“The town has gone silent,” says 28-year-old farmer Ousmane Maiga (not his real name) over the phone. “It’s way too quiet”.
When I was little my mother went through a phase where we would wake up most days listening to Ali Farka Touré. His music is now linked to so many childhood memories that listening to him feels like home.
As much as I would like to celebrate this World Music Day I can’t help but think of the fact that Mali is now on a musical lock down. The country that is responsible not only for Ali but other greats such as Rokia Traoré’s soulful vocals and the Afro-pop traditions of Salif Keita is now being run by Islamic militants that have announced a ban on all forms of music.
These musicians with their distinctive and varied styles have given us small lessons about Africa and their country’s traditions for years now thus keeping their ancient oral traditions alive and well generation after generation. To the people of Mali music is not just entertainment, it is a way of life. Most rituals have musicians present. Singers known as griots sing and play at birth ceremonies, weddings and funerals. The griot is a “person who creates cohesion between people, a kind of cement in Malian society.” It is a language that communicates what we can’t always get across in words. “A world without music is also a world without stories.”
With musicians fleeing the country in droves so they can carry on their work the situation looks bleak. This however will not stop them from spreading their stories and taking a stand. Wherever we are we cannot undermine the power music holds over people. I sincerely hope that the situation will change and fast. Until then we can help keep the stories alive by listening, sharing and keeping the conversation alive.