration in Parliament Square, to be completed by a march on Downing Street to hand over a declaration/letter to the PM’s office. In this letter we will express our thanks and those of the malian people to the coalition that helped the Malian Army to oust the islamic extremists from Northern Mali and ask the British government for more involvement.”


African Music Event – Peterborough’s Key Theatre – 4th May 2013

Further details to come

Live music from Batanai and Shumba Mbira.

Mali News #5 – Forces enter Diabaly and Douentza

Journalists queue to enter Diabaly this morning. All rights @joepenney

First of all Bruce Whitehouse’s situation report from the 18th of January is a must read for catching up on what has been happening in Mali.

Beyond that though there are a few interesting perspectives and pieces that it’s worth reading. First of all, lest anyone focus overly much on the conflict, it’s important to continue to highlight the extreme humanitarian crisis arriving in the wake of the conflict zones. The UN is predicting up to 710,000 people will be forced to leave their homes due to the crisis, and the international aid organisations can not cope with those numbers and the acute nature of the deprivation they are seeing. 

Civil society’s response to what they rightly see as a foreign invasion continues as people in Gao lynch an Islamist Chief who had a popular journalist killed (fr). These are not scenes that we would want to see, but they give a strong indication to the Malian people’s thoughts in the areas still occupied by the terrorist organisations in the North.

Today French forces took the central towns of Diabaly and Douentza from Al-Queda linked rebels. Quickly followed by a horde of journalists who follow the action as you can see above. As government sponsored forces continue to advance we will hear more harrowing stories of life under the terrorists, “With a razor, one of the rebel leaders traced a circle on my forearm before chopping it off with a sharp knife”.

The final update from Northern Africa has been the Algerian hostage situation which was widely linked to the situation in Mali. While it’s unclear to what extent the attack was related to what is going on in Mali, what is important is the Prime Minister’s announcement today that, “We must support effective and accountable government, back people in their search for a job and a voice and work with the UN and our international partners to solve long-standing political conflicts and grievances.” Strong rhetoric from the Prime Minister in his speech, which referred to Mali, and we can hope that Britain will commit to building resilience in Mali after this conflict has finished.

For those who want a thorough and insightful understanding into the roots of Al Qaida in the Sahara region they should look no further than this extract from Andy Morgan.

Finally, the conflict has given greater prevalence to other aspects of Mali’s offering to the world. The guardian highlighted, ‘Mali’s magical music’. And Mali’s opening 1-0 over Niger in the Africa Cup of Nations. Hopefully the powerful nature of these two facets of Malian life will show the world that there is more to Mali, and bring  people together in solidarity, supporting Mali.