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.
A few years ago, on a beautifully calm Saharan evening, I was drinking tea with an old Touareg musician in a garden near Tessalit in the far north east of Mali, a place that has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The musician’s work was gaining popularity throughout Europe and North…
My new book MUSIC, CULTURE & CONFLICT IN MALI takes an in-depth look at the crisis that overtook Mali in January 2012 and lead to a ten-month occupation of the northern two-thirds of the country by armed jihadi groups. The book examines the roots of those tumultuous events and their ef- fect on the music and culture of the country. There are chapters on music under occupation in the north, the music scene in Bamako, the destruction of mausoleums in the north, the fate of Mali’s precious manuscripts, Mali’s film and theatre industries and the response to the crisis from writers, poets, journalists, intellectuals and film-makers.
BOOK EXTRACT: In important ways, the scenes of vandalism and destruction that were played out in Timbuktu following the Salafist takeover in April 2012 weren’t new at all. There was something very old about them. Mostly white Arabic or Hassaniya speaking men from the northern deserts were ‘teaching’ the blacks how to worship Allah in the ‘proper’ manner.
BOOK EXTRACT: Life in the early 1990s was convivial. There was music. Women felt free to come and go. Some people smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. The bonds between those young Touareg, their music and their culture seemed strong and unbreakable. No one quite knows why some senior Touareg figures from the northeast, including Iyad Ag Ghali, began to succumb to the message of Pakistani preachers belonging to Tablighi Jama’at.
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
A few days ago, the pro-Azawad website Toumast Press reported that Algerian army personnel were in Gao training fighters belonging to Ansar ud-Dine and MUJAO, the Islamist militia who recently drove the Touareg separatist MNLA from the city. They also reported that the Algerians have been sending heavy weaponry to the city under the guise…