“They Will Have to Kill Us First”
Very Good (3 stars)
In French, Songhay, English, Bambara and Tamashek with subtitles.
Running time: 100 minutes
Distributor: BBC Worldwide North America
In 2012, radical jihadists invaded the country of Mali from the north. Even though the population was already 98 percent Muslim, the uncompromising religious zealots declared Sharia the law of the land.
Their radical interpretation of Islam included a ban of all forms of music. So, everything from instruments to CDs to radio stations were ordered immediately destroyed. And anyone resisting the directive faced the sort of torture ISIS delights in doling out on a daily basis.
Directed by Johanna Schwartz (Mysterious Science: Rebuilding Stonehenge), “They Will Have to Kill Us First” is a documentary which chronicles some of Mali’s greatest artists’ defiant response to the attempted censorship. Among the local legends appearing in the picture are singers Aliou Toure, Khaira Arby and Fadimata “Disco” Walett Oumar, guitarists Moussa Sidi and Oumar and Gavbar Toure, and drummer Nathanael Dembele.
Shot on location in Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako, the film does a decent job of illustrating the devastating toll exacted on the country’s people and infrastructure by the violent coup. We learn that although Mali has experienced civil arrest since 1963, things escalated substantially following the death of Qaddafi in Libya because of the accelerated rate of arms importation.
“Don’t play… and you won’t get hurt,” the musicians were warned. But the folks featured here preferred death to giving up their cherished freedom of expression. So, when the kitchen got too hot, some of them hightailed it to Liverpool where they formed the group Songhoy Blues and recorded an album while in exile.
A cautionary expose capturing the ugly fallout of an unavoidable clash of modern and medieval civilizations.