Mali is at the centre of the world's news cycle after going through their second coup in less than 10 years, following the 2012 coup d'état. After ongoing protests since 5 June, calling for the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a group calling themselves the 'National Committee for the Salvation of the People' took power, forcing the resignation of President Keïta and dissolution of the government and parliament.
Philippe Sanmiguel, compiler of the Rough Guide To Urban Mali
, reached out to three Malian musicians in the urban music scene (Alka Pô, Abasko Touré and Soul B Gang), to talk music, motivation, and Mali.
Mali has long been hailed throughout the world as a musical powerhouse due to the likes of legendary musicians such as Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangaré, Salif Keita and many, many more. Is the music of these pioneering figures still seen as influential and inspiring for young urban artists? Who are your biggest influences?
Yes, of course, we all grew up with their music. Salif Keîta or Oumou Sangaré are the living legends of Malian music. We all know their songs. They inspired us and we admire them for their longevity in the music business. They also are interested in what we do and it’s not rare that Salif or Oumou give a hand, singing on rap artists songs. The main influences are of course international rap music, but also our respected malian musicians, as well as Tiken Jah Fakoly, Bob Marley, Ivory Coast’s Coupé Décalé...
- How much are today’s urban artists influenced by the US rap and hip-hop scene? Is there anything else that really influences them?
American or French rap is very much listened to and certainly influences many young rappers. But over time, I think we have our own codes, our own style. And as we said before, we are also influenced by people like Tiken Jah Fakoly or the legends of Malian music.
- The pandemic is making life incredibly difficult for musicians all around the world. Are musicians still able to publicly perform in Mali, and if not, are there plans for festivals and concerts to be opened again?
Not yet. Since the pandemic there has not yet been a return to normal. First there was Ramadan, during which no one could play, and then, after that, the authorizations to gather are not given yet. It could have happened now but a week ago there was this coup d'état, and since then there is a curfew at night. So we don't know when everything will return to normal and allow us to organize events again.
Mali is very much in a time of change after last week's coup. What is the feeling amongst the youth about the current political situation and unrest?
Almost no one condemns this coup d'état. It is very different from the previous one. Nothing was working in the country; corruption has reached a level beyond imagination. While the powerful got rich, everything else fell. Insecurity from north to south is growing, there have been no schools since December because of an interminable strike that the government has not been able or willing to end, the health services have no means, the salaries of civil servants are not paid regularly and nothing is going well. We all hope that this time a real change can happen.
Soul B Gang
- Do you think that today’s generation of urban artists are generally more or less politically motivated than the first Malian rap groups who appeared on the scene at the end of the 1990s?
Probably a little less. A lot of rappers of our generation started very young, maybe too young to be concerned about politics. Everybody wants to become a rapper and quickly, so maybe the subjects are lighter and less committed, more focused on our daily life, going out, girls... But that doesn't prevent some of us from having lyrics to denounce corruption, the failures of the state or police pressure. And certainly with recent events, many of us are going to be feel more concerned with political issues.
- Are todays urban artists at risk of being targeted by religious fundamentalists due to their hedonistic lyrics?
In northern or central Mali, certainly. There are still heavy threats, and therefore fear of reprisals, they do not sing freely and moreover most of the young rappers from these regions who are now recording are in Bamako. Here it's different, there may be a condemnation of some religious people, but it will be of little consequence. We remain a country where the people insist on laicity and where speech is quite free.
- The rise of social media has had a huge impact on the popularity of the urban scene in Mali. Are urban artists now able to earn a living from music, or is it still very much a past-time for most artists?
Those who make a living from their music are very rare. There are a few exceptions, who can afford to make quality videos for example, but most of us can't afford it and only broadcast our songs as audio files on social networks, most of us do not make a living from it. In fact, many are working or are still at school when there is no strike! Otherwise everyone can earn a little something when there are concert opportunities but it doesn't go very far. So yes, it is in many cases a kind of past time for musicians.
We'd like to give a massive thank you to Alka Pô, Abasko Touré and Soul B Gang for giving us such an insight into what Mali is like at the moment for urban musicians and of course, Philippe Sanmiguel, for making this wonderful album possible.
You can explore the music of Alka Pô , Abasko Touré, Soul B Gang and many more of the most electrifying Malian rap, hip-hop, RnB, afro trap and electronic music artists on The Rough Guide To Urban Mali.
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