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As his kora gently weeps
Away from the musical persecution of his home country, a musician from Mali enthralls a Delhi audience
Mamadou Sidiki Diabatê sat in a pebbled courtyard in which the trees were hung with lanterns. Wearing an orange silk boubou (the traditional Mali tunic), he was in the middle of what would eventually be a two-hour performance for a small crowd of not more than 50 people. He looked happy. In that courtyard on that chilly Sunday evening, Madou, as he is popularly known, could play without any fear, and to unbridled applause. Something he no longer can do at home in Bamako.
Mali, where half of the population lives below the international poverty line, has been convulsed with conflict. Relations between the Tuareg people of the north and the rest of the country have been punctuated with a series of insurgencies since 1916. In January 2012, these frictions escalated into another armed conflict in the Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal regions and the Tuareg declared the secession of a new state, Azawad. Furious at the government's perceived lack of response, the Malian military, under the leadership of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, launched a full-scale coup in the capital, ousting President Amadou Toumani Tourê. The conflict was later complicated by fighting between Tuareg and Islamist rebels. Last week, the French troops regained control of northern Mali.
Other countries have mineral wealth, Mali has music. It is the land with a rich oral tradition, the culture that gave the world the blues and kora musicians. In fact, Madou is the son of the king of kora, Sidiki Diabatê, and brother of the equally famous Toumani Diabatê. Mali's musical community which has been celebrated all over the world has been targeted by hardline Islamist extremists bent on imposing Sharia, or Islamic law, which proscribes music. Concerts have been banned in northern cities, clubs closed, instruments smashed and burned, musicians harassed and forced to flee. Even in the south, in the capital Bamako, where there are no extremists, many live music venues have been shut.
Madou views the violence and attack on Mali's musical legacy as futile. "Music is in our blood, " he told TOI-Crest after the show at Lodi-The Garden Restaurant. "It shouldn't be treated like other things. Music speaks one language. Whatever is happening in Mali is crazy. How can I be told not to play music? I can't exist without music. "
Madou was three when he first held the kora in his hands. The kora is a 21-string instrument that has been in Madou's family for 71 generations. "I grew up watching my father play and before him his father, it's a part of my life, " Madou says between mouthfuls of dinner. "My father taught me when I was three, now I'm 30, so it has been a long relationship. "
He spent his childhood travelling and playing with his father and brother Toumani - considered something of a virtuoso when it comes to the kora - and was only six years old when he decided he wanted to play the kora for life.
"My father is a famous musician but I never felt the pressure of following in his footsteps, " Madou says, adding that he would never force his son to take it up. "I was never daunted by the thought. I felt like I was born to play it. At first, I thought it was a game. After a couple of years I realised that it wasn't a game. When I was six years old, I played my first concert with my dad in Africa. I then played in France. That's when I decided to take it seriously. "
Both the Diabatê siblings have collaborated with some amazing artists from around the world like English musician and producer Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame - who produced the album Mali Music in 2002. He has also performed with Indian classical singer Shubha Mudgal. It is this interaction with other musicians that has given him a jazz-inflected sound and style distinct from his father. "I have travelled around the world playing with different musicians and that has widened my experience, given my ears new sounds, " he says. "One must have an open mind and open ears. "
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