Musicians from a land where songs are banned

New Delhi: Garba Toure was a local lad in Dire, a city in North Mali, who would strum the guitar on and off and would perform in the neighbourhood. Music was his life, but soon enough, armed jihadists took control of the African town and banned smoking, drinking and alcohol.

Suddenly, Garba was forced to escape to Malian capital Bamako or risk facing persecution in his hometown. Living in an overcrowded refugee camp, he decided the best way to raise the spirits of his fellow refugees was by music.

He formed Songhoy Blues, the former part of this name referring to the name of his people, and the latter part of his name referring to the music genre, along with lead vocalist Aliou Toure, second guitarist Oumar Toure and drummer Nathanael Dembele.

The band will be travelling to India to perform in the New Delhi and Pune, legs of the upcoming Bacardi NH7 Weekender series of concerts, and Garba is looking forward to forming a new fan base. He does not feel that his singing in his native language, French, will be a disadvantage.

“We are looking forward to discovering India and its culture,” said Garba, adding, “The disadvantage of singing in a language that the crowd won’t understand is minor. What is important is if the music is good, and that is how we will get new fans.”

Songhoy Blues’ music cuts across religious and tribal identities. The three Toures in the band, though unrelated, are all Muslim while Dembele is a Christian. In spite of traditional enmity between two tribes in Mali, the Songhoys and the Tuaregs, there is a great following of the band even among the Tuaregs.

Garba says music was the only recourse after atrocities in his homeland forced him to run away.

“Almost overnight, music had been outlawed in our hometown, which, along with other atrocities, forced us to run away. Today, music is all we’ve got. To ban music, it’s like to split body and soul. Music is our identity,” Garba said.

“Right now, Mali and other countries like Nigeria are going through a very ruthless time due to the radical elements. If given a chance to talk to extremists, we would say that there is no holy war, because every religion preaches the doctrine of peace. Killing your enemy will never get your killed friend back to life. Nobody should prefer war to peace,” he added.

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