[Marxism] A really good reason to despise Islamic fundamentalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 1 08:22:01 MST 2012


In northern Mali, music silenced as Islamists drive out artists
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Published: November 30

BAMAKO, Mali — Khaira Arby, one of Africa’s most celebrated musicians, 
has performed all over the world, but there is one place she cannot 
visit: her native city of Timbuktu, a place steeped in history and 
culture but now ruled by religious extremists.

One day, they broke into Arby’s house and destroyed her instruments. Her 
voice was a threat to Islam, they said, even though one of her most 
popular songs praised Allah.

“They told my neighbors that if they ever caught me, they would cut my 
tongue out,” said Arby, sadness etched on her broad face.

Northern Mali, one of the richest reservoirs of music on the continent, 
is now an artistic wasteland. Hundreds of musicians have fled south to 
Bamako, the capital, and to other towns and neighboring countries, 
driven out by hard-liners who have decreed any form of music — save for 
the tunes set to Koranic verses — as being against their religion.

The exiles describe a shattering of their culture, in which playing 
music brings lashes with whips, even prison time, and MP3 and cassette 
players are seized and destroyed.

“We can no longer live like we used to live,” lamented Aminata Wassidie 
Traore, 36, a singer who fled her village of Dire, near Timbuktu. “The 
Islamists do not want anyone to sing anymore.”

In Malian society, music anchors every ceremony, from births and 
circumcisions to weddings and prayers for rains. Village bards known as 
griots sang traditional songs and poems of the desert, passing down 
centuries-old tales of empires, heroes and battles, as well as their 
community’s history. In this manner, memories were preserved from 
generation to generation, along with ancient African traditions and ways 
of life.

In current times, lyrics serve as a source of inspiration and learning, 
a way to pass down morals and values to youths. They have also been used 
to expose corruption and human rights abuses, and have helped eradicate 
stigmas and given a voice to the poor.

“In northern Mali, music is like oxygen,” said Baba Salah, one of 
northern Mali’s most-respected musicians. “Now, we cannot breathe.”

In March, amid a military coup that left the government in disarray, 
Tuareg rebels who once fought for Libyan autocrat Moammar Gaddafi joined 
forces with secessionists and Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. They 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.

They have installed an ultraconservative brand of Islamic law in this 
moderate Muslim country, reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban and 
Somalia’s al-Shabab movements. Now, women must wear head-to-toe 
garments. Smoking, alcohol, videos and any suggestions of Western 
culture are banned. The new decrees are enforced by public amputations, 
whippings and executions, prompting more than 400,000 people to flee. 
The extremists also destroyed tombs and other cultural treasures, saying 
they were against Islamic principles.

The death of music was inevitable. It is, perhaps, Mali’s strongest link 
to the West. Musicians such as the late guitarist Ali Farka Toure, the 
Tuareg-Berber band Tinariwen and singers such as Salif Keita exported 
their music to the United States and Europe. They often collaborated 
with Western musicians.

Since 2001, Western artists such as Robert Plant have performed at the 
Festival of the Desert, outside Timbuktu, transforming Mali into an 
international artistic and tourist destination. In January, U2 frontman 
Bono performed with Tinariwen. This February, though, the festival will 
be held in neighboring Burkina Faso.

The international recognition helped spark a new generation of young 
artists in the north. Some fused songs in their native Songhai and 
Tamashek languages with Arabic and French. Others melded traditional 
rhythms of the desert with rap, hip-hop, reggae, funk and blues. Bands 
weaved traditional Malian lute and fiddles with electric guitars.

In recent times, the lyrics have addressed social and political issues. 
In “Waidio,” Arby sings about the plight of women trapped by war. She 
has also sung about Fulani cattle herders and the hard labor endured by 
salt miners.

‘Music is against Islam’

Today, in the city of Gao, 39-year-old singer Bintu Aljuma Yatare no 
longer listens to music on her phone. The Islamists will confiscate it, 
she said. Five musicians in her band have fled to neighboring Niger; two 
others are in Bamako. She cannot leave because she has to take care of 
her aging parents.

Every evening, she risks being sent to prison: She shuts the windows and 
doors of her house and sings in her native Songhai language. “Sometimes 
I lie in my bed and hum my songs softly,” she said. “The only way for me 
to survive this nightmare is through music.”

The other day, she wrote a song about the drivers who take people out of 
northern Mali to safer pastures.

For reggae musician Alwakilo Toure, his home in Gao was not a sanctuary. 
He was strumming his guitar when six armed militants barged into his 
compound. With guns pointed at his head, one Islamist grabbed the guitar 
and smashed it to bits with his foot. “The guitar was my life,” Toure 
recalled. “I had nothing else to do.”

Two weeks later, he fled to Bamako.

In a telephone interview, one of the Islamists’ top commanders declared 
that his fighters would continue to target musicians.

“Music is against Islam,” said Oumar Ould Hamaha, the military leader of 
the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the three 
extremist groups controlling the north. “Instead of singing, why don’t 
they read the Koran? Why don’t they subject themselves to God and pray? 
We are not only against the musicians in Mali. We are in a struggle 
against all the musicians of the world.”

Artists without a home

In a cramped apartment in Bamako, about a dozen young artists were 
recording a song, a fusion of rap and traditional melodies. In one 
corner, there was a microphone and a computer to mix the tracks. Next to 
that was a synthesizer.

All the artists were from northern Mali, and none were playing with 
their own instruments because they had either been burned or shattered 
by the Islamists. The group included Toure, who was coaching a singer.

But their escape to Bamako is bittersweet.

It has been difficult for the musicians to earn money in the capital. 
They sing in the lan­guages of the north, but most people in Bamako 
speak only the southern Bambara language.

“In Bamako, people don’t understand what we sing,” Toure said. “It 
really hurts us that we can’t perform. Most of us don’t have jobs. Many 
of us now rely on our relatives for money.”

But even in exile, they have found a way to take a stand against the 

“We feel like soldiers,” said Kiss Diouara, a 24-year-old rapper. “This 
is our way to fight our war.”

A few minutes later, he played his group’s most recent creation. The 
video included a collage of news clips and photos of Islamists 
destroying ancient mosques and asserting their power. In the video, 
Diourra raps:

Free the North

We want peace in our land

We want to go back to our homes

Arby understands. For the past eight months, she has lived out of a 

Arby knows she could easily travel outside Mali for work. Her 2010 
album, “Timbuktu Tarab,” was widely acclaimed in the West. She had 
opportunities to settle in the United States, she said.

But Mali is where she is most inspired, specifically in Timbuktu, she said.

“When I think of Timbuktu, I am lost,” said Arby, wiping a sudden tear 
that trickled down her cheek. “When I dream of Timbuktu, I wake up. When 
I think of Timbuktu when I am speaking, I stop speaking. My heart is 
broken. Timbuktu is everything to me.”

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