There's a major crisis in Mali right now — and many of its best-known musicians have banded together to respond. Days before her recent appearance at globalFEST in New York City, the Malian singer, actress and dancer Fatoumata Diawara returned from her country's capital city, Bamako. She had just completed her urgent mission: to gather together as many prominent Malian singers and musicians as she could to speak up about the violence and destruction in the country's vast north that threatens not just a trembling Mali, but much of the wider region as well.
So many heeded Diawara's call that the song, "Mali-Ko [Peace]," nearly reads like a who's who of current Malian musical royalty. There's Amadou and Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Vieux Farka Toure (son of Ali Farka Toure), Khaira Arby, Toumani Diabate ... the list goes on and on, representing all streams of Malian life and culture. The cities from which they come — Timbuktu, Gao, Ségou, Niafunké, Bamako, Kidal — may still seem remote and strange even as they now appear splashed on news sites and on newspaper headlines around the world, but music lovers already know them as the fonts of inspiration for incredible artistic talent.
There is an English translation of the song's lyrics on their Soundcloud page and now on Youtube as well— and what these artists are saying, quite pointedly, is definitely worth understanding. "Never have I seen such catastrophe, such desolation," sings Soumaila Kanouté. "They want to impose sharia law on us."
"Of late, Mali has become like a cigarette butt that's been thrown away politically," raps Master Soumi.
"Just as we Malians were reaching stability, others try to destabilize us. In the north, people are starving, women are goods — they are beaten and raped!" exclaims Kisto Dem.
Why make this video? In a country like Mali, where lasting peace and justice for all its many ethnic communities has not always been an easy proposition, it was important for artists from across those cultures to come together, united across individual backgrounds and circumstances. It's a song not necessarily for outsiders, though any revenue generated by ads on the video will be donated to a charity supporting refugees in Mali. The song forgoes calls to action for the international political community. Instead, it's primed to remind Malians themselves, both those who are currently inside and outside of the country, of their own best nature. As Vieux Farka Toure sings, "Wake up! We are all family. Let's stand together."