The present day Republic of Mail, was once part of three different African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade – the Ghana Empire, the Mail Empire (for which the present day country takes it’s name) and the Songhai Empire. During the Mail Empire’s Golden Age, it was known as a major intellectual and cultural capital as advanced mathematics, astrology and art flourished. And at it’s peak in the 1300s, the empire covered an area twice the size of modern France, and stretched to the Africa’s western shores.
By the late 19th century France had seized control of Mail and made it part of what was then called French Sudan. By the 1950s, French Sudan, now known as the Sudanese Republic joined with Senegal, and gained their independence from France in 1960. Shortly after the now named Mail Federation gained independence, Senegal withdrew from the federation and Sudan declared themselves as the independent Republic of Mali.
After more than 30 years of iron-fisted one party rule, a 1991 coup led to the writing a new constitution that established the country as a true democracy with multi-party rule. In fact once, democracy was established these proud descendants of one of history’s great cultural centers spread the word of their art and culture to the greater world – including the release of works from artists such as Armadou and Mariam, Vieux Farka Toure and countless others. And they managed to lived quite peacefully – that is until last year when armed conflict broke out in the country’s northern provinces. Over the last year, the fighting has spread throughout the country and the country’s brightest and most talented have fled, as a repressive regime has banned music, dancing and art, and has established various forms of slavery; however, they have not abandoned their countrymen. Many have publicly called for peace among their countrymen in prose and in song, have established charities to help, and spread the word of their country’s plight to the larger world. (As a repressive regime has taken over in large sections of the country – music, dancing and art have been banned and slavery has been resurrected.
Vieux Farka Toure’s latest album, Mon Pays (French for “My Country”) which Six Degrees Records released earlier this year is an album that pays homage to the beauty and dignity of both his beloved country, and his countrymen and countrywomen. Originally planned out before the fighting that has broken his country apart, Toure’s album, which was recorded in Bamako, was meant to honor the acoustic blues tradition of Northern and Southern Mail.
“Peace” the latest single from Toure’s album is directly inspired by the infighting in his own country, and from the first time I heard the song, I was struck by the composition’s sublime and heavenly beauty. If only peace were that simple.
The official video for the song not only captures the obvious – that music has a power to bring everyone together; it manages to show the beauty of a geographically diverse country; and it manages to show the decency, dignity and humanity of the Malian people.