Music & Culture

MUSIC AND JIHAD IN MALI – “Mali without music is an impossibility”

A mujahid in northern Mali.

All the musicians I spoke to agreed; Mali without music would be like Egypt without cotton, a bird without wings, a man without a soul. “I’m a Muslim, but Sharia isn’t my thing,” says Rokia Traore, one of Mali’s most famous international stars. “If I couldn’t go up on stage anymore, I would cease to exist. And without music, Mali will cease to exist.”

BOMBINO – Revving up beyond the sand

Bombino Niamey Feb 2013 © Andy Morgan 27

What’s more extraordinary however is Bombino’s fame at home. He’s become a bona fide head-turning airtime-hogging star in his own country, not just amongst the Touareg, who mainly live in Niger’s northern deserts, but amongst the youth of the entire nation. That’s something that no other Touareg artists has ever managed to do, not even Tinariwen.

TINARIWEN – Guitar poets in Nueva York

Ibrahim ag Alhabib on stage at the Highline Ballroom, New York, July 2011. (c) Andy Morgan

Ibrahim battles through the show, smiling only once. His grave immobile presence is like a challenge to the hip bubbling New York crowd. To do what? To imagine a simplicity and a silence that their city will never know. It almost feels as if, for just a few minutes, Ibrahim’s challenge has been accepted, and endless silence of the desert has descended on us all.

PHOTO ESSAY – Tinariwen in New York, July 2011

Said-bacstage-at-the-Highline-Ballroom-July-2011

In 2011 I was sent to New York to write a feature on Tinariwen for the Observer. It was one of the hottest summers in decades – wet hot, rather than dry hot. It was a time of extremes for everyone. Here are some photos I took. My feature ‘TINARIWEN – Guitar poets in Nueva York’ is posted on this site.

FESTIVAL ON THE NIGER 2014 – Ghostboy and me

Festival on the Niger 2014 © Andy Morgan 2

Last year, the Festival on the Niger had been cancelled at the last minute. French transport planes full of soldiers and hardware had landed in Bamako only two weeks before the festival was due to start. Now peace was back. So was music. The jihadists tried to ban all music except Quranic chanting in the north of Mali. But it just came back like Whack-a-mole. How could it not?

PHOTO ESSAY – The Festival on the Niger 2014

Festival-on-the-Niger-2014-©-Andy-Morgan-16

In February 2014, I was invited to The Festival on the Niger in Segou, Mali. This is a selection of some of the photos I took. I also wrote an article which is posted on this site. In a nutshell, those four days on the banks of the old Niger were a blessed chance to renew my love for Mali, with eyes and mind as open as I could make them to the full gamut of joy, pride, frustration and struggle that I saw. Many thanks to Mamou Daffé, Marisa Segala and whole team at the Festival for giving me this unforgettable gift.

LO’JO – In Georgia

Denis Péan Tbilisi Old Town 2012

The best thing about drinking wine from a hollowed out ram’s horn is that you can’t put the thing down. You have to keep holding onto to it otherwise it’ll topple over, and if you’re…

Politics & Society

The Ouagadougou Accords – Peace in our time?

An accord between the government of Mali and groups representing the Touareg-led rebellion in the north, primarily the MNLA and HCUA, was signed two days ago in Ougadougou at end of several weeks of intense negotiation. Le Monde has a concise and fairly comprehensive report on this possibly historic event. So is this peace in our time?

What next for Mali?

Like a massive dose of chemotherapy administered to a patient with advancing cancer, France’s intervention in Mali will serve to halt and stabilise the situation. But negative side effects are inevitable, and a complete cure seems as far away as ever.

Northern Mali – Options, what options??!!

The Rubik’s cube-like complexity of Mali’s problems, especially in the north, presents one of the greatest conflict resolution challenges in recent African history. Success relies on solving a short list of pressing problems, each of which look like a challenge fit for gods not men.

What do the Touareg want?

Camel procession Essouk 2007 (c) Andy Morgan

A nation or people rarely if ever think as one. In the case of the Touareg, difference and disharmony is exacerbated by their vast desert habitat and dispersed nomadic lifestyle, both of which tend to place allegiance to blood and tribe above allegiance to nation or ideology and militate against collective thought or action. This is an attempt to analyze the various current of political thought in the Touareg community of northern Mali.

A SAHARAN ODYSSEY (extract): Guns, cigarettes & Salafi dreams: the roots of AQIM

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

There are facts about Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that are reassuringly hard and verifiable. The organisation exists. It’s run by Algerian Arabs. It’s made a home from home in the north east of Mali, on Tinariwen’s native earth. It earns millions and millions of euros from kidnapping westerners. No one knows exactly how much. Every now and then it chops the head off one of its victims. All in the service of a dream that has become a nightmare for the people of the Sahara