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Movies, Music


by Mahala Scribes / 22.07.2015

The moving documentary, They Will Have To Kill Us First, about the ban on music in northern Mali had its African premier at the Durban International Film Festival on Monday night. They Will Have To Kill Us First is the feature debut of UK director Johanna Schwartz and tells the powerful story of four Malian musicians/bands who are saying ‘puck you!’ to extreme Sharia law and continuing to make music in exile… Viva!

The film starts off with a French-rap track breaking down the situation in Mali with a hip hop history lesson. To cut a long, violent story short: In 2012, Islam extremists took control over northern Mali imposing extreme Sharia law in the process. Under Sharia law, music – something almost as important as air in Mali – was made illegal. Every radio station was banned, bars and clubs closed, cell phone towers toppled, instruments burned and musicians threatened… among other atrocities. Thousands fled south to the Mali capital of Bamako and neighbouring countries where thousands still live, afraid to return back home. True story…

We meet the four main characters of the film in the colourful capital of Bamako. The Songhoy Boys, Fadimata ‘Disco’ Walet Oumar, Khaira Arby and Moussa Sidi: an eclectic mix of exiled musicians trying to keep the spirit of Mali music alive in their own way. We follow the musicians from the refugee camps back to Timbuktu where they go against the music ban to perform a public concert in their beloved home city.

The film drips with vibrancy, contrasting the raw spirit of Mali with the dark and destructive ideological battles still being fought today. Without being nauseatingly sensational or overly optimistic, They Will Have To Kill Us First simply reminds us of the power and importance of music and will quickly have you wrapped up tight in a kente cloth of sound and soul!


Khaira Arby

The complex stories of the characters and chaotic socio-political situation in Mali are tied together with an original, killer score by Nick Zinner (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs). In an attempt to bring some more Mali to Mzansi, we’ve put together a Mali Mixtape… Some tracks from the exiled artists featured in the film and on the film’s soundtrack. Get your fix of the Desert Blues below and support the musicians by buying their albums and spreading the word and the wizardry. Then lastly, pick up your guitar and be glad music ain’t banned in our Banana Republic… (yet).


Songhoy Blues


“A world without music is like a body without a soul” – some poetic word-wisdom from Songhoy Blues vocalist, Aliou Touré.

Songhoy Blues

In the film, The Songhoy Blues roll into frame through the red dust on motorbikes like a rebellious biker gang from Wild Wild West-Africa… With guitars slung ’round their necks like rifles; they’ve become soldiers for peace. The members of The Songhoy Blues were brought together independently of one another by the situation in northern Mali and decided to start a band. They recorded their debut album in the UK earlier this year with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We’re not sure about the random Brits standing around like mannequin’s in the music vid, but check these guys out… They’re like finding a fruit salad buffet after a 40 day trek through the desert. Unbelievably fresh.

Khaira Arby (Ali Farka Toure’s cousin)

When you hear this woman’s voice swell, it’s like a hot air balloon just burst from your heart! “It’s not life without music” says Khaira Arby in the doccie. Take a trip through the stratosphere with the ‘Queen of the Desert Blues’ and her ripping guitar-based band below…

Fadimata ‘Disco’ Walet Oumar

“I am a woman, I sing, I talk,” Disco says bluntly in the doccie, “It could cause me problems…” You’ll have to catch the film to get a real sense of Disco’s captivating spirit and voice (and to find out the story behind the name ‘Disco’). Listening to her traditional singing outside her house, you’d never guess she was once infatuated with Madonna…

Moussa Sidi

This mysterious cat is like a humble Rodriguez of the desert. He’s so underground, you have to wait until the end of film, right until the credits in fact, to see him playing his guitar and singing around a fire under the piercing desert stars. It’s well worth the wait. This man is potent.



Amkoullel is one of Mali’s most loved conscious hip hop artists and cultural entrepreneurs. He mixes traditional instruments, like the kora, with funky urban sounds and is all about sending positive vibrations through his lyrics. Amkoullel also started the first hip hop dance school and Hip Hop Association in Mali! Big up to his beats and social activism.

Afel Bocoum

When Afel Bocoum was 13 years old, he joined Ali Farka Toure’s band as an apprentice. He learned the tricks of the Touré trade, blew up and now you can find him all over the interwebs and touring the world. He sings mainly in his beautiful first language, Sonrai and like Ali Farka Touré is a beast on the njarka (a one-stringed Malian fiddle)…

Vieux Farka Toure (Ali Farka Toure’s son)

The Touré’s seem to be keeping the good tunes in the family. Vieux’s music features in They Will Have To Kill Us First as well and below is one of our favourite Vieux tracks of all time – ‘Ana’. (In true family style, it was apparently written for his little sister).


One of Mali’s most renowned “rebel” bands, Tinariwen, was targeted specifically during the 2012 ban on music in northern Mali. In 2013 most band members evaded capture, except Abdallah Ag Lamida who was abducted while trying to save his guitars. He was released a few weeks later. Thank gawd, because their folk, rock, desert-blues is perhaps – like most Malian music – the closest we’ll get to hearing the sun rise…

Check out They Will Have To Kill Us First (only remaining screening left) at 15:00 at Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre in KwaMashu, Durban on 26 July. More details on the DIFF website. The 36th Durban International Film Festival runs from 16 – 26 July 2015. Check out the programme here. There’s gang more films still to be watched!

*Lead image © Songhoy Blues

* Stills © ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First’

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