Islamists Failed To Quiet Mali's Music

The African nation of Mali has long claimed it gave birth to the blues. Renee Montagne reports that the country's musical tradition was threatened this past year when Islamist militants took over the deserts of northern Mali and banned music.

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Hey, Mississippi can righteously proud of the part it played as the cradle of America's quintessential music, the blues. American music by way of Africa. One place in particular, Mali, has long laid claim to giving birth to the blues.


MONTAGNE: Here the legendary Ali Farka Toure.

Mali's musical tradition was threatened this past year when Islamist militants took over the vast deserts of Northern Mali and immediately banned music - an incredibly painful experience for Malians.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: We listen to the music like our God. It's very spiritual.

MONTAGNE: That's Fatoumata Diawara, also a Malian musician.

DIAWARA: Music, it's a kind of hope for us. Even if we are not musicians, people need music.


MONTAGNE: When the militants made music a punishable offense, the fabled Festival in the Desert was cancelled. Local musicians fled south. And Ali Farka Toure's son stopped coming north. We reached Vieux Farka Toure while he was on tour in the U.S.

VIEUX FARKA TOURE: I'd like to be there with the family, with everybody, to see what's happened. But I call every morning, every night, every day. You know, it's like my head is in Mali.

MONTAGNE: For her part, Fatoumata brought together musicians from all over Mali to record a song pleading for peace.

DIAWARA: Every voice is different and that for me is powerful. We bring more than 40 people and everybody was a Malian. Tuareg, Sicaso, Segou on one record. We are all the same. We come from the same rhythm - tickita tickita tickita.


MONTAGNE: This song, "Maliko," was recorded a week before the French troops began retaking the north of the country.

Life in Mali is by no means back to normal. Even in the South, public concerts are now banned under a state of emergency. Still, Malians live for their music. And musicians are already planning to host the Festival in the Desert just outside Timbuktu again next year.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne


And I'm Linda Wertheimer

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