the world's smartest travel social network
It’s horrible, of course, the war currently going on in Mali, the desecration of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, and the disruption of lives in a place where life doesn’t allow much margin for error. Maybe the most ironic aspect of it all is that Mali has been able to cast itself so successfully in the last twenty years as the capital of world music, starting with Ali Farka Toure’ and including dozens of regional stars in its roll-call before making Ali’s son Vieux its latest luminary. The griot/djeli tradition goes back much farther than that, of course, which is about all that can be reliably said on the history of the subject. Urban legends of Tuareg revolutionaries turning in their guns for guitars may be more or less accurate, if generously embellished for marketing purposes, but the claim of being able to trace American blues or jazz back to a single village in Mali is probably an over-simplification, if not necessarily false, given only anecdotal evidence and no clear genetic links. I like the metaphor of music as DNA, though.
It all makes good copy, regardless, and is easily accomplished in the absence of any well-documented history. When the news narrative implies, however, that the current troubles are an aberration and a perversion and an imposition from outside forces upon a peaceful democracy, then that is clearly not true. In fact Mali has some of the most famous jihads in the history of the world, occurring mostly in the first half of the 19th century and featuring such warrior-priests as Usman dan Fodio, Mohamed Bello, and Umar Tal. Ironically these vast movements, mostly instigated by semi-nomadic Fulani or their cousin Tukulors, occurred after the arrival of the colonial French masters and their penetration into the region, but while they were still largely confined to the coastal regions. Go figure. Do the math. That’s no reason why there can’t be peace in Mali, though, only the painful recognition that there never really has been. Then the Islamists declared war on music, God help us...
Tuaregs are the Kurds of the Maghreb, a vast nation with no state, in an era when the two are supposed to be synonymous. They’ve been at war with Mali since forever, probably the easiest of their foes in the Sahel and Sahara. It’s hard to believe that freewheeling Tuareg separatists would have been so naïve and foolish as to make a deal with Islamic fundamentalist control-freak devils, but there you have it, the outcome as predictable as that in Egypt, or Syria, and the reason why the West would rather tolerate cruel corrupt warlords than welcome Islamic internationalists who represent the biggest threat to the capitalist world order since international Communism.
If it’s any consolation, the economic shutdown that these Islamic internationalists would likely induce might just save us from the likely eco-sui-genocide that we more enlightened Eurasians with our iPhones and Boeing Dreamliners are surely headed for unless we change our ways. Yeah right, no prob, I’ll change…tomorrow. What’s your preference, survival at reduced levels of sensory stimulation, or to go out in a bang, with the band playing on, while the boat sinks, wearing nothing but iGoggles and iShorts? Hmm, that’s a tough one. It’s complicated. Could we negotiate on the Sharia hand amputations? Go figure. Do the math.
(For anyone unfamiliar with Malian music, but wanting to check it out, the father-son Farka Toure’s are a good place to start, but hardly the most typical, more like representatives of a grassy Sahel folk-blues acoustic-electric guitar genre with a few members, Afel Bocoum another notable luminary. To the arid Saharan desert north the jangly Tuareg roots-rock guitar genre is best exemplified by its prime movers Tinariwen, with significant contributions by Terakaft, Toumast and others. To the greener humid forested south and capital Bamako is the heart of ‘traditional’ Malian music, with stars like the Diabates and others playing instruments like the harp-like kora and banjo-like ngoni, while many hybrid forms abound with links to Afropop and Afrobeat, and featuring stars like Salif Keita, Amadou & Mariam, Bassekou Kouyate, Khaira Arby, Oumou Sangare…).
Seasons change, and so do borders. It almost seems like the increasing desertification of the once-green Sahel brings with it more Arabs, more fundamentalist Islam, and less tolerance. What does a hunter do when there is nothing left to hunt? What does a warrior do when there is nothing left to fight? These things tend to work themselves out over time… but the music will never die. Truth, beauty, goodness, and the transcendence they provide are the food that nourishes a famished soul.