Malian musicians back power of harmony over guns

Mon Jan 28, 2013 12:18pm EST
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By Angus MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - As musicians from Mali took to a London stage on Saturday night, news was announced that back home French troops had captured the airport of the Islamist-controlled city of Gao.

A cheer went up - and not surprisingly.

Since Islamist militants seized control of Mali's north following a military coup in March 2012, the country has been convulsed by conflict.

Its musical community, whose singers and players have won worldwide 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.

This weekend's "Sahara Soul" concert at London's Barbican, featuring Bassekou Kouyate, Sidi Toure and the desert blues band Tamkirest, showcased the country's musical riches and called for peace. But it also indicated that there were differing visions of what any peace might entail.

"There is just one message - peace," Sidi Toure told Reuters backstage before the concert. "If you filled this room with gold and diamonds, it would not be more important than peace."

Toure hails from Gao on the banks of the River Niger in the Sahel region and performs Songhai folk songs with a trance-like beat. Music, he said, was ingrained in Malian life.

"When you feel bad, only music can cure you. We have many different kinds - for your first child, for weddings, for parties."   Continued...

Saharan Touareg band Tamikrest performs at Sahara Soul, a music festival at the Barbican Hall in London January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Allan/Barbican/handout