Friday 6 October 2017

On DVD - Rod Bishop reports on MALI BLUES (Lutz Gregor, Mali/Germany, 2016)

Some believe Mali, and particularly Timbuktu, to be the birthplace of the blues. Mali Blues (2016) is the third significant account of the civil war in Northern Mali to appear in recent years.

A conflict that started in 2012 as a liberation movement of the Tuareg peoples, it was quickly taken over by jihadists including a splinter al-Qaeda group who imposed strict Sharia law, particularly in the northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. Driven out of the cities a year later by forces led by the French military, the jihadists still roam across Northern Mali attacking troops and attempting to impose their version of Sharia law on locals.

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Cannes winner Timbuktu (2015), told the story of a cattle herder, his wife and their children as they became subjected to the absurd court judgements handed down by the jihadists who had overrun that fabled city.

Charlie English’s The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu, published in 2016, is a page-turning account of the archivists and librarians who fought to save tens of thousands of medieval manuscripts (many of them in private hands) from the al-Qaeda fanatics out to burn them.

And now Mali Blues (2016) bears witness to the jihadists’ attempts to ban Mali’s renowned musical culture, internationally known for performers Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré, Tinariwen and Oumou Sangare among others.

Mali Blues follows four performers – the Tuareg guitarist Ahmed Ag Kaedi, forced to leave his home town of Kidal in the north when the jihadists burnt his equipment and threatened to cut his fingers off; singer-songwriter-guitarist Fatoumata Diawara who also acted in Sissako’s Timbuktu; a streetwise rap singer Master Soumy; and the “praise” singer Bassékou Kouyaté who, among other things, shows off a ngoni, an instrument he claims evolved into the banjo.

Filmed mostly in the capital Bamako, Gregor leans heavily towards political and cultural material. Two musical sequences stand out. Fatoumata Diawara (who played six concerts in NSW in 2012) returns to her village to sing a song to the women about genital mutilation. Their subsequent discussion on the issue is both powerful and illuminating.
They told me they do it in the morning
They do it with a piece of iron
With a knife
Illness is on the knife
Death is on the knife
Pain is on the knife
Terrible sickness is on the knife
They cut it off
They cut the blossom off
That made me into a woman
Don’t cut it off Mama
The blossom that made us into women
They cut it off me

And Master Soumy, who delivers an arresting rap about the plight of his religion:
Some spend their day happy and having fun and laughing
But in Gao people live in fear
What did they do to God?
Some are joyful and dance
But in Timbuktu peoples guts are tied in knots
You who torture people
Explain your Islam!
They make ruins of homes
Courtyards into holed calabashes
They say they fight for God
But their pact is with Satan
I’m shocked and disgusted
My body hurts up north
Kalashnikovs and bombs
Explain your Islam!
Torture, rape, thrashings
Explain your Islam!
Abuse and killings

Explain your Islam!

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