Report from Bamako: Can musical Mali play on?

Islamism is on the march and threatening to wipe out the country’s cultural heritage, wrote freelance journalist Rose Skelton in the British newspaper The Independent on 18 August 2012.

Singer Khaira Arby at her Bamako refuge. Photo by Rose Skelton

Malian artists have exported their music with more success than perhaps any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. And Malian music has not only been exported across the world, it has helped bring the world to Mali. Music has been an integral part of life for generations, the tolerant form of Islam practised by the majority of its population offers no objection to such a celebration.

However, in Mali’s northern desert, this is no longer the case. Following a military coup in March, northern Mali has been overrun by al-Qa’ida-linked Ansar Dine militants and other hard-line Islamic groups which hijacked a decades-long rebellion by ethnic Touareg rebels. In the north, extremists violently impose a strict form of Islam, which has prompted hundreds of thousands to flee, has seen sacred shrines in Timbuktu attacked for being “un-Islamic”, and now threatens the country’s rich musical history.


Pheno S, a young rapper in Gao, told Rose Skelton that he can no longer work because of the rebellion. “Please don’t forget us,” he told her over the phone, with desperation in his voice. Like many in Mali, Pheno is hoping for foreign intervention. As scores of musicians consider leaving the country, many believe it would be a tragedy for one of the world’s great musical nations, and the final nail in the coffin for its tourism industry.

Malian singer Khaira Arby had to leave her home in Timbuktu. She told Rose Skelton she has nowhere to go and that she can’t perform because all her instruments are back home.

Rose Skelton says in an interview with the American radio programme programme ‘The World’: “There’s a real sense of music being strangled there.”


Rose Skelton is a Dakar-based freelance journalist and photographer specialising in West African music. She wrote Freemuse’s Music Freedom Report no. 1: Côte d’Ivoire, which was published on 3 March 2012.

Public Radio International’s host of the programme ‘The World’, Marco Werman, did a radio interview with Rose Skelton which was broadcasted on 24 August 2012:
Listen to radio report (11 minutes)



Read the article

The Independent – 18 August 2012:
Can musical Mali play on?


AFP – 23 August 2012:
North Mali Islamists ban secular music on radio


Public Radio International – 24 August 2012:
The music has died in northern Mali as Islamic extremists exert control


Voice of America – 30 August 2012:
Malian Music Prevails in Troubled Times: Rap/Hip Hop Music and Festivals Rally to Rebuild the Nation
Heather Maxwell spoke with three people who each have their own interpretations of the consequences of the ban on secular music — two of whom are Malians currently living in Mali, and one an American anthropologist who just returned in June. She concludes: “In light of these conversations, it seems the ban on secular music in the North is doing less to silence Mali than to fan the flames of music’s power to rally and rebuild the nation.”
Heather Maxwell is the Africa Music Director for the Voice of America, and she produces and hosts the radio programme ‘Music Time in Africa’.


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