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Posts Tagged ‘mali’

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Photo: AFP/Sebastien Rieussec
A dancing contest in Mali challenges entrants to excel in traditional dances not their own. Here is a contestant in the “Faso Don,” performing during the filming of the show in the Malian capital, Bamako.

In Mali, an African country still suffering from the effects of French colonialism, ethnic groups have often had trouble getting along, and extremists have moved into vulnerable areas. (See my blog post about a secret operation to save ancient manuscripts from the radicals’ destructive rampage.)

But better days are ahead, especially if more people act on their ideas to promote peace and coexistence.

Sebastien Rieussec wrote recently for Agence France-Presse [APF] about one such person.

“All 3,000 seats in the cavernous Palace of Culture in Bamako had been snapped up, and the mood was at fever pitch as the TV dance competition reached its climax. The three finalists took to the floor one by one, dancing alongside a celebrity — a format familiar to viewers of talent shows around the world.

“But here’s the difference: the three hopefuls each had to perform a traditional dance from a region of Mali that was not their own. …

“In the landlocked Sahel state of Mali, the show has been a raging success. And it has bred a desperately-needed sense of unity in a country burdened by jihadist violence and ethnic tensions.

“The competition is the brainchild of dancer and choreographer Sekou Keita. Just six years ago, he was wondering how he could reverse the decline of traditional dance in Mali, a country whose music is now achieving global fame.

” ‘Our dances are so varied, we have a number of ethnic groups — we’re very lucky to have such cultural wealth,’ he told AFP. … ‘But [dancers] don’t know the traditional dances of their own country.’

“From this came his idea for a program that explored ancient cultural roots and built bridges across ethnic divides — ‘Faso Don,’ or ‘Dances of the Country’ in the Bambara language.

“Over six weeks, TV audiences shared the fate of eight young men and women from different regions, who shared a house Big Brother-style in Bamako, the capital.

“Each week they performed before an audience and the TV cameras, their numbers progressively falling as a competitor was eliminated by a vote by the public and the jury. … The final took place last weekend before an audience exhilarated by the ground-breaking, cross-cultural performances.

“Dressed in traditional costumes, the finalists performed one dance from their region and one from another region, accompanied by Malian stars such as musician Bassekou Kouyate and singers Habib Koite and Oumou Sangare. …

“The winner was Rokia Diallo, a woman from the Fulani pastoral community in Sikasso, southern Mali. Dressed in a flowing gown and a veil, she interpreted the takamba, a sinuous, sensuous dance from the Songhai group in the far north of the country.

” ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this,’ said hip-hop dancer Oumar Tamboura, who had come to support a relative who was also one of the finalists. ‘Until now, people weren’t interested in folk dance, tradition and costumes.’

“Faso Don has not just revived interest in generations-old regional dances in Mali. It has also reinforced mutual respect in a country whose reputation for hospitality is tragically being supplanted by one for violence.”

Read more of this hopeful initiative here. It’s another example of one solitary individual having an idea and making a big difference.

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Dorcas International of Rhode Island is a refugee-resettlement and immigrant-support organization that also offers education programs and services to native-born residents.

On the nonprofit’s website, you can find uplifting stories of DIIRI beneficiaries. Here is one.

Sidy Maiga, a master percussionist from Mali, wanted to take his skills to the next level. The first step was to get over his insecurity about education.

“His mastery of the djembe, a drum of West African origin that is rope-tuned [and] shaped like a large goblet, has taken him on tours all over the world and as a teacher in schools all over the East Coast … But without a high school diploma, he felt like he had hit a wall. …

“Sidy heard from friends about things you could do at Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. …

“He admits he was hesitant about going to school again. … He enrolled in an ESL [English as a Second language] class to get up to speed” before taking the high school equivalency test known as the GED “and felt himself getting discouraged — so he stopped going to class.

“However, after getting encouraging calls from DIIRI staff, Sidy decided he would give it another shot. … ‘I think they saved my life, and I’m glad I came back.’ …

“With the help and encouragement of DIIRI staaff, Sidy decided the next step would be college.”

Sidy starts at Berklee College of Music this year and says, “Once I learn the academic way of music, then I can teach African music to the world.”

More here.

Photo: Dorcas International Institute
Malian djembe drummer Sidy Maiga says Dorcas staff “saved my life.”

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Some African communities are rediscovering the value of mud for building cool, comfortable homes — and sparing trees.

This story is from the Thomson Reuters Foundation by way of the the Christian Science Monitor feature “Change Agent.”

“Building a house in the poorest villages of southern Mali has for years involved cutting trees for timber frames and struggling to save cash for a corrugated iron roof. Now families are turning to an alternative: Nubian-style domed mud-brick homes that are cheaper, protect fast-vanishing local forests, and make homes cooler in the worsening summer heat, experts say.

“Earthen homes with vaulted brick roofs – a style adopted from Nubia in northern Sudan – are being promoted across the Sahel, including in Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Mauritania, as part of efforts to build resilience to climate change.

” ‘Most people, more than half, don’t have the decent housing they dream of because it costs too much to build. This is going to change with the Nubian vault,’ predicted Chiaka Sidibe, a mason in Massako, one of the Malian communities adopting the new building style.

” ‘You just have to make mud bricks that don’t cost money, and fellow villagers help you to build your house,” he said. …

“The local office of the Association la Voûte Nubienne, the international non-governmental organization that is promoting the Nubian vault building style, has helped train local builders in mud-brick construction techniques. The aim is to build a sustainable, self-supporting market for the homes, said Moussa Diarra, the NGO’s local coordinator.

” ‘It can take much time to reach this goal, but I’m confident the initiative will succeed,’ he said.”

More here.

Photo: UN Climate Change Secretariat

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When I got my current job, I went through the human resources “onboarding” with a young man from Mali. Even though he went back to Africa a couple years ago, we keep in touch. Naturally, I was worried when radicals took over Timbuktu, Mali, for a while. Fortunately, Mamoudou wasn’t living in Mali at the time, although he says Guinea is not that much safer.

Because of Mamoudou, I continue to follow the Mali news, and was especially interested in a link at the Arts Journal blog today: “Mali’s Underground Railroad: How Timbuktu’s Ancient Manuscripts Were Smuggled To Safety.”

Writes Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post, “It was 7 o’clock on a hot night in August, and Hassine Traore was nervous. Behind him were 10 donkeys, each strapped with two large rice bags filled with ancient manuscripts. The bags were covered in plastic to shield them from a light rain.”

Radicals had taken over Timbuktu four months earlier and “had demolished the tombs of Sufi saints. They had beaten up women for not covering their faces and flogged men for smoking or drinking. They most certainly would have burned the manuscripts — nearly 300,000 pages on a variety of subjects, including the teachings of Islam, law, medicine, mathematics and astronomy — housed in public and private libraries across the city.”The scholarly documents depicted Islam as a historically moderate and intellectual religion and were considered cultural treasures  …

“A secret operation had been set in motion … It included donkeys, safe houses and smugglers, all deployed to protect the manuscripts by sneaking them out of town.

“This is the story of how nearly all the documents were saved, based on interviews with an unlikely cast of characters who detailed their roles for the first time. They included Traore, a 30-year-old part-time janitor, and his grandfather, a guard. …

“The New York-based Ford Foundation, the German and Dutch governments, and an Islamic center in Dubai provided most of the funds for the operation, which cost about $1 million.

“ ‘We took a big risk to save our heritage,’ said Abdel Kader Haidara, a prominent preservationist who once loaned 16th- and 18th-century manuscripts from his family’s private collection to the Library of Congress. ‘This is not only the city’s heritage, it is the heritage of all humanity.’ ”

There are heroes everywhere, keeping a low profile. And I am also pretty impressed with the funders, springing into action like that.

More here.
Map: National Geographic

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As Jane once observed, Suzanne’s Mom’s blog likes making connections between random unconnected matters.

This entry makes at least three connections, starting with a Malian colleague at work and ending with a biographer friend who was mentioned in a murder mystery.

To begin at the beginning, I joined my current organization about seven years ago and was “onboarded” with a young guy from Mali. Although he moved back to Africa after five years, we keep in touch, and naturally I have been distressed by the recent trouble in his homeland.

That is why an article by music critic Jim Fusilli in the the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. “To the musicians from Mali [in Paris], the attempt by terrorists associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to suppress music in their country’s north goes beyond politics and religion: It’s an offense to the soul of the nation, where music is more than entertainment, it’s essential to life.”

Fusilli says the musicians are “leveraging their international reputations as creators of the country’s often-inspired music, which ranges from brooding, spiritually minded tunes played on traditional African instruments to a fiery fusion of Afrobeat, rock, R&B and indigenous sounds. It’s a melting pot that absorbs the music of other cultures without losing its native identity.

“On her next album, ‘Beautiful Africa’ (Nonesuch), out in the U.S. on April 9, the singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré sends a message of support to Mali’s women. In Bambara, English and French, she sings: ‘I want to hear your laughter. I admire your courage. I miss your smile.’ ” More.

Now, as it happens, Jim Fusilli, in addition to being a music critic, wrote a mystery series that I gobbled up, and in one novel I noted that the hero was reading a biography by a friend of mine. The biography was of John Quincy Adams, and when I told author Paul C. Nagel, he was delighted that JQA had made it into a mystery story.

So when I read that Fusilli would be at Kate’s Mystery Books, I squeezed through the holiday mystery-buying crowd and gave him Paul’s e-mail. And thus they were in touch.

And thus a colleague from Mali connects to the biographer of John Quincy Adams.

Photograph of Rokia Traoré:  http://www.africanmusiciansprofiles.com/

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