They Will Have to Kill us First

Picturehouse @ FACT 5/3/16

While Johanna Schwartz’s superb documentary They Will Have To Kill Us First reveals the intricacies behind the current troubles blighting Mali, it is a very basic infringement of human rights which strikes a chord at FACT tonight. When groups of jihadi fighters mounted a takeover of Northern territories of Mali, amongst much bloodshed and horrific violence, they enforced sharia’a law which included an all-out ban on music throughout the province. As was explained throughout the film, and during the live Q&A with breakthrough Malian band and stars of the film SONGHOY BLUES after the screening, music is the lifeblood of the country and the ban hit its citizens hard, not least the musicians.

As well as Songhoy Blues, the documentary follows artists Disco, Moussa Sidi and Khaira Arby after they were uprooted from their homes in northern Malian towns such as Timbuktu and looked to adjust to life following the troubles. The film deals skilfully at unpicking some of the political nuances of the upheaval while giving a number of personal perspectives on the plight of a once stable nation. Watching They Will Have To Kill Us First – the name taken from a quote from Disco, who vows this is the only way Malian musicians will be prevented from doing what they love, making music – is an affecting and, at times, harrowing experience. It brings home the importance of what Songhoy Blues do, not only how vital it is that they reach audiences outside of their homeland but also how essential it is to them as musicians to express themselves and deliver their message.

The post-film Q&A (hosted by Bido Lito!’s own Craig Pennington) delves further into the filmmaker’s experience of shooting the film. We also got to hear Songhoy Blues’ viewpoint on their country’s suffering and how their lives have changed since getting the opportunity to record with Nick Zinner and play their music to audiences around the world. The band stressed the importance of raising awareness and their desire to share their culture with the world and after a slew of festival appearances in the last couple of years and universally-acclaimed album Music In Exile, it’s clear they are succeeding in their mission.

The film will also go someway to highlight the problems which still exist in Mali. Schwartz responds to the question of how we can help as consumers by stressing the importance of getting Malian musicians heard. Buying Music In Exile as well as the records of Disco and Khaira all helps in raising their profile and raising awareness of Mali’s troubles.

Music is something most of us take for granted and, as one audience member expressed tonight, it is incomprehensible to understand what it would be like to have it one day taken away from us. The stars of Schwartz film have decided that for them such a fate is not an option and the results can be heard in the powerful sounds they produce.

Sam Turner / @SamTurner1984

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