June 14-22, 2014, TBD

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May 16, 2014, 7 PM. Reception & Q & A to follow the screening at Maysles Cinema.
@ New York, NY 

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May 2014, TBD 
@ Helsinki, FINLAND

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April 2014  
Willemstad, CURACAO

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MAR 2014  
@ Lisbon, PORTUGAL

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FEB 10, 7:25 PM & FEB 15, 5:40 PM  
@ Los Angeles, CA 

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FEB 15, 2014, 6PM 
@ Victoria, BC, CANADA 

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JAN 24, 2014, 8:30 PM 
@ Rotterdam, NETHERLANDS 

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December 22, 2013 (Phoenix, AZ)
Hosted by No Festival Required @ Phoenix Center for the Arts

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DEC 8, 2013, 3PM @ Quad Cinema (New York, NY) 
DEC 10, 2013, 8:30 PM @ Columbia Teacher's College

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NOV 1, 2013, Stockholm More Info
NOV 7, 2013, Göteborg More Info
@ Doc Lounge, SWEDEN 


OCT 28, 2013, 6:30PM
The film will be shown at the HOT DOCS Bloor Cinema in collaboration with the Canadian Royal Music Conservatory with special guest Kiran Ahluwalia. 
@ Toronto, CANADA

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OCT 24, 2013, 3PM
IMZ World Music Film Festival  
@ Cardiff, WALES 

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SEPT 30, 2013, 20:00, M. K. Žilinskas Art Gallery
OCT 13, 2013 21:00, Cinema "Skalvija"


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AUG 23, 2013, 9PM (Washington, DC) 
@ Navy Memorial Museum, Burke Theater  

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JULY 29, 2013, 7PM (Woods Hole, MA)
@ The Community Hall 

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JUNE 3, 2013, 7PM (Fairfield, CT)
Fairfield Theater Company Screening 

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APRIL 21, 2013, 5 & 7PM (Chicago, IL)
@ The Society for the Arts

More Info

Mailing List




Hey, thanks, DC!!!!!!

On Friday, August 23rd, we had our Washington, DC Premiere at the 4th Annual World Music & Independent Film Festival (WMIFF)! 

What a great feeling to screen the film in our HOMETOWN with members of the local Malian and African diaspora, the diplomatic community, our supportive film network with organizations like Women in Film & Video (WIFV) and Docs in Progress, NGOs and advocacy groups, RPCVs from Mali, and, of course, our friends! The best part of showing the film in DC is bringing together a community of policy makers, media, and concerned citizens to raise awareness about Mali and the role music plays in preserving peace. 

You sure knocked our socks off when we found out we SOLD OUT the Navy Memorial Burke Theater with over 300 guests! Thank you to those who sat on the floor, brought in extra chairs to form two makeshift back rows, and especially those of you who sat on the stairs! We certainly broke all fire code that night, but it was worth it....

We were so honored to be joined by members of the African diplomatic community, especially our Guest of Honor H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from Mali; H.E. Cheikh Niang, Senegal Ambassador to the US; H.E. Seydou Bouda, Burkina Faso Ambassador to the US; Jim Moody, Former Member of Congress and Relief International Board Member; members of Mali Watch; African Diplomacy; and TransAfrica Forum

After the film, H.E. Ambassador Al Maamoun Keita addressed the audience and we answered some great questions from the crowd. Our Q & A was followed with some live music..... Cheick Hamala Diabate rocked out on the ngoni and gave us a taste of griot traditions and Supernova got the whole crowd singing "Peace in Mali" to finish the night. 

Thank you to our friend and wonderful photographer Matt Andrea who captured the night in these photos. You can see the whole album on Facebook here. And big thanks to the media who covered the film and screening that week.... Washington City Paper, France Culture, Kali TV, Africa in DC, and TransAfrica Forum

We are so grateful to everyone who joined us and will keep you posted on upcoming DC screenings! 

Big thanks,

Kiley, Leola, & Andrea

Chieck Hamala Diabate; H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali; H.E. Cheikh Niang, Senegal Ambassador to the US; Ms. Adam Ouolguem; Jim Moody, Former Member of Congress & Relief International Board Member, and guests.

Audience at the Navy Memorial Museum Burke Theater. 


H.E. Seydou Bouda, Burkina Faso Ambassador to the US; H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from Mali; H.E. Cheikh Niang, Senegal Ambassador to the US; Jim Moody, Former Member of Congress & Relief International Board Member. 

H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali, with Former Member of Congress & Relief International Board Member Jim Moody. 

Mali's Master Griot Cheick Hamala Diabate & Supernova! 


H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali, Cheick Hamala Diabate, Supernova, and members of Mali Watch. 

Diocolo Coulibaly & Adam Ouologuem. 

Director Kiley Kraskouskas, Producer Andrea Papitto, and Amina Ansary from the Festival in the Desert. 

H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali. 

H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali. 

H.E. Al Maamoun Keita, Ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Mali. 


Cheick Hamala Diabate explains Mali's rich music traditions. 

Christos Kyrou and Zoi Calomaris. 

Cheick Hamala Diabate. 

Mwiza Munthali of TransAfrica Forum and friend. 

Cheick Hamala Diabate and guests. 


Press Release: Mali Fundraiser June 13th, Washington, D.C.


Washington, D.C.  – On June 13th, 2012, from 6:00-8:00 pm Relief International, Amazigh Heritage, Association des Maliens et Amis du Mali (AMAW)—Washington, D.C., Essakane Film, and the D.C. Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) will host a fundraising event at Busboys and Poets in Washington as part of a $30,000 campaign to launch a Relief International humanitarian mission to support refugees in the region.  

Since a violent rebellion broke out in Northern Mali in January 2012, over 320,000 civilians have been displaced within the country and as refugees in neighboring countries including Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In February, shortly after the crisis began, U.S.-based humanitarian organization Relief International agreed to launch a mission to help the refugees if $30,000 could be raised amongst the organizations and public donations. The hope is that once the $30,000 goal is met, other donor organizations will match this amount to forge a more robust and sustained effort to help the refugees.

While the long-term hope is for renewed peace in the region that will allow the refugees to return home safely, there is a serious and immediate need for food, water, shelter, as well as urgent medical care and education services.  Given the recent military coup in Bamako and increased violence and instability in the North, the refugees will not be able to safely return home anytime soon.

Tickets can be purchased here:



Kiley Kraskouskas, 571.421.4901,

Andrea Papitto, 646.520.9946,



Relief International is a humanitarian non-profit agency that provides emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance, and program services to vulnerable communities worldwide. Relief International is solely dedicated to reducing human suffering and is non-political and non-sectarian in its mission.

For more information, please visit:


U.S.-based non-profit organization Amazigh Heritage was created to promote, protect, and share the cultural heritage of the indigenous Amazigh populations (Kabyle, Berber, Tuareg) with the world. Amazigh Heritage programming focuses on advocacy, cultural preservation, cross cultural exchanges, educational events, and humanitarian relief in North Africa.

Association des Maliens et Amis du Mali (AMAW)—Washington, D.C.

The main objective of AMAW is to unify the Malian community in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. AMAW has created a cultural center of Mali (CCM) called "House of Mali," which is devoted to promote Malian culture, tradition and heritage to the United States through active participation in academic, cultural and social activities. The CCM serves as a resource for the Malian diaspora (for their activities in the United States - support services, advice, or help in an emergency) as well as provides networking opportunities for Malian and American businesses, and families. Additionally, AMAW establishes partnerships with schools (universities and colleges) in the metropolitan area to raise awareness about Malian culture and facilitates the implementation of long-term projects involving travel or trade with Mali (eg, summer camp, property investment, statistics), in coordination with the city of Bamako.

For more information, please visit:


From the bustling streets of Bamako to the desolate dunes of the Sahara, Essakane Film takes the audience on a high-definition journey to what was once the most remote music festival in the world–Mali’s Festival au Desert.  Sadly, the Festival in the Desert is now caught in the crossfire of a violent standoff between rebel Tuaregs and the Malian government. The fate of the Festival in the Desert now hangs in the balance.

For more information, please visit:

The Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP)

The Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) is a non-partisan, volunteer-based organization dedicated to strengthening the Arab-American community. The organization’s mission is both comprehensive and inclusive, empowering the community through social, cultural, professional and political initiatives.

For more information, please visit:




April 25, 2012

NEA grant awarded to Women in Film & Video to support Essakane Film, chronicling the most remote world music festival in the world

Contact: Kiley Kraskouskas, Director/Producer, Essakane Film

Phone: +1.571.421.4901 | Email:

Washington, D.C. – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman announced today that Women in Film & Video is one of 78 not-for-profit national, regional, state, and local organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Arts in Media grant. Women in Film & Video is recommended for a grant to support post production and outreach for the documentary, Essakane Film. The 78 Arts in Media grant awards total $3.55 million, and support the development, production, and national distribution of innovative media projects about the arts and media projects that can be considered works of art.

From the bustling streets of Bamako to the desolate dunes of the Sahara, Essakane Film takes the audience on a high-definition journey to the most remote music festival in the world. Told through intimate interviews, vérité footage, and festival performances, Essakane Film chronicles: Tinariwen‘s vision to start the Festival in the Desert to share Tuareg culture with the world and to foster economic development; Vieux Farka Toure‘s journey from guitar prodigy to international star; Khaira Arby‘s mission to make a better life for Malian women; Leni Stern‘s work to promote cultural understanding through musical exchange; Tartit and Group Amanar‘s fight to preserve Tuareg culture and identity; and Joe Conte’s transformation from a Northern California rocker to global artist and philanthropist. Each artist‘s reason for playing in the shadow of the fabled Timbuktu differs, but together, their stories demonstrate the power of the Festival in the Desert to launch stars, sustain peace, and foster development.

Essakane Film is slated for release January 2013. The goal of the film is to raise awareness to a national and international audience about the power of music in Malian culture. Sadly, the Festival in the Desert is now caught in the crossfire of a violent standoff between rebel Tuaregs and the Malian government. The fate of the Festival in the Desert now hangs in the balance.

Working with outreach partner, Crowdstarter, Essakane Film will launch a national campaign geared at music and film festivals, radio stations, and music education programs to enhance knowledge and understanding about Mali’s rich music culture and history.

Chairman Landesman said, “While Americans across the country are experiencing art live and in person every day, NEA research has shown that more than half of American adults also consume the arts via electronic media. I am thrilled to announce these Arts in Media grants and look forward to the organizations’ efforts to reach ever wider audiences and create innovative new works of art.”

“It is incredibly reaffirming to see the National Endowment for the Arts support our efforts to tell this story about music, culture and West Africa,” said Kiley Kraskouskas, Director/Producer of Essakane Film.

The NEA received 329 eligible applications under the Arts in Media category, requesting more than $36 million in funding. Grant amounts range from $10,000 to $100,000 with an average grant amount of $45,513 and a median of $40,000. Women in Film & Video is among the 25 percent recommended for funding, a sign of organizational strength and creativity.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Arts in Media grant support, please visit the NEA website at

Women in Film & Video

Women in Film & Video of Washington, DC (WIFV) promotes equal opportunities, encourages professional development, serves as an information network, and educates the public about women’s creative and technical achievements. For more information on WIFV, visit:

Essakane Film

Essakane Film is the story of the most remote music festival in the world – the Festival in the Desert – and the battle to make it happen. The film is produced by partners Leola Calzolai-Stewart, Kiley Kraskouskas, and Andrea Papitto and is a fiscally sponsored project by Women in Film & Video (WIFV).

For more information on Essakane Film, visit:

# # #




How Can We Sit in Silence With the Growing Humanitarian Crisis?

UN reports more than 20,000 Tuareg refugees flee to Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, & Niger.

Aid, Food, Water Supplies are Low.

Where is the International Community?

February 7, 2012—Over the past week, over 20,000 Tuaregs who have long lived in safety in Mali have found themselves displaced in neighboring countries out of the fear of retaliatory attacks.


  • Last week, a high-ranking official in Mali’s Ministry of Tourism, Mohamadoun Ag Abdou Salam, witnessed his house burned down in Kati, a suburb outside of Bamako.
  • Assan Midal, a Bamako-based tour guide recounts, “I left Bamako because foreigners and people with light skin were getting attacked.”
  • Former Minister of Arts and Tourism, Zakiyatou Oualett Halatine, reports how her home was looted, and she and her family forced to flee.
  • “Clinic Allama,” a Tuareg-owned pharmacy and clinic were also burned and looted in Kati. This attack pushed thousands of Tuaregs out of Mali in fear.  
  • The elderly, women, and children are struggling to make the long journey by road out of Mali.


  • “The United Nations refugee agency reports more than 20,000 people who have fled violence in Mali over the past three weeks are in urgent need of help…U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards told VOA his agency was caught unprepared by the renewed fighting and its destabilizing impact.” (Associated Press via Voice of America)
  • As of February 5th, a Tuareg observer on the Algerian border at Bordj Badji Moctar identifies the urgent needs for refugee families as: “food, warm clothing, blankets, soap, mats or mattresses, latrines.”
  • On February 4th, there were reports from the Mauritanian border that one-liter of water, from a faucet or well, costs 1,000-1,500 F CFA ($2-3 USD).
  • Assistance in relocating or returning displaced individuals.
  • According to multiple news outlets and international aid organizations, over 20,000 refugees have fled the violence.
  • The International Center for the Red Cross (ICRC) indicates that refugees are living in “very difficult conditions as only a few were able to find shelter with host families in villages.”

Given Essakane Film’s relationship with the Tuareg culture and the Tuareg-run Festival in the Desert, we are in on-going contact with many of the displaced individuals.  We are calling on the US Government and humanitarian organizations to mobilize aid to the innocent victims and also to send reporters to bear witness on the ground and recognize this as a humanitarian crisis.  As of right now, media coverage is framing the issue around fighters moving into Mali from Libya rather than focusing on the needs of the displaced people who are not associated with the MNLA movement.

Festival in the Desert Director, Mr. Mohamed Ag Mohamed Ali Ansar who has taken refuge in Burkina Faso is available for interviews and to give an eye-witness report. Essakane Film is also interested in partnering with media to report on this event from Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

For more information contact:

- Abou Ansar: +1.831.521.3061,

- Andrea Papitto: +1.646.520.9946,

- Kiley Kraskouskas: +1.571.421.4901,

Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO

- Mr. Mohamed Ag Mohamed Ali Ansar a.k.a Manny, Director, Festival in the Desert: +226-60-35 40-80

- Mr. Mohamedoun Ag Abdou Salam, Mali Ministry of Tourism: +226-73-29-61-97

Nouakchott, MAURITANIA

- Mr. Intagrist Ag Mohamed Mitta: +222-333-01473


1)    FEB 7: Voice of America, “UN: 20,000 Who Fled Violence in Mali Need Help”

“The United Nations refugee agency reports more than 20,000 people who have fled violence in Mali over the past three weeks are in urgent need of help. The UNHCR says it has sent emergency teams to countries surrounding Mali to help the thousands of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes.

The exodus began in mid-January. That is when fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and government forces in the Azawad region of northern Mali began. Most of the estimated 20,000 people who have fled the violence are in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.”

“U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards told VOA his agency was caught unprepared by the renewed fighting and its destabilizing impact.  “


2)    FEB 2: (Statement) U.S. State Department

Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, DC

February 2, 2012

The United States is deeply concerned by continuing incidents of violence in northern Mali.  We condemn the attacks by armed groups against a number of northern towns.  These actions, taken by groups who purport to defend the rights of Malians, instead threaten the well-being of all Malian citizens.  We call for a resumption of dialogue toward a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict.

We further condemn the apparent retaliatory attacks against members of ethnic groups associated with the situation in the north.  We welcome President Toure’s appeal to the Malian spirit of diversity and democracy and urge the Malian people to heed his call for unity.  We call on the Malian government to continue efforts to ensure the safety and security of all Malian citizens and on the Malian people to remain committed to tolerance and peace.

PRN: 2012/166


3)    FEB 3: (Press Release) International Red Cross Report on Humanitarian Crisis, “Mali / Niger: people flee the fighting to Niger” 

“Geneva / Niamey (ICRC) - Nearly 10 000 Mali and Niger have fled the fighting that took place in recent days between the Malian army and armed groups in areas of Menaka and Anderamboucane in northern Mali.”

“These people have sought refuge in Niger in the north of the Tillabery region, near the border. Their living conditions are extremely precarious.”

Additional information:

Mwehu Germain, ICRC Niamey, tel. : +227 97 45 43 82
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel. : +41 22 730 20 11 or 79536 41 92 50


4)    FEB 3: (News Report) France 24, “Tuareg Civilians Attacked in Bamako”

“President Amadou Toumani Touré has urged Malians not to “confuse” Tuareg civilians with the Tuareg rebels that the army is fighting in the country’s north. Some residents of the capital are paying dearly for such “confusion.”

On Thursday, protesters then hit the streets of the capital and in the cities of Kati and Ségou. In Kati, witnesses report that Tuareg homes were also attacked.

Assan Midal is a Tuareg who works as a tour guide in Bamako. He left the capital Thursday night and was on his way to Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, when we spoke to him Friday.

"I left Bamako because foreigners and people with light skin were getting attacked."

I’m with a convoy of about one hundred cars going to Ouagadougou. We left Bamako during the night so as not to run into any angry protesters blocking the road. In this convoy, there are even Tuareg officers from the regular army. They’re fleeing too.

I saw with my own eyes people being attacked, stores getting looted, cars being set on fire. People with light skin (Arabs and Tuaregs) were being targeted. [Worried they might be attacked, several dozen Mauritanians living in Mali sought refuge at the Mauritanian Embassy in Bamako on Thursday].

Enraged protesters can’t tell regular Tuaregs and rebel Tuaregs apart, and they yell “Death to Tuaregs” at everyone. Tuaregs living in Bamako are accused of being the brains behind the rebellion in the north, but that’s not true.

The rebellion has caused many casualties in the army’s ranks, so perhaps the protesters want to “balance the equation” by attacking Tuareg civilians. They even attacked military families just because they were Tuareg.”


5)    FEB 3: (Press Release) Médecins du Monde, “Humanitarian Organization Medecins du Monde is forced to temporarily suspend its activities in health and nutrition northern Mali” 

“While a food crisis looming in the Sahel, safe degradation in Mali could deprive people of needed assistance.”

“Teams of Médecins du Monde, working in Mali in the regions of Kidal (Northeastern), Gao (East), Mopti (center) and Bamako (Central West), find the displacement of some northern cities of the country where violent confrontations took place. MdM is estimated that several thousands of these population movements to neighboring countries including Mauritania and Algeria. 

"Part of the population fled the cities to take refuge in the bush without water, without provisions and without care," explains an official of the mission of MdM-Belgium in Mali, "for those who are not already in Algeria and Mauritania, it is called "wandering" from well to well, "he continues.

"Following the conflict in the city of Adiel-Hoc, we've seen a massive influx of people into the area and Inamzil Toulaft in the immediate vicinity of Adiel-Hoc: we have dozens of displaced families with no food assistance and health, "said one doctor MdM in the region of Kidal. "After the fighting, the city of Adiel-Hoc was the scene of looting shops, businesses, and health centers were looted by individuals."  


6)    FEB 4: (Video) Looting of medical clinic owned by Dr. Elmedi AG Hamahady

One minute and 27 seconds of looting of the medical clinic owned by Dr. Elmedi Ag Hamahady, a Tuareg citizen.


7)    FEB 4: (Article) Chicago Tribune, “Mali says 20 rebels killed, thousands flee”

“About 3,500 people had crossed westwards into Mauritania, said a Mauritanian official, who asked not to be named.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said on Friday that nearly 10,000 people had fled into Niger after fighting between the army and armed groups in the area around Menaka and Anderamboucane, in the northeast of Mali.

One refugee in Niger, Aminatou Sango, said everyone tried to flee. "I left my very old mother and one of my daughters as they could not walk. I am here alone."

The rebels say they are fighting to secure the independence of Azawad - Mali's three northern regions, Kidal, Timbuktu and Gau. The government accuses the rebels of atrocities and collaborating with al Qaeda, a charge the MNLA rejects.

The ICRC said that some refugees were being looked after by local families while others had set up makeshift camps.”


8)    FEB 4 (Article), “Thousands flee Mali for Niger after clashes in north – ICRC”

“Most of the refugees have settled across the border in the near-desert region of Tillabery, one of the areas worst affected by food shortages in Niger which faces a looming hunger crisis.”

“The ICRC said the refugees were living in very difficult conditions as only a few were able to find shelter with host families in villages.”


9)    FEB 5: (Article) ABC News/Associated Press Report, “Aid Groups: 15,000 Flee Mali Amid Tuareg Rebellion”

“More than 15,000 people including Malian military personnel have fled into neighboring countries since members of the nomadic Tuareg ethnic group launched a new rebellion against the Malian government last month, aid officials say.”

"Some of these people have been taken in by villagers, but the local capacity was very quickly overwhelmed," said Juerg Eglin, head of ICRC delegation for Niger and Mali.”

“Another 5,000 people have fled to Mauritania, according to an official who works at an international humanitarian organization based in Mauritania's capital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to provide figures to the media.”


10) FEB 5: (Video) Al Jazeera Video Report on Humanitarian Crisis in Mali

“Aid groups say that more than fifteen thousand people have fled Mali as fighting escalates in the West African country.”


11) FEB 5: (Article) New York Times, “Qaddafi’s Weapons, Taken by Old Allies, Reinvigorate an Insurgent Army in Mali”

“About a half-dozen towns in the north have been attacked, including Niafounké. Both government and rebel forces have suffered casualties, and nearly 10,000 civilians have fled the fighting, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The situation appears to have worsened for the Mali government over the past few days. The rebels have retaken the town of Ménaka, a military spokesman, Idrissa Traoré, acknowledged Friday, adding that a number of soldiers and civilians — he refused to say how many — had been killed by the rebels in the town of Aguelhok. In Bamako, the capital, families of soldiers have demonstrated against what they say is the government’s poor handling of the rebel offensive, blocking roads and burning tires. The defense minister has been replaced, and reprisals have been reported against Tuareg citizens living in the south.

Officials in Bamako make no secret of their shock at what one Western diplomat called the “robustness” of the rebel incursion. “


12) FEB 6: (Report) Toumast Press, “Sa maison pillée, l'ex-Ministre Zakiyatou Ouallett Halatine adresse une lettre ouverte au Président Malien”


13) FEB 6: (Article) Al Jazeera, “Tuareg rebels attack Mali town of Kidal”

“Some Tuareg leaders say many of their community have also fled the southern city of Bamako, fearing reprisals after violent demonstrations this week.”

“About 3,500 people had crossed west into Mauritania, said a Mauritanian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday that nearly 10,000 people had fled into Niger after fighting between the army and armed groups in the area around the northeastern cities of Menaka and Anderamboucane. Other aid officials say more than 5,000 others have fled to Mauritania.”








An Economist's Story of Music and Development in Mali 

My first trip to Mali as a research scientist for the Earth Institute can characterized as an unexpected mission of sublime musical discovery.  I heard Malian music played live for the first time on a hot, sticky evening in Bamako at the legendary venue, ‘Le Diplomat’.  Toumani Diabete played the kora, an instrument made from the shell of a calabash.  Only in West African countries like Mali, can one find multiple uses for a gourd, beginning with -- consuming it as food for nourishment, to harvesting and storing water, and then to producing such beautiful music.  It was there at Le Diplomat that my love for Malian music was born.  Since then, I have voraciously listened and studied the roots of this African music.  Born in ancient folkloric times, Malian music has since continued to spread its amazing musical tradition, even from an economically impoverished and landlocked sub-Saharan African country. 


Before this evening, I knew relatively little about Malian music, having only studied the country’s economy and political history.  Music is central to Malian culture dating back eight centuries to the great Manda empire from which Maninka music was born.  The Kora, a 21-stringed instrument is one of Mali’s many specialty instruments.  Different ensembles of these instruments such as the, n’goni, bala and guitar have shaped Malian music for centuries, intersecting traditional North African musical concepts with more modern blues and rock n roll.  This uniqueness has transcended the music of Mali across borders and made it globally famous.  To a large extent, it has also influenced countless other artists in Europe and the United States, drawing millions of tourists to Mali every year.  And like me, they frequently fall in love immediately after hearing it live.



Malian music has thrived against incredible odds of its people and their history of struggle.  It has been the steady pillar of cultural tradition, even during some of the most difficult periods of political instability and turmoil.  Musicians in Mali preserve their culture, their way of life through creating and expressing music.  For the people living in the Sahel, musicians write songs that describe the loves and pains of living in the desert.  Bands like, Tinariwen, born from the talent and passion of a Tuareg refugee, Ibrahim Ag Alhabi, has demonstrated how music can have a healing ability to draw people together, finding space and time to reflect on both our commonalities and our struggles.  Even in a language that is rarely heard, almost everyone who listens to Tinariwen’s music senses the strength, honesty and heartbreaking vulnerability in their lyrics and -- to some degree, their own personal struggles.  Like many bands in Mali, Tinariwen has made their music more accessible by combining the guitar with traditional African instruments.  Because of this, they have opened up to the world, the rich intensity of the Tuareg culture and a feeling of what life must be like living in the desert. 


The Festival of the Desert is critical to the economy of Mali, especially of Northern Mali.  It is not simply a festival of bands lined up to play music on a stage.  The Festival, (as documented in Essakane Film) is a gathering of all different types of people from all continents.  Keeping with the Tuareg-Berber tradition, the festival is based on the tradition of free movement as well as coming to together.  Every year in January, hundreds of thousands of people congregate in Essakane, in Northern Mali.  They come to meet new people, learn new songs, and hear news from other regions of the Tuareg land – in addition to other parts of the world.  The Festival is a great conference of all sorts of Tuaregs and their international friends  - a place where everyone discusses problems, socializes, and enjoys music played under the desert twilight sky.  In a sentence, the Festival of the Desert is time and place where international cultural exchanges are intense and beautiful.  Even camels seem to enjoy the music and the atmosphere.

The tradition of creating and sharing music with the world has been critical to the artistic integrity of Mali, as well as, its economic development.  With few natural resources but a rich history, Mali depends on tourism revenue. The global economic downturn combined with a looming drought has hurt the country’s economy, which has a GDP of $9.2 billion and is rated as one of the world's 10 poorest countries. The kidnappings by the minority Islamic Maghreb group — the latest in a string of abduction across the Saharan region — have seriously further damaged the northern region’s economy.  However, given the solidarity of the people and their commonly shared peaceful objectives, the Timbuktu region of Mali will surely thrive again, just as it has after its previous struggles.  This statement of hope is based on the philosophy of the Tuareg people which has been to move forward, put down arms, embrace peace and, open the world to their music and culture. 


Uyen Huynh

New York, NY

Dec 2011-12-19

Bio:  Uyen who was born a refugee, is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.  Her research focuses on the socio-economic development of Sub-Saharan African countries.  Born in Saigon, raised in California, Uyen's academic and professional training has lured her to carry our field work in Africa in order promote the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals across the continent.