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The Senator George J.Mitchell Institute
for Global Peace, Security and Justice

Politics of Performance 2020

Emir Holohan

Emir discusses Music's diversity and impact on cultural and political landscapes

'Malian Music in Exile'  Workshop

Andy Morgan’s condensed history of Mali’s political, social, and musical heritage afforded new perspectives on the small landlocked West African Country notorious for its extreme poverty. That Mali is internationally renowned for its rich musical culture and that three of its most prominent musicians, Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangre and Tinariwen have been awarded Grammys was new information for me. American musician and songwriter Ry Cooder who collaborated with Touré on the album Talking Timbuktu said of African music and of Touré himself ‘they sing about songs of praise, songs about the way the world is, about life, its philosophical music; but it’s not entertainment, it’s got another purpose, back in Africa it’s a community service, it’s a group identity thing.’

Morgan, a one-time manager of a collective of Tuareg musicians, Tinariwan, from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali, is no spectator; he is enmeshed in his subject matter. Morgan’s book, Music, Culture and conflict In Mali evaluates the unstable political landscape and cultural and religious constructs. Along the way we are introduced to the Rap artists of the South with their highly politicised lyrics offering a potted history of the country, and a new phenomenon, the female Rap artist, scathing of the abuse of government powers and unbridled corruption. Modern rappers consider themselves linked to the ancient Bardic tradition of West Africa, an elitist group who recount the lives of great heroes and their deeds in song and spoken word. Illiteracy is rife in Mali, communication therefore is conducted in song and spoken word and is a vital conduit and unifying factor among diverse communities. Morgan recounts the imposition of Sharia Law in the Northern region in 2012 and the brutalisation of the Tuareg people by Mujahideen factions who issued edicts banning western music, showing parallels drawn from the Taliban’s extreme censorship of music in Afghanistan in 1996. Tellingly, musicians were specifically targeted by militias, an indication as to the role and power of music in Mali. The continuing thread of music as unifier, music as accessible communication within diverse groups, music that transcends borders, language and cultural constraints continues to inspire me.

 'The Resilience of Music'  Workshop

I had never considered music a ‘right’ or that one’s musical identity was as important as any other aspect of their identity such as religion or ethnicity. But having established that music is a basic societal need, how grave a legacy for the people of Afghanistan to have been stripped of this identity and forced to flee their country or face imprisonment or torture while their society was divested of music, art and indeed any aspect of their natural culture. In the aftermath of the Taliban regime, the Afghan people have revealed a resilience and resolve to reclaim their basic right to music that transcends the meaning of survival; it is aspirational and it is inspiring.

The mission of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) is to create a space where young people, regardless of gender, socio-economic circumstance, ethnic group or religion, are afforded the opportunity to learn music and develop skills to enhance their lives. We are compelled to look beyond the social constructs which dictate our current ‘needs’: security, health services, infrastructure, but not peace. Never peace.

Engaging in this workshop has motivated me to better appreciate our unfettered access to the arts within our own society. The commitment and tenacity of the ANIM students and teachers reveals the unwavering resilience of the human spirit, evidenced most beautifully in their honest and courageous performances.

The vision to empower the next generation of musicians with the confidence, leadership, and communication skills vital to the recovery of their country and to future cultural diplomacy with the international community is one which deserves a global spotlight. There are many lessons to be learned from the Afghan people; ‘the darkest forces cannot silence us’, the prophetic words of ANIM founder, Ahmad Sarmast.

An image of pianist and student conductor, Arson Fahim, emerges, baton steadfast in hand, soulfully guiding his musical tribe, his warriors for peace and unity: ‘this is how we fight back, with our instruments’.


In response to these workshops, Emir Holohan reflects on the impact of Music on our lives in her presentation Inner Peace Music and Mindfulness.


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The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
Queen's University Belfast
18-19 University Square
United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)208 9097 3413 / 3740

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