This documentary shows how musicians reacted when radical Islamists banned playing music in their country.
Music documentaries are thick on the land, and political ones are numerous as well, but “Mali Blues” is different in that it artfully combines hypnotic music with definite societal concerns.
If you are a fan of world music, you’re aware of the terrific sounds coming out of the West African nation. And if you’re a movie person, you remember 2014’s “Timbuktu,” the Oscar-nominated film that dramatized what happened when radical Islamists took over that storied city in Mali.
‘Mali Blues,’ a documentary directed by Lutz Gregor. 93 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In French, with English subtitles. SIFF Film Center.
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As “Mali Blues” documents, those fanatics banned playing and even listening to music, causing musicians to flee for their lives to the country’s relatively more liberal south and sending shock waves through the entire Malian music community.
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Directed by veteran German documentarian Lutz Gregor, “Mali Blues” shows how the musicians reacted and provides generous amounts of their music as part of the mix.
Diawara, a world-music star, is the first musician “Mali Blues” introduces us to. Her life story, only gradually revealed, is the film’s through line. Also featured are Ahmed Ag Kaedi, leader of the Tuareg band Amanar; Bassekou Kouyate, who plays an instrument called the ngoni and is in the centuries-old line of traditional griots; and Master Soumy, a rapper whose works include a song against Islam extremism.
Though these musicians may be far from alike, they are all so disturbed by what is happening in their country that they join in a concert for peace.
“It’s great to be an African,” one of them tells the audience. “It’s best to be a Malian.”