When war broke out in the West African nation of Mali last year, one of the targets was that country's ancient music tradition. As Islamist rebels occupied northern Mali, they banned music and shut down clubs and record shops.
The songwriter and guitarist Sidi Touré is a superstar in his native Mali. But in the last 18 months, it hasn't been easy for Malian artists.
Islamic extremists are fighting for control of the area around Timbuktu, in the northern part of the country. The violence, along with a rebel-imposed ban on both music and secular art, has forced many of Mali's artists to flee the country.
Sidi Touré, who is from the North, was in the middle of recording his latest album when all this started happening.
There was an awful lot of dancing going on the first time I stumbled upon the music of Cheick Hamala Diabate. On the dance floor at U Street's Tropicalia that night was a rich cross-section of D.C. life, all entranced by the music of Mali.
On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. You could call it a failing performance review. Recently uncovered correspondence from the North African branch of al-Qaida lays out - in bullet points - the shortcomings of one of its local leaders. In the letter, he is chastised by his bosses for sloppy expense reports, ignoring emails and failing to pull off, quote, "any single spectacular operation."
Numbers are down at the American International School in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
In just over a year, the country has witnessed a rebellion, a military coup and the occupation by Islamist fighters of the desert northern region, recently largely liberated in a counteroffensive by French-led forces. Despite the troubles, the school is open and classes continue.
Teacher Paul Chandler is taking his combined class of 6th- and 7th-graders through their early paces, learning the Malian music they'll be performing at the annual school concert.