Music is under fire in Mali. Hundreds of musicians from the country’s culturally rich north have fled south, driven out by religious hard-liners who have banned any form of music that isn’t Koranic verses. “In northern Mali, music is like oxygen,” Baba Salah, one of northern Mali’s most-respected musicians, told The Washington Post in November. “Now, we cannot breathe.” In the words of longtime Mali watcher Andy Morgan, in Mali “religious war has been declared on music.”
In March, amid a military coup that left the government in disarray, Tuareg rebels joined forces with secessionists and Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. The fighting swept through northern Mali, seizing major towns within weeks and effectively splitting this impoverished nation into two. Soon afterward, the Islamists and al-Qaeda militants took control.
(MORE: Mali’s War: After Surging Into the Islamist-Held North, Will France Retreat?)
While things may now be turning around for Mali with France’s military offensive moving quickly to free all the major towns that had been under Islamist control, and driving al-Qaeda-linked militias back. The lasting effect on the country’s rich cultural heritage is unknown. But Mali’s musicians and artists have not sat idle as these events unfold. They’ve gathered to fight back against the tyrannical suppression of their music, raising their voices in protest.
Here are eight Malian musicians giving voices in opposition.
Next Voices for Mali