From the Magazine
Amanar, the guitar band led by Ahmed Ag Kaedi, was, until recently, the hometown favourite of the Malian town of Kidal. Playing every weekend, their concerts would regularly draw crowds dancing late into the evening. The music has always had a message – songs of rebellion that were composed during conflict between the Tuareg ethnicity and the Malian state. In the past year, the North has fallen into chaos, with Tuareg rebels and Islamist extremists battling for control. In Kidal, the latter have gained the upper hand and imposed a harsh form of Sharia law, banning music and sending many of the group into exile. Christopher Kirkley recently spoke with Ahmed over the phone in neighbouring Niger.
Where is the group now?
Tamitah [the guitarist] is somewhere near the border with Algeria. He sometimes checks on our house [in Kidal] and music equipment. The Islamists found half of it and destroyed it and Tamitah hid the rest. A lot of the group is afraid to come back to Mali right now.
Can you return to Kidal, or is it too dangerous?
There’s no one there, and even if you find a few people, music is prohibited. Me, I can’t live without music.
If the Islamists leave, will things get back to normal?
Yes, for sure. The day the army arrives and the Islamists are chased out, the first thing the people of Kidal are going to do is have a party – a guitar concert!
Rebellion has existed for a long time for the Tuaregs. What is different this time around?
This year, the rebellion is very strong and is combined with the confusion of the Islamists. The entire world is watching – if the Islamists stay, they’ll contaminate all of Africa. The international community knows this and they’re taking the threat seriously. But even if the Islamists leave, the problem between Mali and the Tuareg continues, perhaps until death. Maybe Mali should give more autonomy to the North.
Has your message changed? What do you say in your new songs?
I ask people: if we don’t agree on something, can we still stay together? If one person makes something, another destroys it. One Tuareg searches for development while another searches for destruction. One Tuareg wants to go forward, the other wants to go backwards. Until the day has arrived that a new religion – Islamic extremism – shows up. We don’t know it, and we don’t want to know it.