I cannot imagine life without music.
I’m struck by how painfully cliché it seems to even begin an article with these words; many times I’ve considered writing about how much music means to me but I never laid a single word to page, because it felt so bleedingly obvious.
Like our need for oxygen, water and food, our need for music isn’t just one of the things that make us distinctly human—it is one of the things that proves we’re alive.
Like many people in the world—and I’d be so bold as to say most—music has, at times, saved my life.
Music has the ability to communicate the things we have never learned to say in our respective spoken languages; it turns those things into stories and it can tell those stories again and again, reminding us that we feel those feelings, that they are important—they are the feelings that make life at once excruciating and exhilarating.
The first time I heard Malian music, it was Ali Farka Touré. He’s been called Africa’s John Lee Hooker—as a huge fan of Mr. John Lee, I would like to say that Ali Farka Touré was Africa’s Ali Farka Touré.
This is the music of devotion, to life.
There is no end to the list of extraordinary Malian musicians: Amadou & Mariam, the blind, married duo, that have blown the world away; the beautiful melodies of Nahawa Doumbia—Djikorya Mory Kante, one of Mamadou Diabaté’s ensemble—how can ten fingers make a guitar do that?
Fingers like those are a weapon to the likes of Al-Qaeda—in an article by Andy Morgan of the Guardian, one of their representatives has been quoted with threatening to cut off the fingers of another local guitarist.
In Mali, music is as important as it is anywhere—but forgive any offense—I would suggest that in Mali, music is, in fact, more important than it is almost anywhere else in the world. Mali is comprised of many ethnic groups, many religions, many independent cultures—it is anything but homogenous.
The famous French general Charles de Gaulle once asked, “How can you govern a country with 246 types of cheese?”
Music is to Mali what food is to France; it is the trade they share, their specialty, their second common currency. It is also, increasingly, a profitable export.
In that same Guardian article, Malian guitarist Toumani Diabaté sums it up with beautiful logic: “There isn’t a single major music prize in the world today that hasn’t been won by a Malian artist,” which makes Al Qaeda’s war on Malian music seem all the more preposterous.
In March this year, my partner took me to see Tinariwen, one of the many Malian groups to which he’d introduced me; I was at a loss for words.
Desert music. Warrior music. It does not stir the soul, it grabs the soul by its shoulders and shakes the life back into it—it’s no wonder this music puts the fear of God into Al-Qaeda’s soldiers.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
But one must ask oneself—cannot darkness sometimes drive out light? Cannot hate sometimes drive out love?
I’m lost for a response…I can only say this: Long live the gift to humanity that is the music of Mali.
Editor: Bryonie Wise
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