Ban on music in Mali, home of the djembe, the blues, the banjo and so much more!

Imagine music being outlawed in one of the most musically rich countries in Africa. Sadly this is exactly what has happened in some parts of the North of Mali.


Last week the Malian government signed a UN sponsored deal with armed rebels in the north of the country, but despite the agreement’s intention to “create a climate and state of mind on the ground that would help further negotiations leading to a global peace agreement.”, it’s unlikely to improve the freedoms of people on the ground and certainly not to express themselves musically.

40 UN peace keepers have been killed in Mali since July 2014, most of them since peace talks started. It seems that the situation in Mali is improving and a long way off the French military intervention of 2013, which stopped the rebels advancing on the capital of Bamako.

With sad tales of instruments can being destroyed, bans on singing, and the demise of the much loved Festival of the Desert (whose demise is documented in the recently released ‘The last song before the war‘), it may be a long time before we can expect much musical magic from the north.

This agreement does not include Al-Qaeda linked groups, so it doesn’t seem likely that the risk of kidnappings or resulting fear of kidnapping will improve as a result of it. The impact of this state of affairs on tourism in Mali, have been devastating.

Many of us travel to Mali to study drum and dance, and although I can neither recommend nor not recommend doing so, some Westerners living there do claim that sectors of Mali are safe.

Most international organisations have resumed operations there, but are advised by the US department of state to exercise caution and take various security precautions.

The US embassy in Bamako maintains security alerts, and recommends avoiding public gatherings, and varying your regular routes of travel.

Mali is an amazing country to visit, I was there shortly after the attack on the French Embassey in 2011, when Al-Quaeda stated that they wanted to kidnap tourists.  There was already hardly any tourists at the Segou Festival (festival sur la Niger) compared with previous years, and the impact of this were already showing in terms of the lack of business for traders, many of whom had traveled far just to come and sell to tourists at the festival. I can only imagine what it’s like now.

Hopefully events of the past week are the first steps on the path to a more stable future for Mali, because they are surely having a devastating impact on what is already one of the most financially poor countries in the world. Somehow this has now also begun to attack the incredible wealth of Mali’s music and culture too.

Have you recently been to Mali, consider going or know someone there at the moment? What are your experiences there, and have you heard any more or different about the situation on the ground?

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Author: James

James loves music, especially Djembe drum music. He has been studying traditional djembe drumming since 2004. Nearly all his free time goes into developing djembefola.com.

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