In that same moment of dream-like calm, not more than two hundred kilometres away, a Malian army column was fighting for survival against the firepower of the ATNMC, a splinter rebel movement led by desert ‘bad boy’ and Malian public enemy No. 1, Ibrahim Ag Bahanga.
When Tinariwen launch into one of their songs on one of their good nights, I’m immediately transported to the place they come from. My nostrils prick up to the smell of tea, tobacco and gasoline. The pentatonic drone of the music rolls out the endless line of the desert horizons. The perpetual polyrhythms put wanderlust back into my heart and my feet.
Long ago, Staff Benda Bilili understood that any real handicap exists only in the mind, rather than in the legs. Stricken by polio whilst still young, abandoned to their fate in one of the toughest and most dysfunctional cities in the world, forced to survive by courage and wit alone, Ricky, Coco, Roger and the crew have always known that life’s path clings to a vertical cliff face which towers above them. The only way has been up.
This battle for recognition in the hierarchy of the hard is the subject of one of K’naan’s best loved tunes, ‘What’s Hardcore’, with its immortal line “If I rhymed about home and got descriptive / I’d make Fifty Cent look like Limp Bizkit.”’ But what might seem like ghetto-boy posturing was actually part of a deeper struggle to gain respect.