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Interview: Vieux Farka Touré On The Role Of Malian Musicians Against Extremists + His New 'Mon Pays' LP

New Mali music album from Vieux Farka Touré, 'Mon Pays,' + interview.


Mon Pays, the latest album from Vieux Farka Touré, transports listeners to the headlines of the richest days in Mali's history. In the face of extremists out to obliterate all that is beautiful in the country, Mon Pays is a hopeful source of peaceful prospects. Opening track "Diack So" marks the beginning of a journey into a land of plenty. Tranquil yet weighty, every note on Mon Pays is delivered with the importance of a voice, guitar and music that could guide a silenced people. Okayafrica received inspiring answers from Vieux on the past and future of Malian pride. Mon Pays is available now via Six Degrees.

Okayafrica: At the heart of Mon Pays is a tribute to the beauty of Mali and a reminder of your nation’s rich musical tradition. How has music helped shaped identity in your homeland?

Vieux Farka Touré: Music is life in Mali. There is no difference. It's like this. This is why when they banned music in the North it was like they had killed all of us. But now, thank God, we have our lives back. Everyone in Mali is very proud of our music. We have the best music tradition in the world in my opinion. Some countries have oil, some have uranium, some have great athletes. For us it is music.

OKA: Do you see the role of music in Malian society as having changed between today’s conflict and the period in which your father was first making a name for the music of Mali?

VFT: That is a tough question. I would say that the role of music in Mali has been the same from my father's time to my time. It is at the center of everything we do and it has been this way for centuries. Mali is a culture that can bend and not break. There are many things from the ancient past that are still very important in our culture. Music is a big example of this.

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Photo by Zeb Goodell

OKA: Do you think music can help heal the nation?

VFT: Yes. Music is a very important part of repairing the damage to our country. This is a difficult time in the politics of the country so it is important to pay attention to things that everyone can enjoy and everyone can feel good about. Music is always the best way to unite people in Mali, and at this time we need to unite.

OKA: What should the role of musicians be in opposing the extremists?

VFT: We must continue to do our work because it is an example of the freedom that we love in Mali. We must tell the truth to the people of our country and speak about the evils. In Mali, people look to musicians for guidance. We are like journalists giving the news to our people. So we have a very important responsibility in this fight against the terrorists.

Vieux-farka-touré-mon-pays-mali-music

Photo by Zeb Goodell

OKA: Political/social upheaval has often coincided with a rich musical reaction. Have you found inspiration in other musical opposition movements on the African continent?

VFT: I love the music of Fela Kuti. For me he is the best example of a musical opposition movement. He showed everyone in Africa that you can challenge the powers with your music and you can succeed. You just have to say what you are thinking and not be afraid of the reaction.

Mon Pays is out now via Six Degrees Records. Grab a copy of a free track, "Allah Wawi," here. Vieux recently collaborated with Idan Raichel on this track from the latest Idan album. Catch Viuex on his North American tour, dates below.

Vieux Farka Touré Tour Dates

June 14th - Outside at the Research Park, Champaign, IL

June 15th - Takin’ It to the Streets (Marquette Park), Chicago, IL

June 16th - Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, Croton-on-Hudson, NY

June 19th - The Dirty Bourbon, Albuquerque, NM

June 20th - Arroyo Seco Live, Arroyo Seco, NM

June 21st - eTown Hall, Boulder, CO

June 23rd - Performance Works, Vancouver, BC, Canada

June 24th - Sugar Nightclub, Victoria, BC, Canada

June 25th - Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, Seattle, WA

June 26th - Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, Seattle, WA

June 27th - The Wild Buffalo, Bellingham, WA

June 28th - Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR

June 30th - Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada

July 1st - Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa, ON, Canada

July 3rd - Club Soda, Montreal, QC, Canada

July 5th - Iron Horse, Northampton, MA

July 6th - Higher Ground, South Burlington, VT

July 9th - Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN

July 10th - Vaudeville Mews, Des Moines, IA

July 11th - La Fete de Marquette, Madison, WI

July 12th - Levitt Pavilion, Pasadena, CA

July 13th - Yoshis, San Francisco, CA

July 14th - California WorldFest, Grass Valley, CA

Aug 2nd/3rd - Pickathon, Happy Valley, OR

Aug 4th - Crestone Music Festival, Crestone, CO

Aug 6th - Walnut Room, Denver, CO

Aug 7th - JAS Cafe Downstairs At The Nell, Aspen, CO

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These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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