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Islamic extremists have banned music in Mali, but its world-famous musicians won't give up without a fight! A Feature Documentary.

THE STORY 

In 2012 Islamic extremists took over Northern Mali imposing one of the harshest interpretations of shari'a law in history and banning all music. 

Music is the beating heart of Malian culture. It is through music that Mali’s oral history, news and identity is shared. This is the only culture in the world to have a class of musicians in society - they are known as the Griots, and for centuries their culture has been passed equally from mother to daughter, father to son.

Behind the scenes at Khaira Arby's house in Bamako
Behind the scenes at Khaira Arby's house in Bamako

But that all changed on Wednesday, 22 August 2012, when a spokesman for MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) declared music officially banned.

The ancient library in Timbuktu and other sacred sites, including mosques, were trashed. Mobile phone towers were destroyed, radio stations were torched, musicians were sought out and their instruments set alight. Citizens found with musical ringtones on their phones were targeted.

Mali’s Musicians went underground, or fled across borders. It was the largest mass migration the Southern Sahara has ever seen. Those who stayed were shocked into submission, complying with, and even helping to enforce strict shari’a principles: stoning adulterers to death, hacking off hands of suspected criminals, and the public whipping of women for failing to wear a veil.

Behind the scenes. Fighting the jihadists.
Behind the scenes. Fighting the jihadists.

Our film follows Mali’s musicians on a journey to bring back music - and peace - to their country. 

"Music is important as a daily event. It's not just a business, for it's through our music that we know history and our own identity". Manny Ansar, director of the Festival in the Desert

Despite the horror of the conflict, Malian musicians have chosen to stand up to the ban. Rather than lay down their instruments, the musicians have found their latent fighting spirit. Through their stories, we document the actions of a nation standing up for its cultural heritage and its right to sing. This is a story about the battle to save Mali. 

“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.” The Independent

Our film will focus on musicians like Fadimata “Disco” Walet Oumar, lead singer of the band Tartit, whose husband is one of the key players in the conflict. Toumani Diabate and his son Sidiki, master Kora players who come from 72 generations of Griots before them. Khaira Arby, the “Nightingale of the North”, who was told she would have her tongue cut out by the jihadists. We will also follow the efforts of Manny Ansar, the director of the country’s greatest music festival, perhaps the most remarkable festival in the world, The Festival in the Desert. 

Though small groups of musicians have been meeting in the desert for centuries, the Festival in the Desert was officially founded in 1991 to create a cultural, and curative, bridge between the northern Touareg musicians and those in the South. Over the years it has attracted a huge amount of press attention as well as stars such as Bono and Robert Plant.   

Manny and his team are desperate for the Festival to re-launch in 2014. For many, the Festival's hopeful return has become the symbol that Malians have finally defeated the extremists and restored their culture. But at the moment, security issues may mean another year of silence. 

Our characters 'Disco' and 'Jimmy' in Ouagadougou
Our characters 'Disco' and 'Jimmy' in Ouagadougou

The songs currently being written by Malian musicians about the conflict and the infringement on their freedom of expression will create a moving soundtrack that not only enhances, but creates the narrative itself.

"They want to ban music? They will have to kill us first."                                                    Fadimata Disco Walet Oumar

TIMELINE 

Our team began to follow this story in February 2013, after the start of the conflict. We plan to film until April 2014, allowing four to six months of post-production and creation of online transmedia projects.

WHY WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT

So what will your money help us do? Simply put it will fund our next 2 filming trips which allows us to follow crucial moments in our musician's personal stories. 

We have funded our journey so far our out of our own pockets, and those of a few generous souls, and we will continue to defer any payments to ourselves. But after giving so much of their time already, we’d love to pay our crew and consultants. They have been incredibly generous and their dedication is an inspiration to us all. 

What your money will pay for:

  • Director of Photography - Karelle Walker 
  • Fixer - Mohamed ag Hamalek - our amazing man on the ground 
  • Camera and sound equipment 
  • Flights & Transport 
  •  Accommodation and Food 
  • Security - Due to the nature of the areas we are filming we can’t go in alone. Only last week two French journalists were kidnapped and then killed in the Northern Mali town of Kidal. Traveling with trained security remains an important element of this project. 

Our target figure is £30,000 and we have just 30 days to raise it.  

As per Kickstarter rules, if we don't reach our £30,000 target, we get nothing. 

However, in reality we need a lot more to complete the entire film. 

Please do continue to give beyond our target and we will put your money to good use on the ground in Mali following this important story.

If you cannot donate, please help in other ways! Spread the word – send this link to anyone you can think of who may be able to donate. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Agate bracelet worn by Malian woman in refugee camp - See incentives list for how you can get one! We will be paying the refugee women who make these bracelets out of your donation - so you will be supporting two causes!
Agate bracelet worn by Malian woman in refugee camp - See incentives list for how you can get one! We will be paying the refugee women who make these bracelets out of your donation - so you will be supporting two causes!
Close Up Agate bracelet from incentives list
Close Up Agate bracelet from incentives list
Many thanks to World Circuit for their continued support for this project!
Many thanks to World Circuit for their continued support for this project!
    
Many thanks to Songlines for their continued support of this project!
Many thanks to Songlines for their continued support of this project!

If you like the music featured in the trailer above, here is where you can find it and many more amazing Malian and World music artists. 

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Mali is still a country fighting to regain peace. After the horrors in 2012 and early 2013, things seemed to be going more smoothly over the summer. The Presidential election progressed, refugees began to think there was a chance of returning home and the Festival in the Desert announced that the show would indeed go on.

But then came September - fresh outbreaks of fighting in the North, suicide bombs in Timbuktu, and the kidnapping and execution of two French journalists in Kidal. Just a few weeks ago, the French Army, along with the UN, launched yet another operation in Mali to weed out Islamist fighters.

As a film crew working on the ground we are there to meticulously document the events as they unfold. Due to the conflict, the most important challenge we face is ensuring the safety of our crew and contributors. It goes without saying that the outcome of these struggles affect the lives of our musicians, and therefore our narrative. We will continue to document the events in Mali as they happen, in real time, and will continue to be safe. Part of your donation will be spent on taking the appropriate safety precautions whilst filming.

We don't know what's going to happen with this story and the lives of the musicians we are following -but we do know its an amazing story and one we want to share with you.

FAQ

  • Music is a human right.

    We are documenting what is unfolding to give the musicians and Malians another voice and platform to gain international recognition for not only the struggle they are going through, but also to keep it in people's minds and to educate those who may not know very much about this conflict.

    Due to the intense mainstream media focus on Syria, the troubles in Mali have largely been sidelined. The more we can reach out to people through the medium of film the better. Our aim is to get it out to cinemas and broadcasters but also to work with musicians on live gigs where the film is shown as an accompaniment to live performances by the musicians.

    We have extensive outreach programme ideas for the film e.g. working with our friends at the Index on Censorship (see our facebook page, link above, for details of our work with them) and also Freemuse - the only international organisation that monitors and supports musicians who are oppressed globally.

    Sadly, there isn't yet an umbrella movement for the oppression of musicians and its actually quite a big problem given that music is often used to protest, to demonstrate a demand for change and for people to express their beliefs.

    This film will serve as a launching pad for international discussions about musical freedom of expression. Please see links below of people we are already working with. We will be adding to this list over the course of production.

    http://www.indexoncensorship.org/
    http://freemuse.org

    P.S. On a practical level, musicians in Mali are struggling to earn a living during this conflict. No gigs equals no food on the table. Whilst the International community is doing what they can, inviting some of the artists to tour, the majority are struggling. We will be licensing many tracks from these musicians for use in the film and the soundtrack which will hopefully provide a bit of help (i.e. cash) to them during this dark time.

    Last updated:
  • We are very lucky to have an amazing team of people on this project. Some we've been working with for over ten years, and some brand new. See bios below.

    Director

    Johanna Schwartz is an award-winning film-maker who creates thought-provoking documentaries with a profound sense of place and time, and a highly praised natural filming style. Working across the world, with a particular focus on Africa, she has produced and directed films for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK), Channel 5 (UK), Discovery, National Geographic, The History Channel, PBS, CNBC, CNN , MTV among others. The films she has produced have won numerous awards and as a director she has won Gold at the New York Film and Television Festival as well as receiving over 100 “picks of the day” in the British press.

    Johanna has also produced film content for many organisations including DFID, UNESCO and UNEP. Johanna is currently an owner and director of two London based production companies: Bertie Films, where she creates commercial content for clients such as Sony Playstation and Target; and Soapbox: the policy communications agency, where she develops film content for a prestigious client list of think tanks and NGOs such as ODI, UNICEF and Centre for Cities.

    Producer

    Kat Amara-Korba is an award wining documentary producer. She began her career at The Discovery Channel where she was responsible for developing and commissioning history and science programmes and strands. Highlights include Wild Child which launched the Bodyshock series and was the first co production between Discovery Europe and Channel 4.

    Since moving into the independent sector, Kat has developed and produced a range of programmes for UK and International Broadcasters including Discovery, Channel 4 as well as NGO’s including THE TEEN SPEECH for Barnardos, an innovative internet documentary using spoken word. Awards include the Audience Award at the Dubai Film Festival for ZELAL, a feature documentary on Egyptian mental health and Best Newcomer at the Santa Fe Film Festival for LITTLE LOURDES.

    Executive Producers

    Andre Singer

    A documentary producer and anthropologist. Having studied at Oxford University under Professor Sir E.E. Evans-Pritchard specializing in Iran and Afghanistan, he moved to television in the early 1970s. Andre Singer was Editor of Granada Television’s multi award winning DISAPPEARING WORLD series during the 1980s. He ran the BBC Documentary Department’s Independent Unit in the 1990s where he founded the award winning documentary strand FINE CUT.

    Andre was Commissioning editor for Discovery Channel, Europe; Senior Vice-President for Alliance Atlantis and as an independent producer, he established Café Productions, later West Park Pictures and currently Spring Films. He has been responsible for several hundred hours of factual programs for the international TV and cinema market including the Oscar nominated PRISONER OF PARADISE; GAME OVER: KASPAROV AND THE MACHINE; and the International Critics Award winning film THE WILD BLUE YONDER (Werner Herzog). Andre has produced or executive produced 14 films with Werner Herzog since LESSONS OF DARKNESS in 1992.

    Singer is a Vice-President of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Chairman of their Film Committee and was awarded their Patrons Medal in 2007. He is Adjunct Research Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California and on the Film and Television Committee of BAFTA. He is the author of five books of non-fiction including Lords of the Khyber: The Story of the North-West Frontier.

    Cheick Sissoko

    A Malian filmmaker with a masters in African History and Sociology and a diploma in History and Cinema from the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. He continued his cinematic study at the Ecole Nationale Louis Lumière. He directed a number of well received feature films and served as director of Mali’s National Center for Film Production where he made the documentary DROUGHT AND RURAL EXODUS (1985).

    He won special jury prizes at the International Film Festival of Locarno, Gold at the Panafrican Film Festival of Ouagadougou and the RFI Prize for Cinema at Fespaco. Sissoko founded the political party African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI) in 1996. He was Minister of Culture under Prime Ministers Ahmed Hamani and Issoufi Maïga. He currently serves as Secretary-General of the Federation of African Film makers (FEPACI) promoting the African film industry.

    Emily James

    Her first film WAG THE DOGMA sold to Channel 4 and E4. A BRIEF HISTORY OF CUBA, IN D MINOR, with its bold comical style, landed her her first TV commission for Channel 4’s ALT TV strand. THE LUCKIEST NUT IN THE WORLD was broadcast for the first time in 2002, and greeted by rave reviews. In 2004 Emily made a four part series for Channel 4 called DON’T WORRY, that year Emily was singled out by Broadcast as one of the “Hottest Talents in Town”. Emily executive produced a number of short and long form documentaries for Channel 4 with subject matter ranging from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to the plight of migrant workers. Emily returned to her native country to make DALLAS CAMPBELL’S GUIDE TO THE IMPOSSIBLE, for Discovery US and to work with Morgan Spurlock on development of a satirical puppet show called GWANO – “THE GLOBAL WORLD ACTION NEWS ORGANISATION: WHEN YOU HEAR THE NEWS, YOU KNOW IT’S GWANO!” In 2009 Emily moved into the world of feature documentary, serving as Executive Producer on THE AGE OF STUPID. Her feature directing debut, JUST DO IT – A TALE OF MODERN DAY OUTLAWS screened in over 45 independent cinemas across the UK in Summer 2011, alongside a far-reaching community screenings programme.

    Director of Photography

    Karelle Walker is highly respected camerawoman renowned both for her artistic creativity behind the lens as well as for her resourcefulness and technical capabilities.

    As a D.O.P. Karelle has a diverse portfolio of work, including the BAFTA award winning short film The Banker, but is particularly praised for her documentary work in remote locations such as the Arctic Circle, the South China Sea and the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Filming documentaries in Ghana, Somalia, Egypt, Morocco and Mali, Karelle is also very experienced working in African and Islamic environments.

    Her sympathetic style of filming has lead Karelle to be much sought after by those seeking to create natural, uncontrived footage frequently covering sensitive topics or environments, such as her work on the documentary My Dad the Serial Killer for Channel 4.

    Further credits include several years on programmes such as Dragons Den, The One Show, The Speaker and Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. She has also shot content for the Olympic archive, documentaries for BBC, ITV, Ch4, CNBC, Discovery Channel and promotional material for clients as diverse as the Royal Navy and Models 1.

    Co-Producers

    Sarah Mosses

    An independent Impact Producer and Distribution consultant. Following 4 years with the internationally acclaimed BRITDOC Foundation as the Partnerships Manager, Sarah has built up expertise in social issue documentary campaigns and new distributions trends. As an independent consultant she works with a variety of production companies and distributors to develop effective impact distribution strategies, creating campaign and P&A budgets, raising finance and securing sponsorship, running logistics, creating press and PR strategies and evaluating social impact. Focused on both the social capital and commercial success of each individual title, Sarah aims to achieve realistic aims in both areas. She was nominated for a Screen Marketing and Distribution Award for the 2012/2013 release of Ping Pong (www.pingpongfilm.co.uk) and is excited to bring these methodologies to socially aware fiction features this year.

    Kathleen Fournier

    A British, Emmy award winning Documentary Producer. She worked with Eugene Jarecki for a number of years as a development producer, she produced three of his feature documentaries, and helped research and edit his 2008 book, The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril. Feature Docs include THE HOUSE I LIVE IN which won Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2012 and was on the 2013 Academy Awards Short List. AMERICAN IDOL: REAGAN which featured in the Premiere category at Sundance 2011 and was an Emmy winner in 2012. FREAKONOMICS, THE MOVIE which screened as the Gala Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011. In addition, Kathleen produces environmental and factual documentaries for HBO, the BBC, Channel 4 (UK), Discovery Europe and National Geographic.

    Consultant

    Andy Morgan is a full time journalist writing about music, culture, society and politics for the Guardian, the Independent, Roots, Songlines and many other publications. Andy began his career in the music industry. He worked for Hannibal Records (UK), Cooking Vinyl (UK) and WOMAD (UK) before going abroad to work for FNAC Music (France) and Piranha (Germany). He was then with World Circuit Records (UK) until he resigned to set up his own label, Apartment 22.

    Andy met Malian Touareg poet-guitarists and 2012 Grammy winners Tinariwen at the first Festival in the Desert in 2001 and went on to manage the group during their rise to fame, helping them to win fans and influence people all over the world. He also helped to organize the famous Festival in the Desert in its early days, writing the sleeve notes for the Live CD that was released in 2003. Like so many people, when Andy arrived in the Sahara it was pretty much love at first sight and he’s still hopelessly infatuated with the desert and its people.

    Andy is currently writing a book about Tinariwen and the Sahara, whilst helping to research and edit another book about Manu Chao. His most recent book Music, Culture and Conflict in Mali was released in May 2013 by Freemuse to rave reviews.

    Last updated:
  • We are aiming to finish the film in mid to late 2014, though as mentioned in the Risks and Challenges section, the situation on the ground in Mali is changing every single day. The film will be released cinematically into film and music festivals and then cinemas, followed by television broadcasts. We also plan on releasing the film via internet platforms such as iTunes, netflix and the like. Watch this space!

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