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Mali Malaise

A rest stop on the road to Gao

A rest stop on the road to Gao

The recent trouble in Mali brings back memories of a trip I took there back in December 2006.  Named the Niger River Project, the idea was to follow in the footsteps of the great Mungo Park who ‘discovered’ the flow of the Niger River back in 1797.  It was a memorable time, and although not without its problems (malaria, lost passport), we came away having made firm friends with some of the locals.

With foreign tourists having dried up, those with a little education who can at least try and get employment as guides, are now suffering along with the general population.  No longer employed, and with very few other prospects, these young men could easily be sucked into fighting in the north of the country.  Hopefully our friend Atemelou won’t be one of them.  Last I heard he was heading back to his family home in the Dogon with the idea of writing about the amazing history of the place…

Animated in the Dogon valley, 2006

Animated in the Dogon valley, 2006

Most people are never likely to travel to Mali.  It’s definitely off the beaten track, and wouldn’t attract those whose holiday priorities have ‘luxury’ or even ‘relaxation’ high on the list.  Nevertheless it has a vibrant, energetic music culture which ran in parallel to the world’s best through the last century, and still continues to this day.  The vibe was captured most notably by the ‘Eye of Bamako’ Malick Sibide.  By engaging with these pictures of joy from a continent where the stream of bad news reaches a torrent all too often, we break the cycle of stereotyping, and see the people behind the headlines.  People like my mate Atemelou.

Nuit de Noel, 1963

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