on Music, Burn Musical Instruments
The pickup halted in Kidal, the far-flung Malian desert town that is home to members of the Grammy award-winning band Tinariwen. Seven AK47-toting militiamen got out and marched to the family home of a local musician. He wasn't home, but the message delivered to his sister was chilling: "If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we'll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with."
The gang then removed guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones and a drum kit from the house, doused them with petrol, and set them ablaze. In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.
When a rabble of different Islamist groups took control of the region in April there were fears that its rich culture would suffer. But no one imagined that music would almost cease to exist -- not in Mali, a country that has become internationally renowned for its sound.
"Culture is our petrol," says Toumani Diabaté, the Malian kora player who has collaborated with Damon Albarn and Björk, to name but a few. "Music is our mineral wealth. There isn't a single major music prize in the world today that hasn't been won by a Malian artist."
"Music regulates the life of every Malian," adds Cheich Tidiane Seck, a prolific Malian musician and producer. "From the cradle to the grave. From ancient times right up to today. A Mali without music? No...I mean...give me another one!"
And yet that is the bland reality dawning on this once joy-filled land. International observers claim the leaders of the three armed Islamic groups who now control the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao are motivated by money and power rather the dream of a caliphate in the Sahel. There are strong ties between these groups and the less than holy interests of major drug-traffickers and arms smugglers.
But many of the mujahideen who have zoned in on the conflict from all over the Muslim world are fired by an unquestionable religious zeal. The same goes for Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Touareg strongman and born-again Salafist, who founded the Ansar-ud-Deen movement at the end of last year.
"He believes in what he's doing," says Manny Ansar, director of the Festival in the Desert that has been taking place every January in and around Timbuktu and Kidal since 2001. "And that's what frightens me. I'm not convinced that he wants to kill everyone who is not a Muslim, like the people in al-Qaeda do, but I've seen him giving up the fruits of this life for God."
Back in the 1990s, before he succumbed to the preaching of the Pakistani proselytising movement Tablighi Jamaat, Ghaly liked to smoke cigarettes and hang out with musicians from Tinariwen. He even composed songs and poems of love, rebellion and the beauty of his desert home. Now music, and with it a major source of communal cohesion and well being, has either disappeared or gone underground throughout the territory under his control.
An official decree banning all western music was issued on 22 August by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao. "We don't want the music of Satan. Qur'anic verses must take its place. Sharia demands it," the decree says.
The ban comes in the context of a horrifically literal and gratuitous application of Sharia law in all aspects of daily life. Militiamen are cutting off the hands and feet of thieves or stoning adulterers. Smokers, alcohol drinkers and women who are not properly attired are being publicly whipped. As one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says: "There's a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody's under this kind of spell. It's strange."
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Editor's Note: Thus we see the fruits of the "Arab Spring," which, in reality, has been an Islamist takeover...Of course, we probably won't be seeing Madonna in Mali anymore...
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