Timbuktu, the hometown of Khaira Arby, probably wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the ladies. One origin story tells of how a slave woman named Timbuktu founded the historic city, while the women have kept the city’s bustling music spirit alive ever since. Which made it especially tragic that a jihadist guerrilla group took control of Timbuktu in 2012. The rebels didn’t just impose a burqa decree; they also banned all forms of music. The nightingale from the North, as is Khaira Arby’s nickname, should consider herself lucky for being out of town at the time – if not, the extremists said, they would have carved out her tongue.
That would’ve been an unbearable loss. Not just for the Malian music scene, but the history of blues as a whole. What we seem to take for granted as a genuinely American kind of blues, has actually descended from all the way back to slaves from areas alongside the Niger River, which circles through Timbuktu on its tortuous route from the Guinean highlands to Nigeria’s river delta. Better known as desert blues – due to the fact that Sahara resides merely a few stone throws outside of the Millennium city – this legacy is alive and well, thanks to artists like Tinariwen, the late Ali Farka Toure, and his cousin, the fabulous Khaira Arby.
Thus her awaited festival concert in Oslo will be more than just that. We recommend enjoying the show as a celebration of: how Khaira Arby’s creative spark turns desert blues into a light in dark; of how the Malian civil war finally seems to have been overcome; of how world music really isn’t a question of “us” and “them”, but something we’re all in together.
Text: Kim Klev