Islamist fighters who have taken over Niafunke, in Mali, 100km south-west of TimbuktuÂ have now introduced a strict social code: Women and girls must be covered, young men cannot wear loose trousers and all forms of music are banned.
Reports are that two young men were recently whipped last month after they were caught smoking tobacco.
Ali Farke Toure is perhaps the biggest music star in Africa and who turned music into one of Mali’s best known exports after teaming up with Ry Cooder, to produce the Grammy-winning album ‘Talking Timbuktu’ in 1994 has had his music banned by people who want to live in the middle ages.
Toure was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as among the 100 great guitarists of all time and starred in the Martin Scorsese documentary, ‘Feel Like Going Home’, which traced the roots of the blues back to West Africa.
The Islamist militants have banned everything they deem to be against Sharia, or Islamic law.
“They are destroying our culture,” says one Mali’s most famous singers, Salif Keita. He is currently in Mali, preparing for a world tour to accompany the release of his latest album.
“If there’s no music, no Timbuktu, it means that there is no more culture in Mali,” he adds, sitting in the grounds of his home on the small island he owns on the river Niger outside the capital, Bamako.
Keita is referring to the destruction in June of the ancient shrines in Timbuktu’s mosques. The buildings were Unesco World Heritage Sites but considered by the Islamists to be idolatrous.
Dozens of musicians have fled south since the crisis began, among them Khaira Arby “the Voice of the North”. “Islamists have jammed radio airwaves,” she says.Â “They’re even confiscating mobile phones and replacing ringtones with Koranic verses,” she laments.
From Timbuktu to Gao, telephones have become the only way to listen to music lately. Those who have risked turning a stereo on have immediately attracted the attention of the Islamist police. Their equipment would be either seized or smashed.
Now mobile phones with memory cards are the main target for Islamist militants bent on banishing music.
Giants of Mali’s music whose music is now banned
- Ali Farka Toure: Guitarist and singer
- Salif Keita: Singer and guitarist
- Amadou and Miriam: Blind singers and guitarist
- Rokia Traore: Singer
- Cheick Tidiane Seck: Singer and keyboards
- Mory Kante: Singer and kora player
- Toumani Diabate: Kora player
- Djelimady Tounkara: Guitarist
- Oumou Sangare: Singer
- Tinariwen: Tuareg former rebel singers and guitarists