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To Encourage Malians of Burkina Faso to return, Refugee Musicians use Music to send Powerful Message of Peace and Understanding

A jihadist takeover of the north, did the unthinkable, they banned music, something Malians cannot imagine

FILE - The Mbera refugee camp in southern Mauritania was set up for people fleeing violence in northern Mali and is home to more than 64,000 people, May 23, 2012. It was the unlikely site of a concert of Malian music. VOA

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), November 25, 2016: In 2012, a coup kicked off a diaspora of Malians from which the country has not yet recovered. Malians fled by the hundreds of thousands and ended up in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.

After a Tuareg rebellion, a coup in Bamako, and then a jihadist takeover of the north, religious extremists held sway and did the unthinkable — they banned music, something Malians cannot imagine.

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Music to unite

But some refugee musicians hope they can use music to encourage Malians to return, unite and shun the extremist groups that briefly controlled the country’s north.

Malians call them jeli — storytellers — whose work is to conserve history and make social commentary. Their existence is absolutely central to Malian identity.

This music comes from a tradition that goes back 800 years. It has been kept alive by families, in this case the Kouyatés and Diabatés.

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When the Malians fled, some arrived in the remote Mbera Camp in eastern Mauritania, where they remain.

‘Partied for two nights’

Manny Ansar, the director of the celebrated Festival in the Desert, recounts how he arrived at the camp with a group of artists from all corners of Mali. He did not quite know how the welcome would be.

“If you’re a minister or another politician,” he said, “and you show up at the camp, the refugees will throw stones at you.”

But in the end, the reception was warm and overwhelming.

“That’s the power of culture,” Ansar said.

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In Mbera Camp, an unlikely setting for a concert, people pulled together to build a stage using sandbags as support material. For 50,000 people living so far from home, this was the first time they could reconnect with their country and its music.

“We just partied for two nights,” Ansar told VOA.

Concerts on three continents

The concert in Mauritania is one of a series of concerts on three continents. It’s called the Cultural Caravan for Peace, and Ansar has been the driving force behind it.

The caravan has two main aims, he said. One is to contribute to reconciliation in Mali. And nothing can carry this message more effectively than music. Seeing singers and musicians from the northern, central and southern parts of Mali on a stage together sends a powerful message of peace and understanding.

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The other purpose of the caravan is to offer a different voice to the seductive sound of jihadist extremism, the ideology that sent so many of Mali’s musicians into exile.

This call for unity and against extremism is traveling around the world. There are stops in Morocco, where the caravan joins with the Taragalt Festival on the edge of the Sahara Desert; Ségou, on the Niger River, Burkina Faso. And next year, Malian music will dazzle crowds in Europe and the United States.

The Cultural Caravan for Peace will be in the United States, May 1 to June 7, 2017. (VOA)

Next Story

Uhuru Unveils Measures to Protect Musicians from Exploitation

When it comes to regulating the identification of users, even the Supreme Court confuses it as a privacy issue

Uhuru, Protect, Musicians
The Government will move the Kenya Copyright Board from the Office of the Attorney General to the Ministry of ICT as part of measures to protect musicians from exploitation. Pixabay


The Government will move the Kenya Copyright Board from the Office of the Attorney General to the Ministry of ICT as part of measures to protect musicians from exploitation. Uhuru

The announcement was made by President Uhuru Kenyatta when he led thousands of mourners in sending off Benga music icon, John Mwangi Ng’ang’a well known as John De’Mathew in Gatanga, Murang’a County on Saturday.

The announcement on copyright board is part of several measures the President revealed that are aimed at protecting the rights of artistes.

The President said the right home ministry for the copyright board is ICT because that is where it can have the ability to monitor broadcasters, telecoms and other entities that use productions by artistes.

Uhuru, Protect, Musicians
President Uhuru Kenyatta at the burial of Benga music icon, John Mwangi Ng’ang’a well known as John De’Mathew in Gatanga, Murang’a County on August 24, 2019. PHOTO| PSCU.

He said the Ministry of ICT is under firm instructions to ensure that artistes get their dues such as royalties.

“I have instructed the ICT Ministry to ensure that before renewal of licenses for broadcasters and telecoms they must pay what they owe artistes,” said the President when he spoke at the funeral service of the late musician held at Githambia Primary School grounds in Muranga County.

He said broadcasters and telecoms should pay for music they play because they are using it to make money.

The President who was accompanied by Deputy President Dr William Ruto said he has also instructed the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to probe organisations that collect money on behalf of musicians to see if they are embezzling what they collect.

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“The music industry has a problem that needs to be fixed. Recently we were told that an organisation collected around Ksh.200 million on behalf of musicians and then claimed that they spent 60 percent of that money as expenses for the collection,” said the President.

He also encouraged Members of Parliament to push through an amendment to the copyright laws that is pending in parliament and which is aimed at protecting the interests of artistes.

President Kenyatta said De’Mathew was his personal friend who loved peace and who liked to unite people and not to divide them.

In the late musician’s honour and to support upcoming talented artistes, the President announced that the government will set up a Ksh.10 million studio at Kirwarwa within Gatanga Constituency.

Uhuru, Protect, Musicians
The late popular Kikuyu Musician John Demathew.

DP Ruto said De’Mathew has been a prominent champion of the interests of musicians especially through Tamko Sacco where he was chairman. The Sacco was established so as to support local musicians to save and access loans for their collective and individual prosperity.

Dr Ruto assured Tamko Sacco members of government’s support in completing a commercial building the group plans to construct at their parcel of land in Kenol town off Thika-Nyeri highway.

The funeral was attended by several Cabinet Secretaries including James Macharia (Transport), Amina Mohamed (Sports), Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture) and Joe Mucheru (ICT).

Local leaders led by Governor Mwangi wa Iria, Senator Irungu Kangata and County Woman MP Sabina Chege said De’Mathew was more than just a prominent musician to the people of Muranga.

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Governor wa Iria said De’Mathew was considered to be a seer or prophet by locals and many things he predicted came to pass.

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and her Nakuru counterpart Lee Kinyanjui were among those who attended the funeral service.