Here's Ian Birrell on music in Mali:
After the end of colonialism, musicians were used to fuse countries carved out of often disparate communities. Nowhere was this truer than Mali, a nation on the faultline between the African and Arab worlds in which music is more threaded into the fabric of cultural, social and political life than perhaps any other place on Earth.
Mali stakes a claim as birthplace of the blues – the foundation stone of modern music – and many of its best-known artists have taken their songs around the world. They remain respected political voices at home. Oumou Sangaré, the country's biggest female star, made her name in her early 20s with a breathtaking album tackling issues such as female circumcision and women's roles in society. Now one of her former backing singers, Fatoumata Diawara, has pulled together 40 stars from all over the country to sing together in a symbol of unity.
The current tragedy of Mali is intensified by its tradition of tolerance. Its strand of gentle Sufism could not be further removed from the hate-fuelled Islamists of al-Qaida. So when an outspoken reggae singer called Tiken Jah Fakoly upset the rulers of his native Ivory Coast and was then declared "persona non grata" by Senegal's president, he made his home in Bamako, where he can fill football stadiums.
But not these days. For music is banned in two-thirds of Mali following its collapse last year with first a coup, then the capture of the vast northern desert regions by Islamist militias, whose members come from as far afield as Pakistan. Even in the south of the country, despite the Franco-African intervention, there is such instability that these artists whose music provides pleasure around the world cannot perform in their home towns.
The banning of music is hideous anywhere, but in Mali of all places it seems somehow sacrilegious. This is a poor country; as one of its most famous artists says, music is its mineral wealth. And the mujahideen have not just banned it: they declared war on musicians, destroying their equipment and threatening to slice off their fingers. It underlines how at heart this is a cultural conflict, between those embracing the turbulent values of liberal democracy and those seeking the certainties of theocracy.
To ban music is an act so appalling that it is hard to characterize it adequately. Politically reactionary? For sure. Culturally repressive? You can say that again. But there is, beyond all that, a deep inhumanity about it, a yearning for impossible control. 'Hideous' and 'somehow sacrilegious' kind of fit. You'd think that anyone with an ounce of sense would be able to see in what Birrell reports here a conflict within the Muslim world between antithetical sets of values. But no, for some it's always corner of a foreign field that is forever the west's war with the Islamic world. It reminds me of Scrooge McDuck, a figure I used to enjoy reading about when I was but a lad. At the prospect, or even the thought, of money, he'd get dollar signs in his eyes. In the vision of the Milnes and the Greenwalds, the American eagle toting weaponry blocks out everything.