Music is what keeps Fatoumata Diawara alive. It is also what could get her killed. This documentary highlights the contradictions of Diawara’s calling and passion in life, and the always looming threat for Islamic repression in her homeland of Mali. Director Lutz Gregor obviously has a passion for music as this isn’t his first music documentary, nor will it be his last. While a bit long and unfocused in scope, it is well worth getting to know Diawara and company, even if just to see passion doing its magic.
The guiding force of the documentary is that Diawara is going to sing at the Festival of the Niger, thereby giving her a reason to visit Mali after she fled an arranged marriage some time ago. Along the course of her adventure, she collaborates with two lovely musicians: Ahmed Ag Kaedi and Master Soumy. Watching them advocate for better conditions in Mali and freedom of creative expression is nothing short of inspiring. I particularly like Master Soumy’s song where he asks extremists to explain their version of Islam – why rape, destroy, kill?
Another inspiring moment occurs when Diawara visits her home village and sings a song about genital mutilation, which leads to a constructive conversation about a horrific ritual these villagers endure in the name of tradition and honour. Diawara states that most men she speaks to find the tradition abhorrent – and presumably, it was for men that the tradition was started. Hopefully, Diawara and the others are able to open dialogue with many others in the years to come.
The climax is the Festival of the Niger, but little is said about the preparations for this event. I would have liked more statistics about who attends and what it is like. How long has it been running? The director told us that they’ve since had to relocate because fundamental Islamists have taken over the mainstage area.
What is music? Is it a sinful pastime that encourages satanic behaviour, or is it a channel for us to express who we really are and what we want for the world? Rock on, my friends, rock on.
Friday, Sept. 19, 9:45am @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
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