Vieux Farka Touré and the music of Mali: “spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening”
From Chicago magazine:
By Kevin McKeough
Since the late, legendary Ali Farka Touré first brought the music of Mali to widespread attention in the mid-1980s, the western African nation’s musicians have beguiled listeners worldwide with their trance-inducing guitar patterns and Arabic flavored keening. Tragically, Mali has received more attention lately for the violent conflict in the country’s northern region, which encompasses part of the vast Sahara Desert. After Islamist extremists recently seized control of a large part of the area, including the storied city of Timbuktu, and committed numerous human rights violations, in January France sent soldiers into its former colony to drive out the militants. While the French military has retaken most of the area, the situation remains unstable both in northern Mali and in the south, where the country’s military has deposed two successive governments and reportedly is engaging in harsh repression.
Vieux Farka Touré, Ali Farka Touré’s son and a world music star in his own right, was performing Friday, Feb. 22, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. C Notes contacted Touré, who lives in the Malian capital, Bamako, to gain his perspective of the travails afflicting his country and how he and other Malian musicians are responding.
What are your thoughts about the Islamists’ invasion of northern Mali and France’s efforts to drive them out of the country? My thoughts are the same as everyone in Mali. The invasion of the Islamists was hell on earth. It was a nightmare unlike anything we have ever experienced. We are very grateful to President Hollande and the French for their intervention. For the moment at least they have saved our country.
How have these disruptions affected you personally? I am safe and my family is safe. But there is great uncertainty in Mali today. Nobody knows what we can expect in the next years, months or even days. So it is very bad for the spirit to be living in this kind of situation.
What’s your reaction to the Islamist invaders banning music in the areas they controlled? I was furious. It broke my heart like it did for everyone else. It was as though life itself was taken from us.
You were part of an all-star group of Malian musicians who recently recorded the song “Mali-ko” in response to the conflict. Please talk about the project and why you participated in it. Musicians in Mali play a very important role in society. We are like journalists, telling people what is happening. We are also responsible for speaking out when there are problems, and we are responsible for lifting the spirit of the nation. So that is why we made “Mali-ko.” Fatoumata [Diawara] organized everyone and we all spent some time hanging out in the studio and doing our little parts. It was a very nice project. I’m happy with the result and I’m happy that it got a lot of attention in the United States and in Europe.
Aside from the song, what role do you think musicians can play in responding to the situation in Mali? We can do what we are already doing—we are going everywhere we can around the world and spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening. Equally, we must continue to entertain our people and keep them proud to be from Mali. For Malians, music is the greatest source of pride so we must work very hard to keep that pride alive. Right now it is not easy for people to be proud and have faith.
What do you think needs to be done in Mali? First and most importantly, we need to continue to drive out all the militants from our country. There is no future for Mali with terrorists living amongst us. Period. Also we must move quickly to engage in free and open elections to restore the faith and the legitimacy of our country in the eyes of the world and its people. These two things are the most critical at this time.
Your music resembles your father’s but has its own distinct quality. Can you talk about what you’re trying to do in the music, how and why you combine traditional and contemporary styles? With my music I try not to think very much about what I am doing. I just let myself be open to inspiration and it will take me where I need to go. So I am not thinking “for my next album I must do a song with reggae, or I must do an acoustic album because this will be good for my career” or anything like that. I think all artists are like lightning rods for inspiration and you must be open to it or it will not strike you. If you try to do something artistic it will not be as good as if you just let inspiration decide what you are doing. So my style is just based on what influences me and what inspires me.
For a country with a small population, Mali has produced a large number of internationally recognized musicians. Why do you think the country has so many excellent musicians? This is the mystery that everyone wants to understand. I do not know for sure why there are so many big international stars from Mali. But I know this: We take our music very, very seriously. It is at the core of our culture and it is the definition of Mali as a people. There is no Mali without Malian music. So I think this inspires many young people to try to become musicians. Maybe everywhere in the world has this kind of talent but there is not as strong a push for everyone to develop their talents in music. But honestly, I don’t know. We are lucky for this great richness of talent. That is for sure.
Kevin McKeough is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine
See also ‘The Hendrix of the Sahara’
|Judah Leon (or Leib) Magnes|
|Born||July 5, 1877(1877-07-05) San Francisco, California, USA|
|Died||October 27, 1948(1948-10-27) (aged 71) New York, New York|
The recent mini-row over Baroness Jenny Tonge’s comments about Israel and her ‘explanation’ (accepted at face value by some quite sensible people) got me thinking about the whole question of denying Israel’s right to exist. I’m (just about) willing to believe that some people who deny the right of Israel to exist and/or promote slogans like “for a democratic secular state of Palestine” are benign and niave, rather than antisemitic. The problem is (as I commented at Representing The Mambo):
The problem with Jenny Tonge is that her words can be interpreted in at least two ways – one benign if naive (Israel must voluntarily give up its statehood and turn itself into some kind of bi-national state in which Jews and Palestinians will live together in happy harmony), the other definitely *not* benign (Israel must be destroyed). The fact she appears not to recognise the need to be very precise and clear about what she is, and isn’t, saying, and the fact that she’s quite happy to share platforms with people whose “anti- zionism” has definitely crossed the line into antisemitism, makes me very doubtful about her motives – to say the least. Unfortunately, she’s only too typical of the kind of “well-meaning” liberals in and around the PSC who claim they’re not antisemites, but seem quite willing to associate with people who are.
Finally, even if we accept Tonge’s claim that she simply means Israel reforming itself out of existance , or the widely-touted argument that socialists are in favour of the “withering away” of all states…how come these arguments are virtually never used about other nation-states, including those (like the USA, Australia and Argentina) that – unlike Israel – were created by means of genocide?
All of which got me thinking about binationalism (the main benign version of “Israel has no right to exist”) and its leading champion, Judah Magnes. The best brief account of the political life and thinking of Magnes that I’ve been able to find is the following by Benny Morris (himself a controversial figure in some circles, but a pretty good, and always truthful historian) :
Politically, the most important figure linked to Brit Shalom and Agudat Ihud was Magnes. He enjoyed a strong following among American Jews and was respected by the Mandate government; his diplomatic, orotorical, and intellectual skills also won the sneaking admiration of Ben-Gurion and other mainstream Zionists. The American-born and -trained Magnes, a rabbi and pacifist, viewed the call for a Jewish “National Home” in Palestine, to which he immigrated in 1922, as, above all, a call for the creation of “a Jewish spiritual, educational, moral and religious center,” as he put it in a letter to Weizmann in 1913. In this, he was an heir to the spiritual or cultural Zionism propagated by Ahad Ha’am (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg, 1859-1927), the great Russian Jewish essayist. Magnes supported immigration (or Jewish “ingathering”) in Palestine and hoped the country would become “the numerical center of the Jewish People.” He opposed the idea of conquest, which he called “the Joshua way,” and did not believe in the Great Powers’ right to dispose of the country as they saw fit. Like Jews, the Arabs also had historical rights to the country, he believed. So Palestine was the home of two peoples and three religions and belonged neither to the Arabs nor to the Jews nor to the Christians: “it belonged to all of them.”
The Balfour Declaration “contains the seed of resentment and future conflict. The Jewish people cannot suffer injustice to be done to others even as a compensation for injustice [over the centuries] done to them,” he wrote in 1920. The Jewish “National Home” should not be established “upon the bayonets of some Empire.” Magnes, like Buber, feared that the Jews in Palestine would “become devotees of brute force and militarism as were some of the later Hasmoneans, like Edomite Herod.” Magnes dissented from Brit Shalom in that he believed that its desire for an accomodation with the Arabs was tactical and practical rather than deeply felt; he knew that most of its members, including Ruppin who at times espoused the transfer of Arabs, were not pacifists.
All of this left Magnes with a somewhat fuzzy picture of what a future Palestine would look like. He spoke variously about both open-ended “international control through a mandatory” — that is, perpetual rule by a foreign power — and “a binational [Jewish-Arab] government.”
The problem with binationalism, however — apart from mainstream Zionist opposition — was that Brit Shalom and Magnes could find no Arab partners, or even interlocutors, who shared the binational vision or hope. As Magnes succinctly put it as early as 1932: “Arabs will not sit on any committee with Jews…[Arab] teachers…teach children more and more Jew-hatred.” In this sense, things only got worse with the passage of time, the deepening of the Arabs’ political consciousness, and the increase in Jewish immigration.
In 1937, in the privacy of his study, against a backdrop of the bloody Arab Revolt, Magnes took off the gloves: “The great drawback on the Arab side was the lack of moral courage. If only one man would step out now and brave his people and plead that his leaders should sit down with Jewish leaders, the situation would be saved…[but] not even one Arab stood up.” Yet perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter of the Arabs’ lack of courage as of Arab convictions. “Islam seemed to be a religion of the sword,” a monumentally despondent Magnes concluded.
(Indeed, many observers defined the Arab Revolt as a jihad. After reviewing the the testimony of Bishop Hajjat, the metropolitan of the Greek Catholic Church in Acre, Galilee, and Samaria, and other Christians before the Peel Commission, one of the commissioners concluded: “We were informed that though they [that is, the Christians] are not afraid of the educated Moslem or the Effendie class who live in the towns, they have come to realize that the zeal shown by the fellaheen in the late disturbances [that is, in 1936] was religious and fundamentally in the nature of a Holy War against a Christian Mandate and against Christian people as well as against the Jews.” Already in June 1936, two months into the revolt, the deputy inspector-general of the British Mnadate police, J.S. Price, wrote, in summarising the revolt, under the subheading “The Religious (Moslem) Aspect — Jehad or Holy War”: “It has long been the considered opinion of students of the Palestine problem that real and prolonged disorder can only be stimulated and protracted through the medium of religion…There are now demands that Haj Amin al-Husseini…should declare a Holy War (Jehad). It is unlikely that he will do this openly as he is not prepared to stake his all…[But] there are…indications that this spirit is being engendered by the medium of the Ulamas (learned religious[figures]). Fullest prominence is likely to be given to any incident having a religious complexion…There are [already] allegations of defilement of the Quran.” He had a point. At the start of the revolt, the Palestinian Arab political parties established a supreme cabinetlike body, the Arab Higher Committee. is founding declaration stated: “Because of the general feeling of danger that envolops this noble nation, there is need for solidarity and unity and a focus on strengthening the holy national jihad movement.” As the revolt unfolded, the mufti and kadi of Nablus toured the surrounding villages “preaching that anyone who killed a land seller would reside in paradise in the company of the righteous.” The language of the rebellious nationalists was commonly the language of jihad. ‘Abd al-Fatah Darwish, a penitent land seller, swore in May 1936: “I call on Allah, may He be exalted, to bear witness and swear…that I will be a loyal soldier in the service of the homeland. I call on Allah and the angels and the prophets and the knights of Palestinian nationalism to bear witness that if I violate this oath, I will kill myself.” A placard hung on the walls in the village of Balad al-Sheikh, outside Haifa, after the murder of a collaborator, read: “Nimer the policeman was executed…as he betrayed his religion and his homeland…The supreme God revealed to those who preserve their religion and their homeland that he betrayed them, and they did to him what Muslim law commands. Because the supreme and holy God said: ‘Fight the heratics and the hypocrites; their dwelling-place is hell.”
Magnes occasionally found an Arab willing to meet and talk with him — and ready to hear what he, Magnes, might be willing to concede. In 1936 he met Musa al-’Alami, a Palestinian Arab “moderate” and mandate government senior official, and agreed to the limiting of Jewish immigration to thirty thousand per year. In late 1937 or early 1938, Magnes met the leading Iraqi politician Nuri Sa’id. Sa’id apparently proposed a ten-year truce during which the Jews would promise not to exceed 40 percent of the country’s population (though Magnes later always insisted that he had never agreed to permanent minority status for the Jews). But these contacts and their outcome were hardly the comprehensive, final binational accord Magnes was striving for. (And, of course, neither ‘Alami nor Sa’id were leaders of the palestinian national movement.)
By mid-World War II Magnes realized that an open-ended international mandate was no longer feasible. He had despaired of ever reaching substantive Jewish-Arab negotiations or agreement and decided that the only solution would be an externally imposed “union between the Jews and the Arabs within a binational Palestine.” Further, he determined, this union would need to be subsumed or incorporated in a wider economic and political “union of Palestine, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon” and linked to and guaranted by an “Anglo-American union.” And the binational state would need to be based on “parity” in terms of political power, between the two constituent groups, in order to guarantee the rights of whichever group was in the minority.
By mid-1948, with the first Arab-Israeli war in full swing, Magnes was deeply pessimistic. He feared an Arab victory: “there are millions upon millions of Muslims in the world…They have time. The timelessness of the desert.” An Arab ambush on 13 April 1948 of a Jewish convoy bearing doctors and nurses travelling through East Jerusalem to the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School campus on Mount Scopus — in which seventy-eight were slaughtered — was in effect the final nail in the coffin of Magnes’s binationalism. It was not that he publicly recanted. But he understood that it was a lost cause — and that his own standing in the Yishuv had been irreparably shattered. Within days, he left for the United States, and within months, never returning to Palestine/Israel, he was dead.
-from ‘One State, Two States’ by Benny Morris (Yale University Press 2009).
NB: I have not included Morris’s extensive footnotes, giving sources. These can be found in the book itself – JD
From The Bass Saxophone to The Swell Season, to The Engineer of Human Souls, and now Dvorak in Love, one thing that comes through loud and clear in your work is your love of music.
Well, I always wanted to be a jazz musician, and was really never much of one.
How did you first get turned on to jazz?
There was a Chick Webb recording called “I’ve Got a Guy,” which featured Ella Fitzgerald. At the time I didn’t know it was Ella, because most records then didn’t list the names of the singers; the showcase was the band. That was around 1938, when Ella was twenty. “I’ve Got a Guy” also had a wonderful saxophone chorus, and when I heard it for the first time, I thought I was listening to the music of the heavenly spheres, and I still think that.
The full interview here
The great Czech author Josef Skvorecky died aged 87 on 3rd January, just a fortnight after his friend and fellow-dissident Vaclav Havel. Skvorecky was less well-known, not having entered formal politics, but he was just as important in his way and, in fact, was responsible for publishing Havel’s work and smuggling it back into Czechosovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion. He also published the first edition of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, again smuggled back into the author’s country of origin.
But it should be for his own funny (ha-ha), sad, wise and humane writing that he is mainly remembered: The Cowards (banned as “Titoist and Zionist”), The Tank Battalion, The Miracle Game, and the book that many people regard as his masterpiece, The Engineer of Human Souls. Skvorecky’s passion for jazz runs through his work. Many of his novels feature a saxophone-playing hero called Smiricky, and the author himself was a saxophonist-manqué
In the introduction to his best-known book, The Bass Saxophone, Skvorecky explains some of the appeal of jazz for a free spirit like himself:
“In the days when everything in life was fresh – because we were sixteen, seventeen – I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a colour, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.”
Later, in the same essay, Skvorecky reproduces an almost unbelievable set of rules drawn up by the regional Gauleiter during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and binding upon all local dance bands. Skovorecky assures the reader that this is not satire and his recollection is accurate, as these rules ”have engraved themselves deeply on my mind“:
1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
3. As to tempo, preference is to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Ayrian sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, etc);
6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
7. The double bass must be played soley with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan masculinity; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal imporovisations (so-called scat);
10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.
Below: in memory of Josef Skvorecky, here’s the undisputed champ of the bass sax, Adrian Rollini, in 1927 with Joe Venuti (vln) and Eddie Lang (gtr). The tune’s called ‘Beatin’ The Dog’:
Daily Telegraph obit here
Every few years the preposterous “anti-imperialist” Richard Gott comes out with an article in the Guardian proposing that rights of the Falkland Islanders should be overridden in the name of Argentina’s geographically-based mini-imperialist “claim” to the islands.
The last time he came out with his anti-democratic proposal was on the 25th anniversary of the outbreak of the Falklands war, and he was in no doubt about the justice of Argentina’s claim:
“The Falklands belong to Argentina. They just happen to have been seized, occupied, populated and defended by Britain. Because Argentina’s claim is perfectly valid, its dispute with Britain will never go away,” he wrote in the Guardian of 2 April 2007. And in case anyone was in any doubt about Mr Gott’s attitude towards the Falklanders themselves: “At some stage, sovereignty and lease-back will have to be on the agenda again, regardless of the wishes of the islanders.”
I’m still rather proud of Shiraz‘s response at the time.
Gott’s most recent Falklands foray is rather less forthright, suggesting merely that “Argentina and Britain both have a good claim to the Islands,” and proposing that “the two countries should meet to negotiate a solution.” But the essential disregard for the rights of the inhabitants remains the same. As in 2007, though, at least one Guardian letter-writer nails Gott good and proper:
Richard Gott (Asleep over the Falklands, 23 December) criticises the Foreign Office for failing to address the vexed question of sovereignty. He adds, somewhat contentiously, that Argentina and Britain “both have a good claim to the Islands”. Given the United Nations-sanctioned principle of the self-determination of peoples, the strength of any sovereignty claim must surely rest with the populace of a territory. The British government should thus propose, via the UN, that referendums should be held at specific intervals to determine the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.
These referendums would offer the alternatives of accepting Argentine sovereignty, independence for the islands, remaining under British sovereignty or taking on any other sovereignty (Chilean?) that the islanders might choose. The British government would agree to be bound by whatever result ensued, and would put into effect any change of sovereignty indicated by a referendum as a matter of urgency.
Lest we forget (#2):
- …”here one has to say that whatever the final outcome, the Libyan people have lost” Tariq Ali, in the Guardian 29 April 2011
Here’s how the Libyan people, in Gaddafi’s supposed ’stronghold’ of Tripoli, feel about having “lost”:
…and here’s how a Libyan exile answered Ali immediately after that article appeared:
Tariq Ali is anything but consistent (Who will reshape the Arab world: its people or the US?, 30 April http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/29/arab-politics-democracy-intervention). On the one hand he declares, “It is too soon to predict the final outcome, except to say it is not over yet” and on the other he dismisses the Libyan uprising with “whatever the final outcome, the Libyan people have lost”. It is a combination of ignorance and arrogance that has afflicted the “left” ever since the revolution in Tunisia that leads Mr Ali to think that the Libyans, who have experienced colonial rule and imperialist exploitation first hand, are unaware of the machinations of the US, the UK and France. The Arab people need no lectures. They will take their own unique path to social and political change which need not follow the models of the past. – Fawzi Ibrahim, London
Above: a woman casts her vote in Juba yesterday as the South prepares for secession.
And here’s why we must support them in their escape from Islamo-fascism.
This is quite simply spot-on: read it!
“Today we hear another yet more troubling refrain. It is that Holocaust memory has become exclusive: that it’s all about Jewish suffering; that it ignores the non-Jewish people who were also murdered by the Nazis; that Jews have become obsessed by their own suffering at the expense of others; that no longer is any universal meaning drawn from collective memory. It is said that today we suffer from a surfeit of Holocaust museums, films, histories and stories as if this were the only injustice we need to remember. It is said that it is inconsistent to make Holocaust-denial illegal but not genocide denial more generally. It is said that the Holocaust is now used instrumentally to protect Israel from criticism and justify the crimes Israel commits. At the extreme it is said that what Israel does to Palestinians is ‘like’ the Holocaust or that the victims of the Holocaust have now become the victimisers of the Palestinians…
“…Today the danger is that ‘antizionism’ may provide a point of unification around which sections of the far right, the anti-imperialist left, radical Islam and even the liberal establishment might coalesce.”
Read the rest of Fine’s presentation, here…
H/t: Richard Gold, ‘Engage‘.
Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has written a powerful piece explaining the falsity of crude comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa – and therefore why the boycott campaign is misguided.
The article is published in today’s Morning Star, which is interesting in itself as the Star’s coverage of Israel/Palestine has, for some time, verged upon “absolute anti-Zionism” that seems to question Israel’s very right to exist. They have published Avery’s articles before, but never one that makes his “two states” position and his rejection of the “apartheid” comparison so plain.
The article opens with a description of a conversation the author had recently with Desmond Tutu and why Avnery – an admirer of Tutu - believes he’s wrong about boycotting Israel:
“To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story. In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederik Willem de Klerk, was elected president of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?”
“It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasises the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today. The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority.
“Among a general population of almost 50 million, the whites amounted to less than 10 per cent. This means that more than 90 per cent of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them too.
“In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80 per cent of Israel’s citizens and constitute a majority of some 60 per cent throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And 99.9 per cent of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.
“They will not feel that “the whole world is with us,” but rather that “the whole world is against us.”
“In South Africa, the worldwide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle.
“The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite. It would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-semitic world.”
“People are not the same everywhere. It seems that the blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis and from the Palestinians too.”
I don’t agree with everything in Avnery’s piece, but it makes a refreshing change from the unremiting root-and-branch hosility to Israel’s very existance that permeates much “left-wing” discourse these days. It also points out that “the vast majority of Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state”…which inevitably must mean “next to Israel.”
Read the whole article (link in second paragraph, above).
“A few pieces of traffic turned up as they in fact reached the outskirts of Treville. As the car ducked down the last little hill before the village, the motto FREE WALES was briefly to be seen daubed on a brick wall in faded and dingy whitewash. An ironic cheer went up.
“‘Now would that be -’ began Malcolm in his frightening American accent before Alun shushed him.
“”Belt up you stupid bugger. What’s the matter with you? You hardly set eyes on that clown and everything you see reminds you of him. Forget him.’
“‘Dismiss Cadwallader Twll-Din Pugh from your mind.’
“‘Hey, I’ve thought of the thing to say to him about that slogan there. Show me a Welsh nationalist and I’ll show you a cunt’” – Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
(“…frightening American accent…”)