REVIEW of ‘Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali’ – SONGLINES, September 2013

Songlines Cover 201309It was a small consolation, but one of the few positives to come out of the occupation of the northern two-thirds of Mali by armed jihadist groups in 2012 was the informed analysis of Andy Morgan. At the height of the crisis, Morgan seemed ubiquitous in the western media – on radio, television and in print. While talking heads from American foreign policy institutes revealed that there’s nothing more ignorant than a wonk pontificating about places they’ve never been, Morgan, as the former manager of Tinariwen turned acclaimed writer, was able to offered a rare combination of inside knowledge and journalistic objectivity, informed by a deep and genuine love for Mali, its people and its music.

Now his writing on the crisis has grown into a book (originally intended as a pamphlet). Morgan details the background and context to the Salafist takeover of an area larger than the combined territories of France and the UK. He untangles the complex web of the different groups involved, and explains how the Tuareg liberationist movement MNLA was hijacked by the Islamist militia Ansar ud-Dine. His political analysis is detailed and comprehensive, tracing how the conflict had its roots in fifty years of Tuareg rebellions, as well as the legacy of events such as  the Algerian civil war of the 1990s and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya.

But, as you would expect from a publication commissioned by Freemuse, the campaigning organisation dedicated to freedom of musical expression around the world, the main tune of the book is the impact of the crisis on Malian culture. Morgan’s sharp analysis is supported by plenty of first-hand evidence, including accounts of how the music ban was brutally applied under shari’a law. There are also interviews with  Bassekou Kouyate,Vieux Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Rokia Traore and members of  the Tuareg bands Terakaft, Tartit and Tinariwen.

His final chapter is required reading, a tour de force of both profound humanity and intellectual clarity, as he describes how even after the jihadists were expelled in early 2013, fear and paranoia still stalk northern Mali. But his ultimate message is one of cautious hope, as he sees Malian cultural life emerging from the puritanical, doctrinaire war waged upon it ”with a greater sense of defiance and honed purpose.”

Nigel Williamson

(c) Nigel Williamson / Songlines 2013

  3 comments for “REVIEW of ‘Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali’ – SONGLINES, September 2013

  1. Susan Rautenberg
    October 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    How do I get a copy of Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali? can’t locate it online….

    Saw Tamikrest at Leeds gig at Howard Assembly Room on friday – absolutely excellent, sound was great and audience dancing in the aisles!!! 5 star!!

  2. Jean Badel
    December 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Neither Bassekou Kouyate,Vieux Farka Toure or Toumani Diabate like Andy Morgan, I have spoken to them and they know Andy is a MNLA propagandist and opportunist.

    • March 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Hey Jean,

      Hope you’re well. I’m sorry it took me a while to post your comment about me being an opportunist and MNLA propagandist up on my website. I was waiting for an opportunity to talk to Vieux Fark and Toumani and see whether they really had said these things to you. i finally managed to speak to both of them in the last few weeks. Neither of them remembered saying anything of the kind to you and denied calling me an opportunist.

      So I’m afraid that your comment is innacurate, well according to Vieux and Touamni in any case.

      And just to clear things up…my views about the MNLA are very mixed. I believe that any honest reading of my writings on what’s happened in northern Mali, especially those that I have posted in the last year, will prove that.

      And as for being an opportunist…well, freelance writing is all about seizing opportunities. I’m sorry that you disapprove of that.

      I hope this mail expresses no ill feeling because I don’t feel any towards you. You are most welcome to your opinions.

      I wish you well, Andy.

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