Arts Desk

Bombino and Vieux Farka Touré on the Upheaval in Mali

How will tonight’s gig from Niger Tuareg guitarist Bombino at DC9 and Thursday’s show from Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré at The Hamilton differ from their D.C. appearances in late 2011?  There may be musical differences, certainly. But as important is the sociopolitical context: a rebellion in North Mali and a coup in the south. Can you tour as usual while there’s upheaval at home? I asked both artists over email.

Beginning in January, a group of heavily armed Tuaregs—-a nomadic people that lives in Mali, Niger, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso—returned from Libya to Mali,  became part of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (their name for Saharan north Africa), defeated the Malian military, and took control of Mali’s three northern provinces, including Timbuktu (where Toure occasionally performed). So far, the international community has not supported the rebels' calls for secession.

“The situation is sad and too complicated for me to comment on because I'm not familiar with all the details," writes Bombino, who fled from two earlier uprisings and had two bandmates who were killed by Niger's military. "But I am praying for the most peaceful and long lasting solution as possible for everyone involved.”

The NMLA has been shadowed by the Ansar Dine ("Defenders of Faith"), who want to impose strict sharia law across Mali.  While the NMLA has stated it opposes the Ansar Dine plan, Timbuktu’s Christians and others have fled. Bombino, born Omara Moctar, says the Tuareg do not support the Ansar Dine, adding “Tuareg people are not very religious for the most part. We have our own methods of practicing Islam that are not the same as the Ansar Dine. It's a modern style of Islam that we practice.”

Blaming the Malian president for their battlefield setbacks, the Malian military undertook a coup in March, a month before a scheduled national election, and it now controls the rest of Mali. The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have fled their homes in Mali to refugee camps elsewhere in the country and across Mali's borders with nearby countries.  When the coup first started, Touré collaborated with Malian stars Khaira Arby (who is coming to DC9 on May 2) and Bassekou Kouyate on the song  "Le Monde Por Le Paix"  ("The World is for Peace") along with Jeconte and the Mali Allstars. Via email, Touré says he will not be playing the song on tour. His publicist says Touré will not comment on the current situation in Mali.

As for the music: Toure, who's known for his slashing, raw electric guitar sound, will be playing mostly acoustic guitar on this tour in support of his recent collaboration with Idan Raichel, The Tel Aviv Session. Recorded in 2010, this unplanned jam session features minimalist piano work from Israeli's Raichel;  mellow, rhythmic strumming from Touré; and a handful of Israeli and Malian players. Bombino says he'll play material from an upcoming album tonight, along with tunes from last year's Agadez.

Bombino performs at 9 p.m. tonight at DC9, 1940 9th Street NW. $20. The Toure-Raichel Collective performs Thursday at 7:30 at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW.  $28-$43.

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