Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
They Will Have to Kill Us First: Sharia Law Targets Musicians
a short term tactical alliance with Islamist jihadists is always a long term
strategic blunder. Just ask the advocates of liberal democracy who aligned
themselves with Islamic fundamentalists during the Iranian Revolution and the
Arab Spring in Egypt. Yet, perhaps the most tragic example came to pass in
Mali, where Touareg separatists in the North joined forces with the Al Qaida
backed Ansar Dine. When Islamist forces took control of northern Mali they
razed ancient cultural and religious sites in the fabled city of Timbuktu and
prohibited all forms of music. Johanna Schwartz follows several Malian
musicians as they try to regain their voices in They Will Have to Kill Us First (trailer here), which opens today
in New York.
forces have mostly driven out the jihadists, but you still wouldn’t exactly
call the northern regions safe. The government and Touareg rebels have also
signed an armistice, but you wouldn’t exactly say the nation is at peace. The national
scars from the Sharia-based oppression will run deep for generations to come.
Musicians had to renounce their art and livelihoods or suffer the sort horrors
depicted in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated Timbuktu.
musicians of Songhoy Blues all originally hailed from the famous northern
UNESCO World Heritage City, but they came together as a band while living in
Bamako, as exiles in their country. Alarmed by the extent to which Malian music
had been silenced, they found a way to express their frustrations through “forbidden”
music. Fadimata “Disco” Walett Oumar is also relatively fortunate. She is able
to sing quite often with the women’s support groups she organizes in Burkina
Faso refugee camps. Khaira Arby also performs somewhat regularly, mostly in private
get-togethers, but she will spearhead the first public concert in Timbuktu, in
the uncertain days following the fall of Sharia. Sadly, troubadour Moussa Ag
Sidi had the most to learn about the realities of Sharia. Aside from complicating
his musical calling, he assumed it would have little direct effect on him as a
believing Muslim. Then his wife was arrested.
are some telling moments in TWHTKUF, yet
it never matches the power of Sissako’s modern masterpiece (but that is
admittedly a high standard to be measured against). Frustratingly, the experiences
of the Malian musicians remain all too timely, especially as Western legal
jurisdictions have started proposing some form of recognition of Sharia
authority within immigrant communities. This is an extremely bad idea. Remember
how Kevin Bacon couldn’t dance in Footloose?
Take that, raise it to the power of a million and add in public beatings and
executions. That is what the Malian musicians experienced under Sharia.
There is some lovely and groovy music in TWHTKUF, but rather perversely, the doc
is not a great showcase for the music (soundtrack available on Knitting Factory
Records). Instead, Schwartz seems more interested in capturing a story of women’s
empowerment in the face of misogynist oppression. That is certainly a valuable
and often inspiring program too, but world music fans would probably still like
to hear longer takes of their performances. Regardless, there is more truth in
Schwartz’s film than several dozen of the latest documentaries released in
theaters, all aggregated together. Chilling and stirring, They Will Have to Kill Us First opens today (3/4) in New York, at
the Village East.
Labels: Documentary, Islamic Fascism