Friday, 25 January 2013

Voices United for Mali

First published on in January 2013.

Fatou Diawara rallies the troops to spread a message of hope in Mali

The musical hotbed of West Africa that is Mali is in turmoil. After a military coup in early 2012 and the subsequent defection of the country’s three northern states, Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, to form the Islamic Republic of Azawad, this area was then taken over by Ansar ad-Din, a separatist group with links to al-Qaeda. Due to a literalist (Salafi) interpretation of Sharia law, music is now banned in the region.

One high profile victim of this current regime is Tinariwen guitarist Abdallah ag Lamina – he was captured trying to hide his guitars. He has not been seen or heard from since. In the midst of this hardship, however, music is still playing a valuable role in the spread of both information and hope. Wassoulou songbird Fatoumata Diawara has gathered musicians from all over Mali to create a supergroup of more than forty members, named collectively as Voices United for Mali to sing for peace in the country.

Featuring many stars of Malian music, including Oumou Sangaré, Kassé Mady Diabaté, Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyaté, Vieux Farka Touré, Khaira Arby, Djelimady Tounkara, Amadou & Mariam and Babani Koné, the song ‘Mali-ko’ (meaning Peace in Mali) asks “Do we really want to kill each other? Do we really want to betray one another? Allow ourselves to be divided? We are all of one mother country”.

Fatou gave her statement of intent regarding the song at a press conference last Thursday “The Malian people look to us. They have lost hope in politics. But music has always brought hope in Mali…people are looking to musicians for a sense of direction.