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Mali musicians forge supergroup to rally against Islamist insurgency

More than 40 stars unite to record new anthem, video in West African nation's capital

MSN Music

©Moustapha Diallo
Fatoumata Diawara (left) and other Malian musicians at press conference (©Moustapha Diallo)

The unfolding turmoil roiling Mali has spurred a coalition of more than 40 of the West African country's most renowned musicians to record a song and video calling for peace.

The project was launched by singer, songwriter and dancer Fatoumata Diawara, who gathered the collective, known as Voices United for Mali, to record the track at a studio in Bamako. Representing a virtual supergroup of indigenous musicians, the lineup includes Amadou and Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate, Vieux Farka Toure, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabate, Khaira Arby, Kasse Mady Diabate, Baba Salah, Afel Bocoum, Tiken Jah, Amkoullel and Habib Koite, among many others. The song , titled "Mali-ko" (Peace/La Paix), is streaming online.

According to a spokesperson at Nonesuch Records, U.S. distributor for World Circuit, which represents Diawara and many of the other artists involved, the track is being offered free online to raise awareness of the crisis. There are no current plans for commercial release.

That Mali's musicians have quickly moved to the frontline to react to the rapid spread of an Islamist insurgency intent on imposing Shariah across the country underscores the central role music plays there. As summarized in an overview published Jan. 15 in the Guardian online, "Music is more entwined with the life of the nation in Mali than perhaps any other place in the world: a political, cultural and social force."

Until the jihadist insurgency erupted in the north and began sweeping southward toward the capital, Bamako, Mali was a beacon to musicians from around the world; a tolerant post-colonial culture has enabled both traditional Malian styles dating back centuries as well as vibrant pop styles to thrive. American and European musicians, including Damon Albarn, Ry Cooder and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant have all explored its diverse styles and collaborated with Malian musicians. For more than a decade, the Festival in the Desert, held near Timbuktu, has drawn world music fans from around the globe.

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In the regions under insurgents' control, however, music is being harshly suppressed. Since a militant patchwork of Islamist groups overtook the first northern areas in April, their militias have seized instruments and threatened harsh punishments to musicians.

Project organizer Fatoumata Diawara asserts, "The Malian people look to us. They have lost hope in politics. But music has always brought hope in Mali. Music has always been strong and spiritual, and has had a very important role in the country, so when it comes to the current situation, people are looking to musicians for a sense of direction."

She unveiled the new song Jan. 17 at a press conference in Bamako. The lyrics, as sung in French, translate in part to "The time has come for us to speak up about the crisis in Mali/We, the artists must now speak from the heart about what is happening to our Mali ... /Do we really want to kill each other? Do we really want to betray one another? ... Remember, we are all children of the same mother country when we stand together/All of Africa is stronger ..."

Stream the song here: http://tinyurl.com/ancubwt

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