Mali has been a rich and relatively unknown hotbed of music for some time now. The northern tribes, in particular, have their own individual rich musical traditions. Things have changed in recent times due to the heightened exposure for African music triggered by African Express and also the conflict taking place in the North between nationalists, separatists, Jihadists and the government. In Johanna Schwartz’s documentary, They Will Have To Kill Us First, she focuses on musicians who refuse to let politics or religion prevent them creating music.
They Will Have To Kill Us First is a film of two very distinct stories. One follows Songhoy Blues as they attempt to spread their message behold the continent. From exile in Bamako, their big break after being selected to join Damon Albarn and co and finally touring the UK. The other path charts the journey of Khaira Arby, Moussa Sidi and Fadimata ‘Disco’ Walet Oumar, three musicians who are intent on returning to their homeland.
Sharia Law was imposed by the Islamic extremists and all music was banned in Timbuktu and the north of Mali. There were tough punishments, often death, for those who didn’t comply. After the fundamentalists are driven out, Khaira (a well known musician) decides to organise a concert with Disco and other local musicians to show they will not be silenced. They Will Have To Kill Us First is an impressive documentary which highlights the courage, determination and heart of the Malian people. It’s at its most powerful when focusing on the struggle within.
They Will Have To Kill Us First is out in cinemas today.