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Religious war declared on music, national wealth of Mali

Islamist leaders have banned music in a country that has become internationally renowned for its wealth of sound.

To break the chilling silence slowly covering the magnificent dunes of northern Mali, musicians in the capital Bamako and in the Malian diaspora have come together to resist the war on culture, agreeing that music remains at the core of Malian identity.

"Culture is our petrol," said award winning kora player Toumani Diabaté. "Music is our mineral wealth. There isn't a single major music prize in the world today that hasn't been won by a Malian artist."

"Music regulates the life of every Malian," added Cheich Tidiane Seck, a prolific Malian musician and producer. "From the cradle to the grave. From ancient times right up to today. A Mali without music? No …!"

"I'm a Muslim, but Sharia isn't my thing," said Rokia Traoré, one of Mali's most famous international stars. "If I couldn't go up on stage anymore, I would cease to exist. And without music, Mali will cease to exist."

"There's no music up there any more," said Vieux Farka Touré, son of the king of the West African blues, the late Ali Farka Touré. "You can't switch on a radio or a TV, even at home."

Almost all the musicians in the north have fled the country like more than 500,000 of their fellow Malians, most of whom languish in refugee camps in Algeria, Mauritania, Niger or Burkina Faso, in the biggest humanitarian crisis the Sahel has ever known.

While live music venues close down in the capital too, rappers in Mali have stepped up to denounce political skulduggery, Islamism and military rule, reports The Guardian, in an excellent article ("Mali: no rhythm or reason as militants declare war on music").

"I don't give a fuck what they say," says Amkoullel, Malian rapper. "We won't let them get away with it. We don't need them to teach us how to be Muslims. We're a secular tolerant country, where everyone declares their religion according to their feeling. And in any case, they know that a Mali without music is an impossibility."

Amkoullel set up his own pressure group of rappers, activists and friends called Plus Jamais Ça (Never Again). So far he has released a couple of videos, including one called SOS, which has become a YouTube hit. It has also been censored by the state broadcaster ORTM, which is still under the heavy hand of the military.

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