I’ve been on this African blues kick for the last year or so, particularly the popular music of Mali in Western Africa. Unfortunately, it’s gained a certain notoriety of late, with al Qaeda Islamist militants over-running the north of the country and then threatening the south. France has intervened (thank God it’s not us this time) and has sent the militants packing, at least for a little while.
Mali has an extremely musical culture. It was raided extensively for slaves in the early days and a lot of them were taken to the Americas. These transplanted Africans lost their home and their culture, but bestowed on this hemisphere some of the best music in the world. Now isn’t that gratitude for being kidnapped and treated like a sub-human animal? It makes me sick.
I love the music, primarily because its connection to American music like the blues. It’s amazing that way. Slaves were shipped to the Americas, who gave us our national music, who then influenced the musicians in Mali. Now that’s a cross-Atlantic trade I approve of.
Given all this media furor over Mali, I’ve had the chance to find more musicians and more music. When the Islamists rolled in, they banned music (among other things). Musicians were arrested and threatened with amputation of their fingers if they played music anywhere. What a horrible thing to do. France, at least, has got the music going again although who knows what’s going to happen over the long term?
If you’re game, here’s an example of some of the stuff I’m talking about. The first, Lulla, is from a band from the north of Mali called Tinariwen (plural of “desert”). It’s middle eastern and bluesy all at the same time. Amazing.
These guys have had a very hard life, but their music is absolutely incredible. Here’s a description of what I mean by hard:
The thirty-year musical and social history of Tinariwen is a fascinating and inspiring tale. Initially a loose collection of displaced Touareg musicians centred around Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who, although born in Mali, grew up in the refugee camps near the Malian border in Algeria and later around the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset following the suppression of the Touareg people by the new independent Malian government in the early 1960’s.
Coming together in the late 1970’s with a shared passion for everything from traditional Touareg music & poetry to western rock and pop artists such as Hendrix, Santana, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin, the collective steadily built their reputation in and around the Sahara desert.
I like this song, too. It starts out a bit rough (actually, they all do) and suddenly you’re in the middle of transcendent blues, right there in the middle of the desert:
Okay, this might not be for everybody, but at least on this side of the Atlantic I can well understand why this music is so popular.
And that’s only the beginning.
- Mali music ban by Islamists ‘crushing culture to impose rule’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Mali: Mali’s Star Musicians Unite Against Islamists (ionglobaltrends.com)