Interesting interview with Malian singer

Interesting interview with Malian singer Salif Keita, in which he talks about the rise of political Islam & music piracy.

Banning Eyre: I’ve read that political Islam is on the rise in Mali? Are you saying this is getting worse? Or is it something that was always there?

Salif Keita: It’s there. It’s there, and it’s getting stronger and stronger. I will tell you why. The ones who control music piracy in Mali are religious leaders. The biggest mafia of pirates are the religious ones.

Sean Barlow: The marabouts?

S.K.: The followers of the marabouts, the friends of marabouts. So that the population will not hear those who struggle against piracy, what do they do? The make counter-propaganda. “You mustn’t listen [to the musicians who complain]. These are Kaffirs!” You understand the game? That’s it. And as they know that Mali is 90% Muslim, they know people will listen to the marabouts, and then they profit from the musicians. They pirate their records. They’ve brought in the customs service. They’ve brought in the army. They’ve brought in the police. It’s a big game, and it’s killing us. Often I feel like finding a new profession.

SB.: But people still hear music on the radio. They still go to concerts. No one can stop that.

S.K.: No, they can’t prevent the average Malian musician. But I will tell you this: Mali is run from the mosques. I am sorry to tell you this. In fact, the president we have now, we are counting him, but this is someone who does not listen to the people. He would like to change things. But when? You have to have a free hand to make changes. It’s religious politics that dominate there. It’s a catastrophe. It’s very dangerous. Me, I talk, but others are afraid to talk about this. I’m not afraid. I don’t care. I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t earn my living there; I earn my living abroad. I’m not a griot tapping on the door of a marabout when I need to eat. No. I eat elsewhere. And so I speak out. But others are afraid to speak, because it’s a real mafia. It’s true.

B.E.: That’s serious.

S.K.: It’s very serious, and this is the only real problem in Mali. That’s it.

B.E.: And you think this is worse than when I was living there in 1996.

S.K.: It’s worse now. There are radicals now. They want to make Mali an Islamic country, like Nigeria. With Sharia, everything. It’s dangerous. For me, I’m not worried. My god is everywhere for me. But poor Mali! If that happens, we are ruined. The whole region is ruined.

B.E.: So how can you fight against that?

S.K.: Ah, me? I can’t fight it alone. But in general, you have to come up with a strategy. Salif Keita cannot do that.

B.E.: Even if he is God.

S.K.: Even if he is God. You know, God never speaks in the end. [LAUGHS] He never speaks.

SB.: This is interesting, Salif. You were just talking about the tolerance in Mali, the (cousinage).

S.K.: Mali is an ancient civilization, dressed up by religion. When you speak about God there· Hey wait, you must know what I have said before, about misery. You mustn’t forget that spirituality says that God is there. God is a remedy against misery. This is a philosophy that keeps the poor in line, that maintains poverty. It’s not that religion is bad. It’s the interpretation, the way it is used. That closes the door. Me, I’m a Muslim. I don’t hide that. I know that God gave me a good head, to serve me, to allow me to reflect, and to allow me to go and find food to eat· But this is our biggest problem in Mali. I even heard this talk from Samassa. You know Samassa, the producer?

B.E.: The cassette producer. Yes.

S.K.: He’s the biggest pirate of all, along with Sylla productions. Samassa came to my house. He said, “Salif, we want Mali to become an Islamic country.” Ah, no!

B.E.: Really? And this was recently.

S.K.: Six months ago. That’s dangerous. Thieves like him! No, that is dangerous. I am afraid of that. It’s when I think of that, I say, “Poor Mali.” We had a chance. We became a democratic country. If we could have continued like that, we would have a real chance, more even than the countries on the coast. Because what is a country? A country is a way of thinking. But if that escapes us–and there is a risk that that will escape us…

I was hoping to see him tonight at the Broward Center, but it looks like I probably won’t be able to make it.

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