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Mali's Musicians Struggle To Sell Their Music As Political Crisis Continues

posted 28 Jun 2013, 08:34 by Mpelembe   [ updated 28 Jun 2013, 08:39 ]

Malian musicians living in the country's south may be miles away from the crisis in the north but new security laws in the country that forbid public meetings are affecting their business as they struggle to get audiences to attend shows.

 BAMAKOMALI  (REUTERS) -  Mali has a rich musical tradition and many of the country's artists are well-known on the international circuit. However, since Islamist militants seized control of Mali's north following a military coup in March 2012, the country has been convulsed by conflict.

When the Islamist took over, they banned music other than Koranic verses, persecuted musicians and smashed instruments and players.

Mali's musical community, whose singers and players have won world-wide acclaim, has been targeted by the hardline Islamists bent on imposing sharia, or Islamic law.

Concerts have been banned in northern cities, clubs closed, instruments smashed and burned, musicians harassed and forced to flee.

For musicians like Adama Yolamba, every opportunity to be on stage is cherished.

Yolamba was a well known musician in Mali, who use to play at many music festivals and tour extensively abroad.

Today, Yolamba is struggling to make a living out of his art, but takes every opportunity to share his music, as he recently did at this charity event, hosted by NGO workers.

"The situation for musicians at the moment is not good, because there are many musicians who are suffering due to the war in the North. There is noise everywhere, there is no longer music in Mali. There is no music," he said.

For Eva Weltzien who works with a NGO in the country, and also organised the charity event, occasions such as these should be encouraged to give musicians as much exposure as they can.

"But ofcourse we also like to support the musicians and we were really happy that Adama could come and play for us tonight. I think it's important for them because at the moment very few opportunities exist for musicians, but at the same time there is very few opportunities for people to go out. A lot of people have curfews put in place by their organizations," she said.

Until the war pushed Mali to the forefront of U.S. and European security concerns with fears the Islamists would turn the country into a base for international attacks, Mali was probably best defined for the outside world by its music.

It is seen as the wellspring of American blues, transported to Mississippi and Memphis by slavery.

Artists such as Amadou and Mariam, the blind couple from Bamako, have sold millions of records and fill concert halls world-wide.

Mali's desert blues band Tinariwen, born out of the Touareg rebellion, won a Grammy award last year.

Concert promoter Mori Torue says the crisis has damaged the musical heritage of the country, and left many musicians destitute as they can no longer make a living out their art.

"The coup put a stop to everything, and the state of emergency also worsened the situation because musicians have seen their livelihood threatened on a daily basis. There are no concerts. That was extremely hard for the artists. At the beginning, many thoughts that the state of emergency was temporary and was for security reasons. But after that, the state could not recognise the suffering that artists were going through, because there are no concerts, there are no festivals, or any other public gathering. That's how the artists use to earn their living, but today the status of musicians in Mali has diminished," Toure said.

Up and coming musicians such Hadi Ba, also known as HB, is amongst the many musicians who are now struggling to make a living out of his music, and keeps his passion alive playing music with his friends.

"We live for music, we are artists who like to perform, so when there is no music, when there are no concerts, we are no longer able to make a living and people cannot no longer hear our music. Now we only make music amongst ourselves," he added.

Last week, Mali signed a ceasefire deal with Tuareg separatist rebels, paving the way for government troops to return to the northern, rebel-held town of Kidal before a presidential election next month.

Many musicians hope that this will pave the way for music to take the prominence it once had in the West African country.