Mali: What the musicians have to say

1 March 2013

Quotes from musicians and a festival organiser in Mali who were interviewed by Andy Morgan for the Freemuse report: ‘Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali’

Rokia Traore: “Under shari’a, it would mean that people like me could no longer live in Mali. Obviously, I’m a Muslim. I’ve always been a believer, but shari’a law is not my thing. I don’t believe in it and if it has to exist in my country, I could no longer work in Mali. I would cease to exist in one way or another. And at the same, Malian culture would cease to exist. I hope that Mali won’t be another global catastrophe in cultural terms.”


Manny Ansar: (Director of the Festival in the Desert) “Everything is transmitted in Mali through music, through poetry. We enjoy life through music. The MUJAO can exist but not among this people. And I don’t see how, in the 21st century, they’ll manage to occupy this entire territory without the support of the people who live there. So, that declaration of theirs, instead of making me panic, at least it tells me that we’re dealing with people who don’t know what they’re doing, who aren’t serious and who won’t win. Because they’re aiming for utopia. They don’t understand the culture that they’re operating in and they don’t try and understand it either. And most importantly, they’re not in harmony with the population.”


Toumani Diabaté: “We’re a peaceful people with a cultural tradition that is very big and very powerful. That culture is our petrol. That culture is our diamonds, our mineral wealth. So we’ll never accept that people come and try and destroy history, try and hide and destroy the heritage of your country. We’ll never accept that.
I’m not stopping. I’m rehearsing with my band right now and I’m making use of this fallow time to prepare a new record, which I’ll begin to record very soon. I’m a musician in a line of 71 generations of musicians, kora players, from father to son, so the only thing I can do in life is that. It’s my breadwinner. I’m not a footballer. I know that I’ll never play in the Stade de France or at Wembley. The only thing I do, which is my destiny, is to play music. (…) It’s out of the question that I abandon all that to do something else. I can only do that and I will continue doing that work, as will my children and my family.”


Vieux Farka Touré: “Really and truly, I don’t think those guys have anything to do with Islam. You can’t even call them Islamists. They’re jokers, you know. For them it’s all about weapons and drugs. They’re just opportunists, not Islamists. By trying to destroy music they want to break people’s spirits, so that they can control them better. But I don’t think it’s possible. Music is something very powerful in the human spirit, so it’s not just by shaking your finger than you can destroy it. Music has a big impact on all of use because it provides a place for us to come together. It’s our meeting place, where we’re happy, where there’s friendship and companionship. Everything happens around music. It’s life. It’s as if they’re attack part of our life.”


Afel Bocoum: “Yes, but isn’t Quranic singing also music? Malian musicians also sing for the Prophet Mohammed. We sing about religion. We sing about men. We sing about the animals. We sing about the earth. But isn’t singing for a religion also making music? What about singing for the animals. Because the Muslims up there in the north cannot live without nature. They can’t live without their animals.
Their ambition isn’t Islam. It’s something else. My view of it is that it’s a chaos that has been born. I don’t see it as a religious movement, in the name of God, or in the name of one or another religion. We’re not a religious country, we’re a secular country. Why start telling us about religion now, today. The old people of Timbuktu have no need to go to school now to learn about Islam. It’s just a chaos, an uncontrollable chaos. It’s an occupation that has nothing to do with the Muslim religion.”


‘Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali’

In relationship to Music Freedom Day 2013, Freemuse publishes a very extensive documentation of how music has been affected in Mali: The 64-pages report ‘Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali’, which is written by Andy Morgan — one of UK’s most respected writers specialised in West Africa and the Sahara. Andy Morgan analyses the background of the conflict, and he has interviewed 20 of Mali’s most acclaimed musicians, artists and observers on how music and culture has been affected as a consequence of the crisis in the northern part of the country.

The report can be downloaded here.


Freemuse is an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. The organisation’s home page,, is the world’s largest knowledge base on music censorship.

For more information about Freemuse, its activities and publications, see
FREEMUSE – Freedom of Musical Expression
Nytorv 17, 3rd floor, DK-1450 Copenhagen K, Denmark
Tel: +45 3332 1027

  Click to open - right-click to download the report in PDF-format
Open or download Andy Morgan’s report: ‘Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali’

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